Talking Less to Save Your Marriage

This headline in MSN jumped out at me — “How To Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About it” — because I recently talked with a couple about needing to talk to each other less. That’s right — to make their relationship work better, talk less. The corollary for their situation was: do more. Talk less, do more. Show your love in other ways — by being on time, by following through on promised projects, by nourishing each other with good food.

It looks like Patricia Love and Steven Stosny, the co-authors who wrote the new self-help marriage shocker, How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It, have some compelling research to present about how men and women differ in communication patterns. From MSN:

[…] According to Stosny’s analysis of several hundred human and animal studies, male and female responses to stress are distinct from birth. “When a baby girl hears a loud noise or gets anxious, she wants to make eye contact with someone, but a baby boy will react to the same sound by looking around, in a fight-or-flight response,” he says. What’s more, while newborn girls are much more easily frightened, boys have five times as many “startle” reactions, which are emotionally neutral but pump up adrenaline. Boys need to intermittently withdraw into themselves to keep from becoming overstimulated. These differences hold true for most social animals and correlate with our biological roles: The female’s fear response is an early warning system that serves to detect threats and alert the males of the pack to danger.

As girls grow, they go beyond needing eye contact and refine a coping strategy identified by UCLA psychologists as “tend and befriend.” If there’s a conflict, girls and women want to talk about it. Boys and men, however, need to pull away. A man’s greatest suffering, Stosny says, comes from the shame he feels when he doesn’t measure up—which is why discussing relationship problems (i.e., what he’s doing wrong) offers about as much comfort as sleeping on a bed of nails.

Similar to Stosny and Love’s approach is the idea of the diversity of ways to express love described in The Five Love Languages. For many couples, there is a much greater need for showing their partner that they care about the relationship by attending to the children, or doing chores, or being on top of finances — by what Gary Chapman calls “Acts of Service.” For others, gifts and quality time are more important, and still others are primarily concerned with physical touch. Finding out which of the love languages is primary for you and your partner can help you reflect and build a better relationship. And sometimes what you might learn is that you want to talk less.