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Dr. Harold Duncan on Male-Female Communication

More than 20 years ago, Dr. John Gray gave us a new “language” for discussing inter-gender communication when he wrote, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Patricia Love added to the discussion with her, How to Improve your Marriage Without Talking About It, in which she pointed out several genetically-based male-female differences and the impact of these differences upon our relationships.

Rob Becker’s, Defending the Caveman, is the longest running solo play in Broadway history as well as an international hit. It takes a humorous, yet profound look at the different ways in which men and women perceive and respond to each other.

It is widely accepted that men and women often approach communication from different perspectives and that sometimes, these perspectives are very different. It frequently seems as if we are speaking entirely different languages.

A friend recently shared with me a story told by one of her friends, the mother of an 8-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. The children were talking in the back seat as mom was bringing them home from school. As she listened in, she heard this:

  • Daughter to brother, “I want to be like you.”
  • Son (an 8 y/o “Mr. Literal”) to sister, “Well, technically, there is no way you could be just like me. You’re a girl, and I’m a boy.”
  • Daughter, “No, I mean I want to be like you.”
  • Son (completely missing the compliment), “Why? It’s better to be different than to be like everyone else.”
  • Daughter, “I mean I like all the things that you can do, and I want to be able to do those things too.”
  • Son, “Oh, okay. Well, Daddy is better at those things than I am.”


The mom was amazed at the example of her two children already being on two different communication wave lengths. She put her hand to her forehead and sighed.

In couples’ counseling, communication is  a central component. Couples who seek joint therapy are almost always emotionally disconnected, hurt and afraid of becoming more hurt and more disconnected.  They are stuck.

One important fact that I want “my” couples in therapy to understand is that the communication styles that work well for them in other areas of life, may not work well at all in their intimate relationship.

For example:

  • Are you a natural fixer of problems? If so, that may serve you well professionally, but may be counterproductive in your most personal relationships.
  • Are you competitive? Your drive may be extremely advantageous in the work world but disastrous in your personal life.
  • Are you a skilled and effective teacher? If so, you are a blessing to your students. However, the most important person in your life may not respond positively to always being “taught.”
  • Are you a natural sales person? Most people in intimate relationships can easily tell when they are being “sold” something, and most strongly resist.

One of the most important questions regarding couples’ communication is:

“Is it Helpful?”

Not, “Is it right or wrong?” We can be so obsessed on being “right,” that we sabotage our most important relationships. (See “Competitive” above)

We want to focus on being in relationships in which communication is respectful, cooperative, nurturing, safe and helpful. The better we are able to understand and practice these communication skills, the more safe we will feel, and the more connected we will be, regardless of our Mars/Venus or Caveman tendencies.

Note from HDD: Thank you for reading this “Word.” Please feel free to forward, duplicate or use this material in any way that is helpful. I invite your family and friends to sign up for future emails.


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