Communication — 13 July 2013
Women: husbands can’t be like your girlfriends

It is common for women to complain that their husbands do not communicate with them as well as their girlfriends do. Men often seem bewildered by their women’s needs for frequent verbal/emotional exchanges. How can women reorient their expectations of men?

In “Sex, Lies and Conversation; Why Is It So Hard for Men and Women to Talk to Each Other?” Professor Deborah Tannen of Georgetown University writes, “In my own research, complaints from women about their husbands most often focused on communication: “He doesn’t listen to me,” “He doesn’t talk to me.”

I found, as political scientist Andrew Hacker observed years before, that most wives want their husbands to be, first and foremost, conversational partners, but few husbands share this expectation of their wives.”She adds, “Women’s conversational habits are as frustrating to men as men’s are to women. Men who expect silent attention interpret a stream of listener noise as overreaction or impatience. Also, when women talk to each other in a close, comfortable setting, they often overlap, finish each other’s sentences and anticipate what the other is about to say. Men perceive this practice as interruption, intrusion and lack of attention.”The goals of men and women in conversations are different. For women, conversations are the foundation of connection, sharing, emotional intimacy, validation and friendship. For men conversations are essential for task completion. Thus, their words, gestures, facial expressions and intonations are distinctively different.Dr. Tannen also found body and eye contact differences, “at every age, the girls and women faced each other directly, their eyes anchored on each other’s faces. At every age, the boys and men sat at angles to each other and looked elsewhere in the room, periodically glancing at each other. They were obviously attuned to each other, often mirroring each other’s movements. But the tendency of men to face away can give women the impression they aren’t listening even when they are.”Women ask questions and are physically and verbally attentive to conversational content and emotions. Men’s precise depictions and frequent switching of topics gives women the impression men aren’t interested. In “Fighting for Life,” Walter Ong depicts men’s communication style as “warlike and oppositional, their discussion a debate, and conversation a competitive sport. In contrast, women see conversation as a ritual means of establishing rapport.”It is wise to consider that brain pre-programming of men and women is a brilliant system for survival that best suited tribal men and women. Though today some of these depictions are similar, men have become significantly more attentive to women.


  • Understand that the silent, topic-focused, unemotional style of your man is a survival vestige and not an intentional insensitivity.
  • Tell your man what reactions would please you as you guard his esteem.
  • Accept that most men cannot be your “girlfriends”. Keep your women friends for verbal/emotional intimacy and your men’s style as protective and loving.



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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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