The media and popular books, such as John Gray's Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, lead us to believe that men and women have very different communication styles. This is only partially true. Men and women are actually more similar than not in how they communicate in close, personal relationships.

One of the areas of potential difference is in discussing problems. A new observational study reported that boys don't think discussing their problems is a productive endeavor, and it's not because they worry about being embarrassed or others teasing them. Girls, on the other hand, believe discussing problems is beneficial. However, girls are also at risk for talking excessively about their problems, which can lead to depression and anxiety.

Couples could apply these observations to their relationships by finding a middle ground: males could realize that discussing problems is beneficial some of the time and women shouldn't push men to talk if they don't want to.

Communication is a tool for emotionally connecting with others and the key to strong, healthy relationships. According to Angela R. Wiley, Ph.D., a Family Life Specialist, women generally express themselves verbally. When they communicate, they're more likely to offer and expect verbal support and engage in intense eye contact. Men often find this type of communication overstimulating, so they withdraw.

Putting the Research to Use

You can, however, encourage the man in your life to open up a bit more. Marriage and family experts offer several suggestions for improving how couples communicate.

1. Listen. Listening is the single most important communication skill. Pay attention to your partner's words and feelings, including their non-verbal communications, and listen without judging them. According to a segment in the Florida Marriage Preparation series, partners vary in expressiveness; some use facts while others use emotions. If you're the partner who uses emotions, you may also need to be the one who starts the conversation.

2. Keep it positive. Negative behaviors such as criticism, defensiveness, and contempt have a detrimental effect on close relationships, particularly for men, who may withdraw instead of participating in important conversations.

3. Create an environment of mutual care. The mundane, everyday interactions with your partner are at least as important as conventionally intimate interaction. Although we create and maintain deep emotional connections by communicating, it doesn't have to be exclusively with spoken words. Show you care in small ways and you'll help create a safe environment that may encourage him to open up.


ScienceDaily. "Males Believe Discussing Problems Is a Waste of Time, Study Shows." Web. 23 August 2011.

ScienceDaily. "Girls Who Complain About Their Problems At Greater Risk Of Developing Anxiety And Depression." Web. 16 July 2007.

Henderson, Ky. "What It Means When He Clams Up." Cosmopolitan. Web.

Baugh, Eboni J., and Humphries, Deborah. "Can We Talk? Improving Couples' Communication." University of Florida. The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Web. Jan 2010.

Emmers-Sommer, Tara M. and Galvin, Kathleen M. "RELATIONSHIPS" and "FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS."

Marriage and Family Encylopedia. Web.

Wiley, Angela, R. Ph.D. "Connecting as a couple: Communication skills for healthy relationships." The Forum for Family and Consumer Issues 12 (1) (2007) Web.