Several studies have concluded that there is a difference in the average number of words that men and women speak daily. Nancy and I have found this to be true in our own lives and in the lives of almost everyone we minister to. Last evening we went to our favorite Chinese restaurant for another round of fried bean curd and vegetables. As I was making the food disappear, my wife wanted to talk. Between my eating and checking the weather updates on my iPhone, I overheard my wife comment quietly, "You're fun tonight.." Uh-oh™. On the surface we were at a typical male-female roadblock. Nancy wanted to connect, and I wanted a bit of space to eat and plan our work for the rest of the week. Part of the fun of marriage (29-years) is that moments like this happen all the time, but we have learned how to navigate around them. She has learned how to listen better, and I have learned how to communicate beyond monosyllabic, caveman grunts.
The consensus between such relationship stalwarts as Dr. James Dobson, Dr. Gary Smalley, and more recently, Mark Gungor is that men speak about half of the words daily that their female counterparts do. “Not wrong, just different" as Emerson Eggrich says.
There are various reasons for this difference. When a woman is upset she generally needs to talk about it. Wise husbands recognizing this will lend a listening ear to their wives during such moments instead of thinking about how cool it would be to parachute off a skyscraper (umm…guilty).
On the flip side, when a man is troubled, we tend to go quiet or go ape, depending on the circumstances.
In 2007 researchers at the University of Pennsylvania conducted functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans to try to understand how men and women handle stress. Among the findings? Anxiety activates the "tend and befriend" reaction in women's limbic systems and the "fight or flight" response in men's prefrontal cortexes. Translation: Under pressure, women reach out, while guys go Rambo or clam up (1). I’m not a big fan of the “men are from Mars and women are from Kansas” or whatever that book was called, but I am a fan of the Bible, and the Scriptures tell us that men and women are fundamentally different in our created roles. And it’s a good thing.
"The brains of men and women, while similar in many ways, are more different than most scientists ever realized," says Larry Cahill, Ph.D., an associate at the University of California, where he researches emotion, memory, and the brain (2).
In spite of the evidence, there will always be modern-minded multitudes who don't want to believe that men & women are fundamentally different in our God-created cores (Pennebaker, Mehl, and CBS News itself). But hard truth is truth nonetheless and the hard truth is that we are different in a complimentary way. Guy’s brains have boxes, women have wires.
In 1996, I purchased the book Brain Sex for my library. Despite its provocative title, this informative book by David Jessel and Ann Moir helped me to understand what people like James Dobson and Gary Smalley already knew. Men and women tend to think differently. Not wrong, just different.
One benefit that some women derive from their wiring is the ability to utter those three little words—“I was wrong.” They may not admit it to men but they’ll admit it to others of their persuasion. Men have that ability too. Just not very often. The last man to use the “Sorry, I was wrong” box was Custer at Little Big Horn after he told his men, “Here they come boys. Don’t take any prisoners!” Oops. With God we can do better than that!
If I am focusing on my laptop at breakfast when Nancy wants to talk, she will feel frustrated/ignored. If she wants to tell me about a sister's emotional mood swings when I am reading Russell Sullivan's book on Rocky Marciano, I will feel like turning on the ceiling fan to blow some of the words out the windows. If I am waxing eloquent to my wife about the specific merits of polymeric isocyanates, it may cause her to have an out-of-body experience. What's the solution?
Quality over quantity. The solution is to learn how to communicate heart-to-heart. This takes less words (all the guys say YES!!) and the words have a heavier specific gravity, meaning they are worth more. This builds emotional intimacy (right here all the girls say "Yes!!"). So whether it is 20,000 words a day for women and 10,000 for the guys, or 16,000 words for the women and 8,000 for the guys—there are really only three words necessary for heart-to-heart communication. Are you ready?
“Are you happy?” “I need you” “I am lonely” “Can we pray?” “I love you” “We need Jesus” “There is hope” You are special “Let’s resolve this” “I was wrong” “Can I care?”
As you communicate on this deeper level beware of three bad words:
“Ready, aim, fire!” “I don’t care.” “Just shut up” “I won’t listen” “You are wrong” “I’m usually right” “What an idiot” “All about me…” “Get a life!” “I’m in charge” “Got my rights!”
So instead of counting words, smart couples will count the cost, count their blessings and count on God. That will give our words life, and most importantly quality over quantity.
- Corporate Wellness Magazine, “It’s all in your Head” Jason Krausert and Donna Tosky, May 2011
- Scientific American, May 2005