Are you listening carefully? – What happens when you don’t?

Men and communication

Men’s expertise and efficiency at finding solutions makes us feel proud and useful.

There is nothing quite as satisfying as completing a project, task or providing the best advice to our loved ones.

It comes as no surprise therefore, that we are left a little flummoxed when faced with our partner’s emotional distress and we are unable to fix their apparent problems.

Solutions are not always what partners need or want in the moments of emotional expression, unless they are asking for a fix.

Solutions don’t always help in building connection and intimacy.

Listen closely. I will say this only once, or twice!

The act of listening often highlight the differences between the way women and men, in general, communicate differently.

Failure to listen closely can become a source of ongoing tension in a relationship.

Below are some interactions highlighting some of the differences. Remember these are generalisations and not totally prescriptive.

He listens with a tendency for action filtering the words he hears. He listens with a “ what can I actually do about this?” attitude. He can lose patience and tolerance when he realises he’s not actually being called upon to do anything!

She sees the interaction as hugely productive without any tasks required or to be agreed. It’s a way to connect. She may not need a problem to be solved. Simply knowing she has been listened to reduces her anxiety and negative feelings.


He doesn’t tend to use his body much when communicating. He nods occasionally and isn’t always able to get a word in.

She uses her head and hand movements to express herself. She interprets his lack of body movement as he’s not listening, distracted and doesn’t care. Sharing for her is an act of intimacy and increases her closeness to the man she loves.


He finds her constant movements interrupting his flow of concentration.He is keen to get to the root of the problem and come up with steps to move on. He wants to protect her and the fastest way is to extinguish her emotional fire and provide solutions.

She experiences his need to problem solve as dismissive and it minimises her feelings. Her view is that he thinks her feelings are not important. She feels rejected.


His conversation is focused on the details that are essential, to get to the point rapidly. He gets puzzled about how much she talks it out. He tunes out after a while.

She may not know what or how many words are needed until she speaks and allows her process of thinking to spill accordingly. It’s rare that she plans or rehearses her conversations.


When he’s feeling down he withdraws. In his ‘cave’ he can forget about negative feelings and focus on something else. He may prefer to avoid talking with his partner when she reaches out to him. His fear is that his partner doesn’t trust he can take care of his own business.

She can feel her partner’s silence as her failure to support him properly. Her fear is that she’s losing him. The more she tries to reach out to him he seems unavailable. Her anxiety increases and asks heaps of questions. Suddenly it feels like an interrogation more than a conversation.


He may feel that he’s being judged, controlled and pestered. His competence is threatened and he feels hurt and pulls further away.

She steps away and gives him the space and trusts he will work it out and come out of his cave. She may feel abandoned after a while. She seeks out a friend for a chat.


The fallout

When styles of communicating are at odds it’s easy to see why relationships struggle. Consequently many couples can get stuck in the following patterns of relating in their relationship.

  1. Defense

When either partner hears any kind of criticism as a personal attack they become guarded, defensive and stop listening.

  1. Closed

Moving further into a defensive pattern includes a reaction of a partner who closes off the ideas or thoughts of the other absolutely. It’s the ‘case closed’ response.

  1. Projection

Projecting thoughts and feelings on to another person happens when perspective and objectivity has been lost almost completely.

Sometimes people credit their own feelings of anger, disappointment and frustration onto their partner when it is they who experience those feelings.

  1. Assumption

This is the rapid jumping to conclusions about a partner’s intention and meaning of their comments and expression. Assumptions can often be inaccurate.

  1. Distraction

Real listening is impossible with the TV blaring, iPad screen shining or mobile phone messaging going off in the background. It’s amazing how many couples try and resolve their differences with these kind of distractions.

The solution

Relationships will always provide opportunities for both partners to learn something about their listening and communication styles.

The willingness and acceptance to reflect without blaming or focusing solely on the other person is the key to change.

Solutions are necessary when opposing patterns of relating cause such huge distress. The distress on a couple can be immense.

There is often a lot at stake particularly if there are children involved because they tend to absorb the patterns of relating from their parents.


Developing good listening skills are explained more in this post. Read more.

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