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Woman Blowing on Flower



“No" is a complete sentence.” --Anne Lamott


Communication is a large part of keeping a relationship healthy and repairing a faltering one.  And Dr. Deborah Tannen has just the right balance of research and provocative antidotes in her two famous tomes, "That’s Not What I Meant! How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships" and "You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation"With ample examples from each, I'll tangle with ways relationships go wrong with hints on how to keep them on the right track.

As kids we learn the gender differences in communication: “genderlects”

Female differences include “rapport-talk” which focuses on strengthening social connections and emotional bonds.

Male differences include “report-talk” which focuses on giving and receiving information and less on emotional connections.

Misunderstandings occur when these basic assumptions about the differences in gender in communication gets forgotten or confused.

Men speak less, but speak more often in public about public topics.  They often dominate public conversations.

Women speak more, but speak more in private settings and dominate private conversations in their relationships and conversations about relationships.

Men and women often use conversation for different purposes.  Is this because of Biology? Culture? 

This is the “Nature vs. Nurture debate that has been argued for hundreds of years.  There’s evidence for both sides.Men are often concerned about status so speaking in public, even if a female may know more about a subject, can be more about not looking inferior.

Why men often won’t ask for directions.  Not knowing means being inferior.

Why men may sit across from each other in an intersection waving for the other to go first.  Status means to be the one who doesn’t submit—go first.

Women are often concerned about relationships and accommodate them.  This means women often defer their interest or opinions in a conversation.

Women may not interrupt in a conversation as often as men for these reasons.

Along with gender, there are cultural and family-of-origin differences as well.  Understand that the way you communicate can confuse and even be upsetting to others with different communication styles.

* Loud vs. Soft

*Pausing vs. Rapid

*Fast vs. Slow

*Changing Tone vs. Even Tone

*Emotional vs. Monotone

*Interrupting vs. Waiting

*Questions: Showing Interest vs. Interrogation

*Complaining: Solidarity vs. Bad Form

*Self-Revelation:  “First Me, Then You” vs. Not Playing Along

You might try and preserve a relationship by being indirect.  To maintain positive feelings and to avoid confrontation.  As long as the other person understands you are being indirect for these purposes.  Being direct may be necessary, but it can also just be mean and hurtful.  Conversations aren’t nearly as simple as they seem to be.

You may attempt to change the other person’s style by doing the opposite of what you find unpleasant.  If they talk too loud you try and talk softer.  Of course, they are trying to do the same thing; they are talking louder and louder as you are talking softer and softer!

Often the response is that the other person is crazy or that they are not understandable.  What is happening is that you are trying to understand each other from your own communication style.  It is important to understand that culture, gender, and upbringing can all impact the way someone gives and receives communication.


Boundaries are like rules.  Any institution like a university, theatre, your local gym has rules.  They value the physical space itself and the atmosphere they're trying to create for their clients and customers.

Recognizing and enforcing you own boundaries means you respect yourself.  You respect your physical body and you respect the environment you want to create for yourself.

Not everyone will want to respect you.  Some won’t respect your body.  From ridiculing you choice of dress or your physique to making fun of your efforts at improvement.  Others may violate more serious rules like not honoring your requests regarding physical intimacy to physical assault.

It's up to you to value you as a person.  To know it’s you who creates the environment around you and that you have the right to say who is in your life.

When someone is inappropriate in a museum, they are typically warned.  If the misbehavior continues, they are asked to leave.   Likewise, you'll need to get used to knowing your own rules, warning those who violate them, and then being prepared to ask them to leave your life if they choose not to refrain from inappropriate behavior.

And it's appropriate behavior that's the focus.  Some fear having expectations is arrogant.  That asking for a minimum level of behavior is unreasonable.  Boundaries are reasonable and normal.

Some examples to consider when dating and seeking a relationship:

* The person I date must be unattached--meaning you're not married or already have a partner

* My life's direction and plans are important.  I won't put my life on hold for your dysfunctions

* I expect to be treated with respect, kindness and trust.  And I'll do the same.

* I will date with the future in mind.  I expect you to do so as well.

* I expect my relationships to have equality.  But I control my life.

* I expect my romantic relationships to be mutually satisfying and healthy.

* I value honesty and without that there's no real relationship.

* I will demonstrate my own value in a relationship; if you reject me you'll have increasingly less time available to change your mind.

* I can't fix someone else.  You must be present and capable of participating in a relationship.

Take time and examine Dr. Tannen's books:
"That’s Not What I Meant! How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships" and "You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation".


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