Improving Communication Between the Sexes - 7/05

Smartmarriages& #174; Mailing List smartmarriages at
Fri Aug 19 15:14:44 EDT 2005

Legato's Laws for Improving Communication Between the Sexes.

Tailor Your Content

Men and women seem to be interested in different things, and this can
manifest itself in conflict over the way we talk to one another. One of the
first things we can do to address this difference is to make sure that we're
tailoring our communication to fit our audience. You know exactly what I
mean, because this is something we already do with our female friends.

Let me give you an example. I am perfectly capable of commenting on the cut
of a new coat or the sophistication of a pattern on a silk scarf, but I
don't share these details with my friend Anne, because I know that she's not
at all interested in fashion. Correspondingly, Anne doesn't share her
enthusiasm for the turbo-boosting options she adds to her computer except in
the most general terms, out of respect for my lack of passion for the topic.
We do talk -- endlessly and to both of our tremendous satisfaction -- about
books. Anne and I are interested in different things, but we have found
common ground.

Many relationships between men and women might also benefit from a similar
sensitivity. Why don't we extend the same courtesy to our spouses as we do
to our friends, by focusing our conversation on topics of interest to both
of us? As I write this, there is a book of straight-talking relationship
advice on the New York Times best seller list called He's Just Not That Into
You. To borrow the phrase -- and the spirit in which it is offered -- I say
to the woman trying to get her husband to keep up his end of the
conversational bargain: "Maybe he's just not that interested in what you're

The same, of course, goes for men. One of my colleagues told me about a
communication breakthrough he'd had with his wife. Between the staff at the
hospital he works with and his patients, he comes in contact with thousands
of people every day, while his wife is home with their children. "She was
always asking me what was going on at the hospital, and then she'd be
unsatisfied with my answers about our end-of-the-year projections and
operating expenses. Over time, I realized that she wants me to tell her
stories -- about cranky patients, interesting case studies, staff gossip. So
now as I go through my day, I mentally bookmark little things I think she'll
like to hear later and bring them home to her. It's like bringing her

By making sure he's telling her the kinds of things she likes to hear about,
my colleague increases the amount of communication in his marriage and gives
his wife some insight into the part of the day he spends away from her. His
wife didn't want to audit the hospital's balance sheet; she was trying to
get a fuller picture of her husband's interior life and emotions. So it
probably isn't even the story of the cranky patient she enjoys, but hearing
how he dealt with that patient and how that interaction made him feel.

One way, then, that we can improve communication between the sexes is to
tailor the content of our conversations to our listener -- just as I do with

Keep It Simple

Of course, there's a material difference between the way we talk to our
female friends and the way we talk to our spouses; there has to be. I don't
have to go shopping with Anne, but couples are mutually involved and
invested in domestic matters, including parenting, providing shelter for
themselves and their offspring, and deciding how to spend money. We are,
after all, in partnership with one another, so sometimes we have to bridge
the gap by mastering a common language.

In most cases, men and women do understand each other, but I have found that
when I make an effort to speak in a language men can easily understand, my
message gets across more successfully. In my experience, it's well worth the
effort, just as it is worth it to learn any language. My school-perfect
French may never sound truly "French" to a Parisian, but the practice I put
into it makes it much easier for me to have a joyful time vacationing there
than if I was reading phonetically from my guidebook. The visit is much
richer for the time it takes to brush up on my vocabulary.

Let me use another example from the realm of female friendship. A female
colleague of mine works at home. By now, I can basically tell by the tone of
her "Hello" whether she's deep in the middle of a work project or simply
unloading the dishwasher. If she's busy and there's a question I absolutely
must ask her, I get right to the point. If she sounds like she has a little
time to chat, I handle the conversation differently: I'll inquire about her
family or our mutual acquaintances, mention a book or a performance that
made me think of her, or share data on a mutual patient. I talk to most men
the way I talk to my friend when she is busy. And here's what you can do.

  a.. Make simple, declarative points, in order. If you want something done,
outline it clearly and simply.
  b.. Don't gild the lily, illustrate your points with anecdotes, or even
use unnecessary adjectives. A poet I met once said he imagined that every
word he wrote cost $20. I have found this a useful editing tool in my
conversations with men.
Stick to the Matter at Hand

So many of the arguments we have with our male lovers and husbands stray
from the topic at hand. Once you're angry, it's easy to get in touch with
every single hurt feeling you've had in the relationship, and it takes a
great deal of self-control to stop yourself from hurling old accusations,
even when they have nothing to do with whatever sparked the original

This can wreck real havoc on our relationships. I realize that banishing the
memory -- and the impact -- of a previous argument or betrayal is easier
said than done, but I suggest that you make an attempt, when you are
arguing, to restrict your discussion to the immediate incident at hand.

Your husband may have made plans to play golf on Mother's Day last year, but
that act of insensitivity has nothing to do with why he has once again
forgotten to set aside time to pay the household bills. So the subject of
that long-ago golf game should be considered off-limits for the purposes of
your argument about the bills. If you can keep your request to asking him to
plan ahead so that he can dispatch the domestic responsibilities he has
assumed, your husband will really hear you on the subject, as opposed to
tuning out, the way he does when you dredge up something he cannot change.

Believe What You Hear

I sat, mouth open in disbelief, as a friend of my daughter's described her
first "relationship discussion" with the new man in her life. He had told
her, point-blank, that the priorities in his life were his children from an
earlier marriage and getting his new business off the ground. The
combination of the two meant that he didn't have a lot of time or energy for
a serious relationship. In fact, the two most recent relationships he'd been
in had collapsed because he hadn't been able to give his partners the time
and attention they deserved.

I was dismayed to hear the way this intelligent young woman told her story
and parried this man's every excuse with a reinterpretation of her own. She
was intent on barreling headlong into a romance with him, despite the
warning shot he'd fired across her bow at the very first opportunity. It
wasn't a surprise to anyone but her when their liaison ended 5 months later,
after countless broken dates and promises. He had told her everything she
needed to know, right up front, but she had heard something else because she
wanted to.

About the Author
MARIANNE J. LEGATO, MD, FACP, is a professor of clinical medicine at
Columbia University, where she founded and heads the Partnership for
Gender-Specific Medicine. One of the world's foremost experts on gender
medicine and winner of many awards for her work, she is the author of The
Female Heart, What Women Need to Know, and Eve's Rib.

Copyright © 2005 Marianne J. Legato, MD, FACP and Laura Tucker

Reprinted from: Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget by Marianne J.
Legato, MD, FACP and Laura Tucker © 2005 Rodale Inc. Permission granted by
Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or
directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website

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