The Martian and Venusian languages had the same words, but the way they were used gave different meanings. Their expressions were similar, but they had different connotations or emotional emphasis.
Misinterpreting each other was very easy. So when communication problems emerged, they assumed it was just one of those expected misunderstandings and that with a little assistance they would surely understand each other. They experienced a trust and acceptance that we rarely experience today.
You can see how a ‘literal’ translation of a woman’s words could easily mislead a man who is used to using speech as a means of conveying only facts and information. We can also see how a man’s responses might lead to an argument.
Unclear and unloving communication is the biggest problem in relationships. The number one complaint women have in relationships is: “I don’t feel heard.” Even this complaint is misunderstood and misinterpreted!
A man’s literal translation of “I don’t feel heard” leads him to invalidate and argue with her feelings. He thinks he has heard her if he can repeat what she has said. A translation of a woman saying “I don’t feel heard” so that a man could correctly interpret is: “I feel as though you don’t fully understand what I really mean to say or care about how I feel. Would you show me that you are interested in what I have to say?”
If a man really understood her complaint then he would argue less and be able to response more positively. When men and women are on the verge of arguing, they are generally misunderstanding each other. At such times, it is important to rethink or translate what they have heard.
Because many men don’t understand that women express feelings differently, they inappropriately judge or invalidate their partner’s feelings. This leads to arguments.
One of big challenges for men is correctly to interpret and support a woman when she is talking about her feelings. The biggest challenge for women is correctly to interpret and support a man when he isn’t talking. Silence is most easily misinterpreted by women.
Quite often a man will suddenly stop communicating and become silent. This was unheard of on Venus. At first a woman thinks the man is deaf. She thinks that maybe he doesn’t hear what being said and that is why he is not responding.
You see men and women think and process information very differently. Women think out loud, sharing their process of inner discovery with an interested listener. Even today, a woman often discovers what she wants to say through the process of just talking. This process of just letting thoughts flow freely and expressing them out loud helps her to tap into her intuition. This process is perfectly normal and especially necessary sometimes.
But men process information very differently. Before they talk or respond, they first silently ‘mull over’ or think about what they have heard or experienced. Internally and silently they figure out the most correct or useful response.
They first formulate it inside and then express it. This process could take from minutes to hours, and to make matters even more confusing for women, if he does not have enough information to process an answer, a man may not respond at all.
Women need to understand that when he is silent, he is saying “I don’t know what to say yet, but I am thinking about it.” Instead what they hear is “I am not responding to you because I don’t care about you and I am going to ignore you. What you have said to me is not important and therefore I am not responding.”
A man commonly feels attacked and blamed by a woman’s feelings, especially when she is upset and talks about problems. Because he doesn’t understand how we are different, he doest readily relate to her need to talk about all of her feelings.
He mistakenly assumes she is telling him about her feelings because she thinks he is somehow responsible or to be blamed. Because she is upset and she is talking to him, he assumes she is upset with him. When she complains he hears blame. Many men don’t understand the (Venusian) need to share upset feelings with the people they love.
With practice and an awareness of our differences, women can learn how to express their feelings without having them sound like blaming. To reassure a man that he is not being blamed, when a woman expresses her feelings she could pause after a few minutes of sharing and tell him how much she appreciates him for listening.
She could say some of the following comments:
“I’m sure glad I can complain about all this. It makes me feel so much better.”
“Well, now that I’ve talked about it, I feel much better. Thank you.”
This simple change can make a world of difference.
Good communication requires participation on both sides. A man needs to work at remembering that complaining about problems does not mean blaming and that when a woman complain she is generally just letting go of her frustrations by talking about them. A woman can work at letting him know that she is complaining she also appreciates him.
Women don’t think of giving appreciation because they assume a man knows how much she appreciates being heard. He doesn’t know. When she is talking about problems, he needs to be reassured that he is still loved and appreciated.
Men feel frustrated by problems unless they are doing something to solve them. By appreciating them, a woman can help him realize that just by listening he is also helping.
A man often blames a woman for being blaming when she is innocently talking about problems. This is very destructive to the relationship because it blocks communications.
Imagine a woman saying “All we ever do is work, work, work. We don’t have fun anymore. You are so serious.” A man could easily feel she is blaming him.
If he feels blamed, I suggest he not blame back and say “It is difficult t hear you say I am so serious. Are you saying it is all my fault that we don’t have more fun?”
Or he could say “When you say we don’t have fun and that I am so serious, I feel like you are saying it is all my fault. Are you?”
All of these responses are respectful and give her chance to take back any blame that he might have felt. When she says “Oh, no, I’m not saying it’s all your fault” he will probably feel somewhat relieved.
Another approach that I find most helpful is to remember that she always has a right to be upset and that once she gets it out, she will feel much better. This awareness allows me to relax and remember that if I can listen without taking it personally, then when she needs to complain she will be so appreciative of me. Even she was blaming me, she will not hold on to it.
As a man learns to listen and interpret a woman’s feeling correctly, communication becomes easier. As with any art, listening requires practice. Each day when I get home, I will seek out my wife and ask her about her day, thus practising this art of listening.
Although listening is an important skill to practice, some days a man is too sensitive or stressed to translate the intended meaning of her phrases. At such times he should not even attempt to listen. Instead he could kindly say “This isn’t a good time for me. Let’s talk later.”
Sometimes a man doesn’t realize that he can’t listen until she begins talking. If he becomes very frustrated, while listening he should not try to continue – he’ll just become increasingly upset. That does not serve him or her.
Instead, the respectful thing to say is “I really want to hear what you are saying, but right now it is very difficult for me to listen. I think I need some time to think about what you have just said.”
When misunderstandings arise, remember that we speak different languages; take the time necessary to translate what your partner really means or wants to say. This definitely takes practice, but it is well worth it.
Sources: John Gray (1992), Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. The writer cites few parts (paragraphs) from the chapter ‘Speaking Different Languages’ to be shared in this blog.