Good communication is key to any relationship. If you’re talking with your girlfriend or husband or boss or friend or even a stranger on the street, you’ll never make much progress or maintain a healthy relationship if you can’t communicate effectively.
I have two degrees in communication, so let me impress you with my vast communication knowledge: The formula for communication has to include at least one person sending a message and at least one person receiving it.
That formula alone was worth thousands of dollars in higher education costs, right?
The problem, however, is that communication is never that simple. As George Bernard Shaw famously said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Let that sink in.
Effective communication is super difficult and super rare. In fact, in my first five years of marriage, that is probably the biggest lesson I’ve had to learn. There have been numerous times when I believed I had an effective conversation, but I later learned it was only an illusion.
Most of us think we’re pretty good at sending messages, but today I want to focus on the other half of the communication equation — listening.
“It’s Not About the Nail”
I’m not a fan of gender stereotypes. I don’t like it when people place men or women in a box by saying all men do a certain thing and all women do another thing. I don’t think life is that black and white, and I think lines are continuing to blur. Keep that belief in mind, but also know that I do believe — and certainly have experienced — that most men and women communicate and listen very differently.
If you don’t believe me, watch this video.
You know why that video is funny? Because it’s real life.
Guys, listen up.
Men, if you’ve ever read any relationship book or had premarital counseling or even had a conversation with a married man, you’ve probably heard this golden nugget of wisdom: Most women don’t want you to fix their problems; they just want you to listen.
If you want to have good relationships with women, you should probably go ahead and tattoo that on your forehead. I’ve heard that statement maybe a thousand times, but I still struggle with this almost daily. In fact, this happened to me last night, while I was preparing this post. My wife was explaining something that frustrated her, and even as I was telling myself not to, I gave her suggestions to fix the problem.
In that moment, I couldn’t even communicate with myself effectively! As soon as she started telling me her troubles, my inner Vanilla Ice just couldn’t help but burst out: “If there was a problem, yo, I’ll solve it!”
Guys, I know you’ve probably heard this before, but especially if you’re married or in a dating relationship, shut up and listen. For whatever reason, God wired us very differently in this area, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.
If your wife, fiancée, girlfriend, friend or acquaintance starts telling you about a rough day she’s having or a problem she’s facing, grab a mirror and look at that tattoo you just put on your forehead. For her, most likely the most loving thing you can do in that moment is to quietly listen and offer your sympathy. She just needs to know you’re with her. Assure her she’s not crazy, acknowledge that her frustrations are legitimate, and genuinely be there for her. If she asks for advice, let your manly Vanilla Ice wisdom fly. But, if my experience has taught me anything, if she doesn’t ask for your brilliant problem-solving, she doesn’t want it.
Did I mention that I fail at this almost daily? This does not come naturally to us men, and I can tell you that it apparently takes longer than five years to sink in. Either that or I’m ridiculously stubborn and a slow learner.
Ladies, we’re trying.
Girls, I get it. The guys in your life have probably heard this a million times, and they’re still horrible at listening the way you want. But if I could offer a suggestion to fix it?
Gah! I did it again!
OK, for the sake of time, I’m going to pretend you just spoke with me for several minutes, I handled it perfectly, and then you asked me for advice. Here goes: Forgive us. We’re trying. We’re not annoying you on purpose.
If you’re dating or married to a Christian guy who you know deeply cares about you, be patient with him when he doesn’t listen well. Just like guys have a hard time understanding what you really need, it’s hard for us to explain why this problem-solving response is so natural for us. We’re not trying to be a know-it-all or downplay your realities. When we offer advice or suggestions, that’s our natural, knee-jerk reaction of trying to take care of you. Our manly instinct to protect our girls kicks in, and we’re just trying to help.
When — not if — we fail at this, please give us some grace and remind us what you really need. Be gentle and try not to make us feel stupid. Be patient and remember we’re doing only what naturally feels loving to us.
Guys, shut up and listen. Be supportive and affirm her feelings. If you do that, effective communication might actually occur. Then, if (and only if!) she asks for help with her problems? “Yo, I’ll solve it! Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it.”