There are many differences between men and women, including in the types of communication styles they use to bond and create intimacy in relationships. And when couples aren’t on the same page, differences in men and women’s communication styles can cause unnecessary tension.
Unfortunately, this easily avoidable relationship problem is all-too-common.
As an example of how differences in communication styles can escale, take a conflict my client, Andrew, shared with me.
While his wife, Ceceila, was getting something for him, he jokingly said, “Don’t break it.” She came back with a fairly harsh, “What’s going on with you?” He reacted to her judgment of him, and it didn’t go well from there.
After a few minutes, they calmed down and talked about it. She understood why her tone upset him, but even though they had talked about this very issue over and over, he didn’t get why his joke upset her.
He judged her as being too sensitive and she ended up feeling even more hurt and unheard. She believed that his judgmental ‘jokes’ were passive-aggressive, and she wanted him to address this. However, he looked inside and when it came to the sarcastic jokes, he couldn’t find any aggression within himself.
This is when the importance of communication styles in relationships come into play.
I told Andrew that I, too, would not have liked the comment and asked him if he was open to going deeper with what was going on. He was on board.
The first thing he said was, “This is the way I and my guy friends are with each other. We are constantly sarcastic, insulting and ridiculing of each other. But only with my close friends. We make fun of each other a lot and it’s fun.”
“Andrew, is this the way you and your friends connect with each other?” I asked.
“Yes! It’s fun and it’s bonding. You know, guys don’t share their feelings a lot and this is a way of being close.”
“I understand. So it’s not actually passive-aggressive. But I know that you know that Cecelia hates it. Why do you do it with her?”
“I just forget. I slip up. I’m with guys a lot and we do this all the time so sometimes I just forget.”
“Would you be willing to share our conversation with Cecelia? I think it might help her to understand why you do this and to not get so hurt by it.”
“Yes, I’d be happy to talk with her. And I’m glad to finally understand it myself!”
Andrew later sent me a Reddit thread about this topic. One of the quotes on this page is interesting: “Men socialize by insulting each other, but don’t really mean it. While women socialize by complimenting each other but don’t really mean it.”
I think there is some truth when it comes to gender differences between men and women in communication styles.
Women often “compliment” each other insincerely or are “catty” behind each other’s backs. It’s one way the wounded self tries to connect when they haven’t learned to connect with their heart. And, for some men, the bantering can be hurtful rather than bonding.
The real issue is that many people never learned how to have an open heart and connect with their feelings when communicating.
Men likely learned in their families to connect with insults and sarcasm, and women learned to connect with compliments and gossip. Yet, these forms of connection can leave each person feeling empty and unsatisfied, if there is a lack of the authentic energy of love.
For both men and women, these indirect behaviours can be tricky, depending on the intent and context. If you are a person who has learned to relate to others this way — whether it’s “masculine” insult or banter or the “feminine “cattiness” — it is important to really examine how the behaviour makes you and the people with whom you engage in these behaviours feel.
If you both feel a genuine sense of intimacy, ease, connection, caring, and fun, then great. If not, it is worth looking at the behaviour to see if it might be one of the many ploys of your wounded self to try and feel in control or to keep others at bay (which is most likely), rather than connecting.
The only thing that truly fills us is love.
As you practice Inner Bonding and learn how to love yourself, you may find that you no longer enjoy the way the wounded self has learned to connect and communicate.
If you are a sensitive man, you may find that you have had to ignore your hurt feelings regarding the insults and judgments you might experience with other men and it no longer feels okay to ignore it.
Being true to yourself is always the important thing to do and often it takes some work to discover that truth.
Inauthentic ways of communicating often leave us feeling bad, while authentically sharing love and intimacy is always deeply fulfilling.