Most will recall that Harvard President Larry Summers recently kicked up
a hysterical kerfuffle when he made a speech that was premised on the
seemingly innocuous assumption that the biological differences between
men and women extend beyond the most obvious genital and physical ones
to the way they're wired and that their different sexes may influence
their roles in society. This most interesting and informative book, by a
professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University, calmly and
dispassionately discusses just what some of the chemical and structural
differences are in the brains of the different genders and how they may
effect our understanding of each other and the world around us and
influence the way we interact. It's a book everyone ought to read, but
I'd think it would be especially useful for husbands and
wives--especially the more newly wed--to read concurrently. It's
revealing how many of the things men and women have fought over since
time immemorial -- accusing each other of willful bad faith the whole
time -- turn out to have their bases in the genuine physiological
differences between the respective genders.
The book opens with a series of True/False questions, like the following:
True or False: Women are better at multitasking, while men are better when concentrating on a single task from beginning to completion.
Ruben Gur, PhD, and Raquel Gur, MD, PhD, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, measured blood flow and activity in men's and women's brains, and they found repeatedly that women use more parts of their brains when given a wide variety of verbal and spatial tasks. They believe that this may contribute to women's ability to focus on a number of different things at one time.
A new study has raised an important question: Women may be better at multitasking, but is multitasking really the most efficient way to work? Newer research shows that switching back and forth from one task to another takes precious seconds of reevaluation, and those seconds add up. As the researchers point out, in the best-case scenario, this makes you only slightly less efficient -- but in the case of someone talking on a cell phone and driving, that fraction of a second may make the difference between life and death.
The conclusion I personally have come to is this: Multitasking is certainly helpful when you don't have any options, when your assistant is out sick or when you're trying to put dinner on the table while at the same time making sure your children are entertained and safe. But I find that when I need to concentrate on writing, it's helpful for me to turn off my phone and my e-mail program, with its constant "new mail" alerts, so that I can better and more purely concentrate on the task at hand.
Later on she returns to this physical fact to show how it must effect our communications and the expectations that women have of men. Because men tend to focus more on discrete tasks it is probably not a good idea to expect them to multitask. In an essay adapted from the book, Dr. Legato breaks down the ways that women can apply this knowledge, and other bits, when they speak to men, Nine ways to improve communication with the man, or men, in your life
Don't try to compete with distractions
Initiating a discussion while he's watching television or surfing the Internet means you won't get his full attention. If distractions make it hard to have a certain kind of conversation while the two of you are preparing dinner, for example, take yourselves out of your home entirely: Go for a walk or to a restaurant for a drink. Try to pick a time that's convenient for each of you and when you're both alert.
These strategies work, whether you're still in the first blush of romance, deciding to take your relationship to a more serious level, or long married. Be it your first serious discussion or the 4,000th, improving communication takes practice. Think of it as getting your brain and his in sync.
Stick to the subject
It takes a great deal of self-control to stop yourself from hurling old accusations, even when they have nothing to do with whatever sparked the current argument. Banishing the memory — and the impact — of a previous argument or betrayal isn't easy, but communication will be better if you attempt to restrict your discussion to the incident at hand.
Your husband may have made plans to play golf on Mother's Day last year, but that act of insensitivity has nothing to do with why he has once again forgotten to set aside time to pay overdue household bills. So the subject of that long-ago golf game should be considered off-limits for the purposes of your argument about the bills.
If you can limit your request to asking him to plan ahead so that he can dispatch the domestic responsibilities he has assumed, your husband has a better chance of "hearing" you, as opposed to tuning you out the way he does when you dredge up some misdemeanor that he can't change because it's in the past.
End the conversation before it's over
Another source of discord has to do with a difference of opinion about when a conversation should end. Because women are better at interpreting facial expressions, you're going to know when he's becoming bored or losing patience with a conversation, possibly even before he does. You may just be getting warmed up, but when you notice the signs, it's best to end it. Neither of you is at your best when you're tired, and men do seem to have less stamina for conversation than women do. It may take a few short talks to get the job done.
Give him a heads-up
Avoid misunderstandings by letting him know when you're about to say something that needs his close attention. Tell him clearly that you want to have a serious talk. Before you begin, tell him that this is going to be a "look-me-in-the-eye conversation."
Open with the positive
A patient recently told me about her failed attempt to improve communication with her husband. She began by saying, "You have a history of not listening to me, so I'm trying some new strategies in the hope of getting through to you." I suggested that next time she not be so critical but try some version of: "There's a recurring issue in our relationship that I believe we can fix together. I'd like to talk about the best way to handle it." It worked. Her husband was happy to listen when his opinion was courted. And he was less defensive when he wasn't accused of being obtuse.
... and say what you mean
Women often tell me, "I don't want to have to ask him to unload the dishwasher. I want him to see that I'm tired, and offer!" It's lovely when the people in our lives anticipate our needs, but expecting it without going to the trouble of making our needs known is nothing more than setting a trap.
So say what you're thinking. Telling him directly, "I've had a really terrible day" works better than a hangdog look. And instead of casting a reproachful or injured glance after he aims a barb your way, you might say, "That remark really hurt. Did you mean it?" Don't be surprised if he seems mystified. It's more evidence that he wasn't ignoring your feelings; he simply was unaware of them.
I have found that if I talk to a man the way I speak to a friend when I know that she's busy, my message gets across more successfully. For instance, if you want something done, outline it clearly and simply. And don't gild the lily: Avoid illustrating your points with anecdotes or unnecessary adjectives. A poet I met once said he imagined that every word he wrote cost $20. I have found this to be a useful editing tool in my conversations with men.
If there's unquestionably a whiff of the child-rearing guide book or the dog-training manual there, it's hard to imagine any man taking offense. If women would learn those rules and practice them we'd be only too happy. The sections on communication and on maintaining healthy and lively sexual relationships are worth the price of admission by themselves, especially for men but also for women who wish they understood men better.
The book is not without its shortcomings. Dr. Legato far too blithely accepts or asserts that various features of even our personalities are "evolutionary" and makes the absurd suggestion that because certain other species engage in various sex practices that they are therefore "natural" and we should accept them. One wonders if we shouldn't accept women murdering their lovers after sex because mantises do it? And this moral shortsightedness crops up again when she counsels bailing out of marriages that "turn sour" a bit more cavalierly than may be wise. This is especially perplexing because of what would seem to be the most hopeful piece of information in the book:"We're more the same as we age." She shows how some of the most characteristic differences between men and women tend to diminish somewhat as we grow old together and says:
I like to think that this greater degree of compatibility happens, not just because of the physiological changes that happen to us over time, but because we spend lifetimes learning from one another and, in doing so, become more alike.
Given that this convergence happens naturally and that new insights on gender differences like those here may be able to help us to smooth out some of the conflicts in the long-fought battle of the sexes, there would seem to be more cause than ever to believe that we can make our marriages work and make the already functional ones even better. Reading this book would be a good start towards that end.
Some sound points are made. Regarding some of these points, the rules should apply to both sexes:
Stick to the subject
Or, in other words, don't pile it on! You may have a problem with one shortcoming; but, when discussing that matter, don't add on some other shortcoming!
and say what you mean
This is very good point that both sexes need to remember; but, women tend to violate this point more often. However, we all would like the partner to "see the light" on their on; but, we have to make sure the point is made clearly what is causing the problem and not expect the other person to figure it out.