• Dr. Jacob D van Zyl

Psychological help in marital life:the differences between men and women in communication and roles


by Dr. Jacob D van Zyl clinical and pastoral psychologist tel 013 752 2000

Practice@37A Ehmkestreet, Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, SA

BLOG (28/4) posted on 2019/10/19 – check this blog for the next update in about one month’s time


In my previous blog (blog 27) regarding two trees standing and growing together as one in marriage, I reflected on the differences between men and women regarding their essence, as well as their needs.

In this blog I would like to focus on the difference regarding the communication process and the roles within a man and a woman.

Differences in the ways of communication

The ways women communicate also differ from men. I have heard many women say: “My husband doesn’t talk to me. He keeps everything to himself.” Or: “I feel too cautious, too scared to express my emotions in marriage…” Men on the other hand often say: “She can’t stop talking about the problems of the past”. Husbands and wives more often than not, do not communicate enough. It is so ironic that two people living together in the same house, talk frequently to other people but not to each other. The circumstances they live in are often to blame. They find themselves in a situation where they don’t have time or don’t make time to relax, sit down and talk to each other or listen to each other. They don’t share their lives with one another. This makes the effort to nurture their tree, much more challenging... Certain perceptions amongst men and women, also create communication gaps. One of these is the perception men have inherited from their fathers that you don’t talk about problems; you must be a man and handle them yourself.

The vertical line with women

In women, we can portray the way they communicate, on a vertical line. If her need to express herself emotionally is met, there is no problem in the flow of communication. The line goes up unhindered. But when the opportunity to communicate emotionally, and to express her emotions is denied, the resulting frustration causes the line to spiral downward and forms an emotional obstruction which prevents balance, harmony and happiness within a woman. That is when the woman tends to become the so called aloof, cold, critical, angry woman; and even aggressive in her communication. These obstructions then also permeate her sexual experience. She finds it difficult to give or receive sex, which results in a negative cycle, because it frustrates the man and influences him negatively.

The blocks with men

Communication in men can be compared to blocks, like hop-scotch. The man moves from the one block to the next. He tends to leave his baggage in the previous block and moves on. This implies that he could have had a quarrel with his wife in the morning, then comes home in the evening and wants to make love. He is then quite taken aback when his wife (who still has been unable to express herself emotionally about the issue they had had the row about) is not at all interested in his romantic advances. The fact that the man moves from one block to the next in his life (and communication), results in serious communication problems or misunderstanding in marital life. The man could even, for instance, have had an affair and ended it. He is already in the next block. Therefore he says to his wife, who is still processing it, and still needs to talk about it: “Stop raking up the past. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. It’s over and in the past. Let’s move on.” He doesn’t want to be constantly reminded of it – he is already in the next block and has left the baggage of the quarrel or the affair in a previous block, or rather repressed it in a previous block.

Differences in roles

The woman in the role of the coordinator

The primary role of the wife is that of the coordinator. She co-ordinates her household and aspects of her own, as well as her family’s life. If the husband fails to recognise his wife’s role as coordinator, he might interpret her behaviour as dominating (The Dominator). His perception might be that of his wife is trying to wear the pants in the house, while this is not her intention. The opposite is also true. If the husband becomes more involved in the household, the wife needs to share her role as coordinator with him by, for example, to keep him informed; just as he needs to share his role as breadwinner, and the implications thereof, with her.

The man in the role of breadwinner

The primary role of the husband used to be that of breadwinner. He wants to and needs to meet the material needs of his family. Especially Afrikaans speaking South African men have been wearing this cloak for many generations. Research in the field of family murders (during the 80’s and 90’s), showed that when the Afrikaner man finds himself not capable of taking care of his family anymore, there is the risk that he will kill his family and himself. This just confirms the strong perception amongst men that they should be breadwinners. It is as if the tree feels obliged to feed all the other trees around him from his roots, as well as to protect them from the elements with his branches.

Regarding the role of men as providers, there have been changes over the decades: women are becoming progressively emancipated and the social structure has also evolved. The working woman wants her husband to become more involved with the household, and the education of the children. However, many men are not ready to take on this new role, mostly because they have not made the paradigm shift yet. The reason for this is mainly due to not having had a role model. They probably grew up in the traditional setup where the father worked hard, brought home the bacon, and then sat down and relaxed, while the woman took the household and child-rearing onto her shoulders. But the times we are living in have forced many women to go out to work, just to make ends meet. Many young couples, who have marital problems and are even contemplating divorce, are struggling with these new role definitions, because the men have not yet made the necessary mind shift. The husband feels that his wife is expecting too much of him to help with chores and the children, after a hard day’s work, while the wife feels it is unfair to expect of her to have both a job and earn an income in addition to carrying the responsibilities of the household and the children alone. The husband feels that he is entitled to a mens’ night out and his sport, while the wife feels that she also should be able to go out now and then, as she has to handle the house and children all the time. The underlying problem here, usually boils down to fixed, unchanged perceptions on the husband’s part, regarding the sharing of roles and tasks.

Feel free to send your questions regarding the marriage / marital life to or contact my rooms at 013 752 2000 in order to make an appointment.


© 2018 by 4 Keep Sakes 

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