Men's movement pioneer Robert Bly and relationship communication expert Deborah Tannen help us understand how men and women communicate differently and how they can learn to appreciate the other's point of view, as evidenced in this transcribed excerpt from Tannen and Bly's terrific program "Men & Women: Talking Together". Recorded Live at The New York Open Center.
In a way, a conversation is a ritual. And to come home and tell everything that happened is a ritual, and it’s a ritual that women have engaged in from the time they were very little. So to feel that life is going on as it should, you just want to play out those rituals because it’s not a ritual that men understand. It’s not one that they’ve done. And I want to say right here that all evening we are going to be saying women and men. And nothing that we say will be true of every woman and every man. There are a lot of cultural differences here, too.
So I do hear from couples who will say the husband comes home and wants to tell everything and the wife says if it’s not a problem, don’t talk about it. Stop complaining if you don’t want to do something about it. So you hear it from both sides. But because it’s a ritual that most women understand and most men don’t, he looks for the literal reason for the talk and he doesn’t see a reason for that talk. And it’s very frustrating to do something that you don’t understand the reason for. So I’ve had people say, “Well, you know, just say to him I don’t want you to tell me what to do. Just listen to me.” And that makes perfect sense except it will drive a person crazy to sit and listen to something that they don’t understand why they’re listening and what it’s getting at.
So sometimes, it’s just as reasonable -- I sometimes use my own husband as an example here. I don’t think he’ll mind. He’s sitting out there. He’s smiling so far. So I remember I was talking and he said, “Well, I know you just want to talk about it and you don’t want me to give you the solution, but it’s too frustrating for me to sit here and listen when I know the solution. So let me tell you the solution and then you can keep talking about it if you want to keep talking about it.” So that is just as good a compromise, and I’ve heard of couples, too, that compromise in the following way. Not just as you said where they both kind of find different ways of talking but they may have an understanding where she will give him a half hour to not talk and then he will give her a half hour to talk.