Happy Valentines: six secrets to communicating with men!

The relationship between mom and stepmom is a tense one.  Add a dad into the mix, and all effective communication can get thrown right out the window. Not because he’s not good at it, but because men are wired differently than women.

Ever notice when you’re talking to your husband or ex-husband that a few minutes into the conversation, his facial expression has gone from attentive to glazed over? You know you’ve lost him somewhere, you’re just not sure where. Your first thought is probably “He never listens to me!” or “He doesn’t care about what I’m saying!”

Well, the good news is you’re wrong, on both accounts.

As Alison Armstrong says, we have a tendency to think men are just hairy women. But they’re not. They’re different creatures than we are and this is especially evident in how we communicate. So in the hopes of overcoming one of many challenges we face,  here are six tips to help improve communication with the man in your life.

1. Men focus on one thing at a time.

As opposed to women who focus on many things at once…. It’s what was necessary for them to be successful hunters, you know, way back in the day. They needed to concentrate fully on what they were hunting or their family would starve.

Now, before you start thinking that being single-focused equals being stupid or simple, remember it’s what gave them the ability to create the Mona Lisa and the Eiffel Tower. It’s the reason we were able to send a man to the moon and Mozart created his masterpieces! There’s nothing stupid or simple about men.

Keep this tip in mind the next time you want to discuss an issue with a man. Discuss one issue at a time. If you start talking about the kids’ visitation schedule, and then jump to discipline and the school vacation schedule, you’re going to lose him. He’s going to shut down.

Not because he doesn’t care, but because he’s wired to focus on one thing at a time, and you’ve just flooded him with too much information.

2. Men love to listen to women, especially when we’re excited about something.

And because men are single-focused, they’re totally focused on what we’re saying. They’re waiting to hear what the “point” of our story is. Unfortunately, as women, we like to embellish our tales with all the juicy details. Cue the “glazed over” look. Men get lost in the details. It’s overwhelming for them. It’s not that they aren’t interested, but they’re looking for the point, and of course, there usually isn’t a point because we’re just sharing!

To prevent the “glazed over” look, save the details for your girlfriends. Think about the main points of your story and share only those.

This comes in handy when you want to tell him how little Johnny threw a tantrum, but you feel compelled to start the conversation by describing what Johnny was wearing and end it with the advice your mother gave you. Remember, tell him only what he needs to know to grasp your point.

3. Men love to give.

Men absolutely love to give to us, but they’re not mind readers. In fact, they don’t take hints well either. You need to tell a man what you want. Spell it out for him.

If you test a man by NOT telling him, hoping that he’ll remember or figure it out on his own, you both lose. What you’re actually doing by testing him is setting him up to fail.  If you tell him what you want, you both win. You get what you were hoping for and he feels successful.

Which brings me to the fourth tip.

4. Men get their power from our belief in them.

Men NEED to hear that we appreciate them. They need to hear we support them and encourage them and that we have faith in them. And they need to hear it often. This will make them want to give even more to us. But if you criticize them and put them down, it will make them want to stop doing for you.

Ever notice how if you criticize a woman, it makes her want to change?  Tell her a certain hairstyle doesn’t look good on her and you’ll likely see her tomorrow with a different do. But criticize a man, and you’ll drive him away. He won’t change into what you want him to be, he’ll just stop trying to please you.

5. Men are natural providers.

To most men, being able to provide for their families is one of the most important and satisfying things to them. And almost all men will agree that when they feel supported, it’s a joy to provide, but when they feel criticized and not supported it becomes a burden and a source of resentment.

Next time you’re about to voice a complaint, turn it into a request. Instead of saying “You never help with the dishes, I feel like I do all the work around here,” try, “Can we work out a schedule for alternating cleaning the dishes?” This leaves out the criticism and still satisfies your need for getting help with the dishes.

6. A man will talk if you listen.

Men are happy to communicate with us, but we often don’t give them the chance. Next time you ask a man a question, give him time to answer, don’t interrupt. Now let’s define “interrupt.” To a man, an interruption can be almost anything; from excessive nodding, to agreeing verbally, to rephrasing your question and prompting the answer. All these are perfectly fine when it comes to chatting with a girlfriend, but they will surely be considered an interruption to a mans thought process and will shut him down.

He’s respecting your question by taking time to think about it. Let him have that time. And after he’s spoken, count to 30 in your head before speaking. I know by this point you’ll be jumping out of your skin to speak. But use all the self-control you can muster. You might be surprised by how much he has to say when given the opportunity!

These family relationships are tough enough. The last thing we need are the differences between men and women getting in the way of progress. Try some of these strategies and see if your communication improves.

Do you have some tips to share that have worked for you? Spread the love by leaving a comment.

To learn more about understanding men, join Jenna for her Insights Into Men workshop.

© 2011 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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  1. Thanks for this wonderful reminder that men are not just hairy women (I love Alison Armstrong btw). Great advice to women.
    I love your point #3: Men are not mind readers. Women need to ask for what they want. So often, I hear women tell me that their husbands don’t listen, but eventually, I learned they didn’t even ask.
    Another great point you made is that women really REALLY need girlfriends in their lives. You can’t think that your husband will fill in all the gaps you have in your relationships, including being a “girlfriend” type of friend.

  2. Thanks, Claudette! It’s a common theme among women; expecting to have the same type of relationship with their partner as they do with their girlfriends. Then they’re disappointed because he’s not meeting the needs that girlfriends do. I believe if women understood men a little better, they could learn how to interact with them in a way that was effective for both partners and there’d be a lot less conflict between couples :)

  3. I loved tip number 5, Men are natural providers. I know I constantly need to remind myself that just by changing the way I say things makes all the difference in the world to my Hubby! Letting him know that even the simple everyday things he does for me and our family are appreciated, not taken for granted. And it’s more likely I’ll get what I need from him with a smile rather than a scowl and some words said underneath his breath. I would also like to add that by initiating the appreciation, always comes back to you ten fold. As always thanks for the good advice!

  4. Lisa, you’re exactly right, and you’ve been rewarded for your efforts of showing your hubby how appreciative you are :) It’s funny, men will still provide to a complaining/critizing wife, but they’ll do it with resentment. Not a good thing!

  5. I definitely needed tip #6. My husband hates it when I interrupt him. I think he is finished talking and I start again to find out I am “interrupting” him. I call him a “long-pauser.” I will try the counting to 30 tip. But, I am just wondering how I can improve on tip # 3. I told him very precisely that I wanted flowers and a certain type of perfume for Valentine’s Day; I even told him where to get it at. And somehow he only managed the flowers :) I still love him, but seriously I don’t know how I could have made it any easier.

  6. Hi Crystal, congratulate yourself for spelling it out for him :). There may be a number of reasons he didn’t follow through on the perfume (did you give him your list while he was focused on something else? was he in a rush and ran out of time? did he think you were giving him options and that you only expected ONE of the items?). The important thing is that you gave him the information he needed.

    It’s a little hard to confront him about the items he missed without sounding disappointed. Maybe after some time has passed, if you can bring up the subject without any emotion or sounding disappointed, you could always say something like “I loved the flowers you gave me on Valentines. I know I had also mentioned that perfume would be nice. I was just wondering what happened to the perfume? Was the store out of it?” That’s not a perfect way to say it, but I think it’s non-confrontational enough to get him talking.

    Remember, you don’t want him to think he failed. You’re genuinely curious about what happened to the perfume. You could also let him know you want to help him to succeed, so he should let you know what you can do to help him in that area. Make sure you say all of this in a non-condescending way. :)

    Or you could just let it go and hope he follows through next year ;)

  7. I love this. Thank you!

  8. I’ve registered, a few days ago and have been waiting to be approved. Who approves the members? And must I do anything else to join?

  9. Hi Celisa, you should be added to the Ning forum now! :)

  10. Susan Davis says:

    I’m way off subject, but I’m so floored. Jenna, I stumbled upon this due to some break downs in communication barriers. I was cruising through here to find some tips, which are very good I would like to add, and then I saw your precious face. I was your hair stylist in Jacksonville. As a matter of fact one of my other clients was just asking about you last week. The stars are in funny places these days. Anyway, I’m so happy to see you are doing what you always did best. We need to talk soon.

    – Susan

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