10/06/2011 11:54 am ET | Updated Dec 06, 2011

Did You Say Something, Dear?

Chalk it up to nature, nurture, biology, destiny or innate gender differences: The fact is, men and women--especially when they are married to one another--often have a hell of a time with the basic exchange of ideas and information. The manifestation of the ubiquitous marital communication chasm tends to look a lot like this: Her: You never listen! Him: You never shut up! And the thing is, you both are mostly right (except the part where you say "never" because you're "never" supposed to use absolutes, especially in an argument). But since guys probably aren't reading this post--because it's about marital communication for one thing and also because I'm a woman and therefore I never shut up and reading this might constitute listening--I'm going to direct the rest of what I have to say toward the ladies. Because I believe women are the doers in most relationships anyway, here are five tips you can use to make your marital exchanges infinitely less frustrating:

  1. Cut to the chase. Women tell stories; men want answers. Guys get impatient when we drone on forever; we get frustrated when they tune out. Instead of sharing a real- time recap of your latest dream or the day's activities, do both of you a favor and just get to the point. "Had a funny dream" or "took the kids to the dentist" will do just fine. If he wants to know more, he'll ask. (Don't hold your breath.)
  2. Get a life. You had one before you met him--that's what made you irresistible enough to fork over for the ring and forsake all others for (those things are kind of a big deal, after all). You need a life now because you need outside interests and the friendships those activities bring, mostly so you have other people you can bore with all of those excruciating details of your life your husband doesn't care about. Trust me, having extra ears around will make you both noticeably happier.
  3. Take a hike. What do women do when they get together? We sit around and talk! Men, not so much. My theory is that this difference is genetic and dates back to the hunter-gatherer societies, when the men had to be quiet as they hunted, lest they scare away the bison and then everyone starved to death and it was all their fault. The women had no reason to be silent as they picked berries, so they chatted away. Over the centuries, women became proficient at sharing and caring, and conversation continued to evolve as a tool for building female friendship and intimacy. Men continued to bond the only way they've ever known how to--through activities, by doing things together, like playing tennis and killing things. Instead of always trying to get close to him your way--with words--go for a walk, tackle a home improvement project or go bowling together. If you're feeling really generous, offer to go fishing with him, in the hopes of killing something together. If nothing else, it will give you something to talk about with your girlfriends later.
  4. Do something different. In study after laboratory study, scientists have proven that rats will learn to press a lever if doing so produces a reward. These same sewer-dwelling rodents also will learn to stop pressing the lever if it ceases to produce the reward. Women haven't mastered that last part yet. You: "Honey, what's wrong? You're so quiet. Come on, there's something wrong, I can tell. Why won't you just tell me what it is?" How's that working out for you? Look, he'll talk when he's ready to talk. Or not. Sometimes he'll just work it out in his own head--imagine!--and move on. Badgering frustrates him and makes you feel like a nag--never a good combination.
  5. Stop trying to change him. There's a saying: Women marry men hoping they'll change; men marry women hoping they won't. If you look at your spouse closely, it's probably not that he "doesn't talk" or "can't communicate"--he just has different interests than you do. Women say "if he loved me he'd make an effort to be interested..." No, he wouldn't. He loves you and would rather not discuss your cellulite/Etsy purchases/period. Once you master Tip #2, you will have plenty of other people to discuss these and other riveting topics with. You're welcome.