Re­la­tion­ships – Guy Lingo De­coded

Men have al­ways been com­fort­able with telling a white lie or two. We un­pack why re­la­tion­ships are preg­nant with empty prom­ises


It’s often said that we, men, choose not to com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively with our sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers, sim­ply, be­cause our egos get in the way. For ex­am­ple, if a guy says to you “I’ll change the light bulb later” but never gets around to do­ing it, it sim­ply means that he’s not in the mood to do so. Or, if he knows he’ll stay out with the guys un­til late but in­stead tells you, “I’ll be back home in five min­utes”, he doesn’t have the guts to tell the truth be­cause, well eeerrr, all hell will break loose if he does! Men just don’t own up. A sim­ple, “Babe, I’m ex­tremely tired, I’ll do that later,” or “I’ll be home much later” could pre­vent so many un­nec­es­sary spats.

This up­set­ting be­hav­iour stems from one party not un­der­stand­ing what the other party is try­ing to ex­plain, and both are not able to com­mu­ni­cate in a way that is un­der­stood by the other, which often leads to frus­tra­tion, says Zipho­zonke Bhe­lesi, a Dur­ban-based psy­chol­o­gist. “I could sim­ply say ‘Leave me alone’, which means I re­ally want to be left alone at that mo­ment be­cause I’m up­set, yet a man could in­ter­pret that dif­fer­ently and think I’m say­ing I want out,” she says.

Bhe­lesi says woman tend to take things lit­er­ally and se­ri­ously. As much as women say to men, “Be hon­est with me”, the truth is they’re hop­ing men won’t say some­thing hurt­ful. “Some­thing as sim­ple as ‘Please be hon­est, do you like my cook­ing?’ could cre­ate a rift or even a fight. Men feel that they can’t be hon­est with women be­cause we were built to feel, and men know that be­ing hon­est usu­ally opens up a can of worms,” Bhe­lesi says.

She makes an ex­am­ple of the isiZulu id­iom that says ithemba al­ibu­lali, loosely trans­lated as ‘hope/ faith doesn’t kill’. “Women hang onto empty prom­ises be­cause they hope that the guy will, in time, learn to stick to his word,” Bhe­lesi says, adding that women can, in fact, pro­gramme them­selves to stop car­ing so much. “When a woman talks her­self into not car­ing any­more, it’s be­cause she knows that there’s noth­ing left to fight for,” she says.


Ac­cord­ing to a book ti­tled You Just Don’t Un­der­stand, by lin­guis­tic re­searcher Deb­o­rah Tan­nen, there is a huge dif­fer­ence be­tween how men and women com­mu­ni­cate their thoughts and feel­ings. Tan­nen uses the term ‘gen­der­lects’ to de­scribe the dif­fer­ent ap­proaches. Women use ‘rap­porttalk’ — a com­mu­ni­ca­tion style that fo­cuses on so­cial and emo­tional con­nec­tion, while men choose to use the ‘re­porttalk’ style, which fo­cuses on ex­chang­ing in­for­ma­tion with lit­tle to no emo­tion.

This dif­fer­ence is one of the main rea­sons for mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the two sexes. Tan­nen strongly be­lieves that men and women dif­fer in the fo­cus, or driv­ing force, be­hind their com­mu­ni­ca­tion. “Men con­verse with a fo­cus of achiev­ing so­cial sta­tus and avoid­ing fail­ure, whereas women fo­cus on achiev­ing per­sonal con­nec­tions and avoid­ing so­cial iso­la­tion,” she says. Iron­i­cally, men and women per­ceive the other gen­der as be­ing more talk­a­tive.

Both ways of talk­ing to each other are ac­tu­ally true, as many stud­ies prove. Men speak more in pub­lic set­tings about cur­rent top­ics, while women dom­i­nate pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions in re­la­tion­ships. This is a direct cause of how we’ve all been raised. Men dom­i­nate con­ver­sa­tions to es­tab­lish sta­tus, which women have been so­cialised to ac­com­mo­date.

Tan­nen be­lieves that if both gen­ders could un­der­stand the dif­fer­ent styles of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and ad­just, many fights could be avoided. “Com­mu­ni­ca­tion has and will for­ever be ef­fec­tive when it is done in per­son, where one can see and un­der­stand the other in their body lan­guage. And, both sexes need to reach com­mon ground of un­der­stand­ing what form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion works best for them – one that they will be able to un­der­stand and main­tain,” Dr Non­jab­ulo Mzi­likazi, a Dur­ban-based psy­chi­a­trist, em­pha­sises.

“Hav­ing dealt with [many cases of con­flict] in my pro­fes­sion, I feel like if there is love and un­der­stand­ing in a re­la­tion­ship, and know­ing what we want the end goal to be, then we can def­i­nitely work around [our dif­fer­ences]. But, on the other hand, try­ing to over­come this is way big­ger than us hu­mans,” Bhe­lesi claims.

She re­it­er­ates that love is in­deed pa­tient and when it comes to com­mu­ni­cat­ing in a re­la­tion­ship, cou­ples re­ally should be pa­tient with one an­other. “Men tend to avoid deal­ing with con­flict, whereas women want to re­solve mat­ters im­me­di­ately. But, the way they are per­ceived to be re­solv­ing it, can come across as be­ing crit­i­cal, judg­men­tal or nam­ing and sham­ing,” she says

There seems to be an­other chal­lenge: lis­ten­ing and hear­ing are the big­gest prob­lems be­tween part­ners, which often re­sults in mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, says Paula Quin­see, a re­la­tion­ship ex­pert. “Some­times, we are lis­ten­ing but we are not re­ally hear­ing what the other per­son is say­ing be­cause we’re ei­ther dis­tracted or not fully present in the mo­ment. This re­sults in not giv­ing that per­son our un­di­vided at­ten­tion and lis­ten­ing clearly to what they are say­ing,” she says.


Men don’t lie in­ten­tion­ally. They re­ally just don’t want to hurt women’s feel­ing, so they, in­stead re­sort to be­ing dis­hon­est and some­times switch­ing off their cell phones to avoid be­ing scolded. As to why women still take men’s state­ments or words lit­er­ally, even with all the bro­ken prom­ises they have en­dured, Dr Mzi­likazi says women seem to be wired to give oth­ers the ben­e­fit of the doubt. “Well, we women are gen­er­ally hope­ful. I think it’s in our na­ture to want to be­lieve that ‘some­day he will change’. This has gone as far as tak­ing men’s state­ments lit­er­ally, even af­ter they’ve proven sev­eral times that they can­not keep to their word,” she says.

“Hope, in most cases, is a re­sult of a woman be­ing in love and fail­ing to imag­ine her life dif­fer­ently. An­other fac­tor to con­sider is how men are ac­tu­ally good with words. They know what we love hear­ing, and what they need to say to get us to con­tinue trust­ing them,” she says.■

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