10 Tips to Remedy Communication Problems

Men and women communicate differently, experts say. When we talk with each other, men tend to sit side by side rather than face to face, which seems unconfrontational to them, says Mary Jo Rapini, LPC, an intimacy/sex relationship psychotherapist. And men often don't make eye contact when they talk, she says, because they find it "threatening."

Women make eye contact and, she notes, they like telling details. They tend to give the whole story in quite detailed terms. It can sometimes seem to a woman that her male partner is not listening, Rapini says, when in fact he is--but he's also just waiting until she gets to "the plot."

Not only do males and females have a different communication style, but individuals have their own style, too.

"Most people just assume that everyone else has their communication style," says Dr. Maria Mouratidis, chairperson of the psychology department at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. "If you are very direct, you expect others to be like that. But some people tend to be more indirect."

Since communication styles are individualized, it's easy to understand how a communication breakdown occurs. So, what's the best way to get back on track with your significant other? Make it a point to talk right away before resentment has a chance to build up, Mouratidis advises.

"If you don't appropriately state your needs, or you wait too long, or you push your needs aside and let things fester, then you'll end up feeling resentful," she says. "So rather than make assumptions based on what the other person did or did not do, ask what's going on with him or her. Don't necessarily interpret their behavior. It's only when people aren't communicating that there is a problem."

Here are some ideas for how to get the two of you communicating effectively once again.

  1. Be aware of the other person's emotional state, Mouratidis says. If he or she is in a negative emotional state, it may not be the time to engage.
  2. Decide upon a time to talk. Some people would rather deal with something immediately and get it over with, Mouratidis says, while others don't want to be bombarded the minute they get home from work. They need time to unwind first.
  3. Be respectful when you speak with the other person, and keep in mind that this is someone you care about, Mouratidis says.
  4. Talk about how you feel. Use statements like "I feel angry because I need this" rather than "You don't listen" or "You don't care." "When you use the word 'you,' it automatically makes the other person become defensive, Mouratidis says.
  5. Be sure you know exactly what the other person is saying. Reflect back and repeat what you heard because this will ensure that you got it right," Mouratidis says. "It also helps the other person when he or she feels heard and understood." For instance, after the other person speaks, you may say something like, "I understand that you feel angry because you are doing most of the housework around here." Even if the two people don't agree, if they feel mutually respected and listened to, that preserves the relationship, Mouratidis says.
  6. Avoid generalizations. That means never saying things like "Everybody says you're like that."
  7. The rule is that only one person talks at a time, and that you call a timeout if things get heated. You may both need a brief break if you're talking at the same time and raising your voices, Mouratidis says.
  8. Make physical contact. "Some men respond very well if you rub the back of their neck," Rapini says. "Women respond if the guy is a little demonstrative and touches her on the arm."
  9. Use a soft voice. "People relax and breathe more deeply when the voice is softer," Rapini says. "It is taken as a sign of closeness and of connection."
  10. Use general, non-verbal messages, too, Mouratidis suggests.  Avoid eye rolling and sitting with your arms crossed.  Rolling your eyes signifies, "I don't care," she says. And sitting with your arms crossed is like putting up a barrier that says,  "Stay away, I am all closed up."  On the other hand, when you lean in a little bit, it shows that you are interested in what he is saying, Mouratidis says. "And don't convey the feeling of being rushed. If you don't have time to talk right then, say so and ask if you can talk after dinner."