Married couples often have trouble in talking while at home. Several researchers suggest various reasons and possible recommendations that can solve this problem of communication. While in agreement with Deborah Tannen, this paper analyses her ideas of the reasons behind the silence in homes.
Inability of men and women to talk while at home arises from differences they have in communication. Different researchers indicate that miscommunication in marriages is the principal cause of fights and divorce. Tannen agrees with sociologist Catherine Kohler who has carried out a research that has shown that fifty percent of the marriage separations root from miscommunications between the couples. In her book, ‘Divorce Talk’, Kohler reports that women file for divorce in American courts with reasons of their husband not talking and listening to them. Men file for divorce with reasons that their wives are more demanding and need attention that they cannot provide (Tannen 1).
Tannen quotes Hacker’s idea of the position perceived by men in a conversation as one of the factors that fan the silence. Hacker believes that women assume that men ought to initiate a relationship in the house. However, this rarely happens since men love being on the counter-attacking side. A man would prefer a conversation initiated by a woman so that he founds ground or takes a position on the topic of discussion. This results in a waiting game that never ends. As a man waits for the woman to initiate, the woman is waiting too, and the silence proceeds.
Eleanor Maccoby, who is a psychologist at Stanford University, also observes a considerable gap between the two genders. Maccoby reports fascinating behaviors practiced by young boys and girls and latter transformed in adulthood. In young girls, a viable relationship exists on a show of intimacy. This intimacy comes from the way the girls talk and express their feelings through communication. This transforms into their adulthood, as women tend to rate their relationship on the level of communication they make with their spouses. On contrary, boys tend to display a different character. Though their bonds are as intense as those of girls are, for boys relationships do not depend on talking. Boys’ relationships base on actions they do together. An adult man has the same character of a young boy. This difference in character makes women feel abandoned when men fail to talk to them. Men, on their part, do not know what the women want to hear. They have no idea of the right time to initiate a relationship.
Boys tend to form large friendship groups as they grow, and everyone in the group endeavors to establish his superiority. The superiority rates from the level of victories one achieves in debating and coming up with new ideas. Contrary to boys, girls’ groups are small and do not involve competitions and battles. In adulthood, men try to display the same characters. A man attempts to oppose any idea that a woman raises in a relationship. The woman looks at this as hatred and rejection. The competition that the man displays is not part of her lifestyle.
Men and women have different mechanics of conversation. Girls tend to talk at length about a single topic. Boys, on the other hand, switch from one topic to another with ease. A research shows that while sixth-grade girls talk majorly about relationship problems with friends, their counterparts talk about more than fifty different topics. This goes directly into their adulthood thus affecting women at large. A man would talk about an issue raised by a woman for a few minutes and jump to a different topic thinking that it is exhausted. The woman will feel the man has no interest in the issue, thus offended.
The responses of the two genders towards an issue do take contrasting approaches. When a girl shares her problem with a girlfriend, they comfort each other by expressing agreement and understanding. The boys’ approach in a similar situation involves disagreements on the existent or the perceived extend of the problem. Being mature the woman feels the man does not care when he dismisses that she has a problem. On the contrary, the man feels helped when someone proves to him that his problem is not big or exist at all.
Tannen agrees with linguist Lynette Hirschman’s observation that women tend to make more listener-noise than men do. Examples of listener-noise include, “yeah” and “uhuh.” Men love to keep silent and listen while in a conversation. When a man does not make listener-noise in a woman’s conversation, the woman feels the man is not in the conversation. This puts her off, and she feels offended. The man on his part assumes lots of listener-noise is a sign of lack of interest in the conversation. He even believes that anyone making the listener-noise is not listening but just using the noise to camouflage his disinterest.
As Tannen puts it, “participatory listenership” is a form of a provocation intrusion in ones conversation. Men love silent attention and fewer interruptions than women do, when they give their views in a conversation. When a woman attempts to complete statements that a man is making in a conversation, he feels that she wants to take over his conversation. This is irritating since men love to be the informers. The woman, on her part, loves any form of help and appreciates assistance in life. This is reflected in conversations, as she appreciates any efforts to help her complete sentences or ideas.
Walter Ong’s book, "Fighting for Life," finds a backup in Tannen’s article. Ong points out that women prefer more views, suggestions, and more inquiries about their original ideas in a conversation. Men ought to do this with the woman’s idea being the basis of the main point. This makes a woman feel appreciated as her conversation establishes rapport on mutual agreement and understanding. Men, on their part, turn conversations into competitions, and discussions into debates. Their aim is to come up with new ideas and make their ideas acceptable by a second party. The inferiority of a woman and her peaceful nature do not allow this to happen. All these girl-boy characters when transformed into adulthood affect the effectiveness of a conversation in a marriage. The miscommunications and misunderstanding that result in the silence observed in homes.
These differences in character and expectations form the basis of silence in marriages. Women have their expectations, while men have their own different expectations. This results in contrast of expectations making couples unable to communicate while at their homes. Tannen uses an example of a man sitting next to his wife in a public lecture that comprises of women. The guest man contributes throughout the lecture by asking questions and challenging views and giving out alternate views towards various issues. Throughout the lecture, his wife, sitting next to him is silent. It reaches a point of the conversation when the man points out that his wife is the talkative of his home, and everybody busts into laughter. The laughter was because of the irony portrayed in the scenario. In that lecture, the husband was indeed the talkative member of the family though the contrary applied to their home. This can be explained as follows: in the lecture the man saw a challenge that had to face rebellion and war until he established his position just as boys did in groups. While, at home, the man observes no challenges thus a reason for his silence.
In conclusion, both men and women need a sociolinguistic approach involving this problem in marriages. In recent times, couples opt for a blame game that does not solve the problem at all. Women blame men that they are insensitive to their issues in marriage. Men too blame women that they demand more attention than they do deserve. A sociolinguistic approach allows parties to understand their communication problem, think out a viable and lasting solution (Tannen 3).
Among the recommendable approaches a sociolinguistic approach involves using a conversation to convey knowledge to one another, instead of forming arguments and debates. Parties should also focus on topics that have a common interest in their lives. One should not initiate topics that do not affect life of the other party. Such topics are found in sport related issues and unshared careers. Time allocation is also noteworthy. One should balance the conversation in a way that each party has time to make his views and ideas. This fastens agreement and understandings. Giving attention to a talking partner portrays interest in your partner’s views. In a man-to-man conversation, keeping attention involves silence. As for women, attention gestures range from eye contact, use of listener-noise, and participation in the conversation. Application of all this ideas will first enable women to understand why men are always silent at home. It will also help men to understand why women need too much attention in a conversation. These understandings will form the basis of eliminating silence in marriages, and men and women will no longer find it hard to talk at home.