Monday, February 4, 2008

Communicating with your Spouse 101

Part of being a good father is not letting petty things get in the way of having a nice day. Most divorced women polled say that "poor communication" was the cause of their divorce. Most divorced men don't mention communication at all. Many of the arguments that married people have are based entirely on miscommunication. Those that aren't based in it are very often escalated through it. These are tough waters to navigate, so hold on tight, we're sure to run into overgeneralizations and unfair stereotypes ahead:

This is a subject about which volumes of books have been written. And once in a while they make best-seller list, aided by catchy titles, constant exposure on daytime talk shows, great placement on supermarket shelves, and they generally make a great gift that girls buy for that boyfriend who just doesn't understand them. And yet, with all the talk out there, all the cliches about communicating in relationships, this is something that we tend not to take seriously. Men have a tendency to see women as irrational when it comes to things such as communication concerns, just like we think they're being irrational with so many other things. We have a word for it: hysterical.

Hysterical literally means "acting like a woman."

Men don't see communication problems most of the time. Communication for us is cut and tried. You have conversations about things when they are of concern, and if something isn't bothering you, then why the hell should you talk about it, right? But those times that we spend in quiet, comfortable thought are the same times that our wives tend to see us in deep concern, worry, even.

Have you ever expereinced this? Your driving in the car, minding your own business, perhaps looking at the scenery. It's a sunny day, so you're squinting. All of a sudden, out of the blue, your wife leans over and says, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"Then what were you thinking about?"

"When?"

"Just now, when you were making that face."

"What face? Nothing. I wasn't thinking about anything."

This happens to me all the time. What the man thinks he's doing in this case is clarifying his position. He simply wasn't thinking about anything. He was looking around, driving the car, and--he thought--spending time with his wife while doing that.

The wife sees a different story. Women tend to want conversation as a part of companionship. The fact that you weren't talking for a while suggests, to them, that something is on your mind. The fact that you were squinting is indicative of this, as well. And, to back up their theory that something is wrong, you were being defensive about your position when caught in the act of thinking about something "wrong" while driving and not interacting with your spouse.

To men, this seems illogical. And it is. In the universe of our conversational style, it makes no sense. We wouldn't assume that our buddy was bothered by the world if he wasn't talking. There's a cliche of the "strong silent type" in maledom that appeals to us. He doesn't have to say much. But women need companionship from their husbands and to them talking is a very big part of it. It doesn't have to be deep conversation, it doesn't have to be conversation that has a purpose such as solving a problem or weeding out solutions or political analysis. It's an act of involvement to talk about things and it's something we tend to forget.

This leads down a slippery slope. If a concern is raised over a conversation, such as the above mentioned car issue, men tend to brush it off as not being a big deal. We tend to think, "well, she'll get over it; it ain't no thang." But to a woman, this is indeed a big deal. There's a problem and it's not being talked about. It is, in fact being avoided by the man. While we think discussing it is "blowing it out of proportion" or "making a big deal," they see it as something healthy, as discourse leading to getting the problem out of the way.

We just don't see it as a problem, and that is a tough bridge to cross.

Here are some ways that you can side-step these pitfalls in everyday life and in the middle of arguments. They are not tricks, but movements of empathy that should be made with absolute sincerity:
  • Ask her how her day was when you (or she) gets home. We tend to feel welcome to bitch, complain, or gloat over our day; women see the invitation as a note of interest and a welcome one.
  • Be willing to talk things out. We tend to feel that if things keep needing to be talked about, there is a problem. Women feel if we can talk things out, there are no problems. Be calm, collected, and don't lose your temper in what can often feel accusatory.
  • Verbally notice her. She change her hair? New shoes? Clean the kitchen? Don't just note these things mentally. That's what we do when we're at work or with our friends, but our wife is not our job or our friend. Verbally pointing out observations is caring.
  • Don't use exclusive language. Don't say "I'm going to bed early tonight." Or "I want to go for a drive." Instead, make these things sound like invitations. "Do you want to," or "What do you think about," work much better. We feel free to invite ourselves no matter what the language. But it's these little nuances that women notice in groups of other women and are trained to notice in our words.
  • Don't be quiet for too long. It sounds stupid to us at times, but just say something if you notice things have been quiet. Car rides seems especially dangerous for this. We feel like proximity means closeness, but this often isn't the case for women. For many women a lot of the time, the conversation means time spent together, not the placement of your bodies.
  • In an argument, don't say "You're acting crazy." Don't say anything that suggests that they have no ownership of the feelings they're going through. Regardless if she is reading the situation wrong or not, she has legitimate feelings. Recognize and understand what they are and where they are coming from.
  • Empathize during arguments. Don't just defend your point of view. And don't belittle her. Take a moment to step back and really try and see how she sees things. You could be wrong about what she feels is the problem. This is very often true, and you can spend hours arguing about different subjects. So take a moment to clarify what you think you're fighting about. Paraphrase, in your own words, why you think she's upset. Reach her on that level and get it right--with coaching if needed. Then, invite her to see things your way. You are not the same people and you have divergent takes on the same situation. Often, all that is needed is an understanding of the contrary point of view to make things better.

Of course, this is all generalizing. I don't want readers to think that I'm being unfair or demeaning of either sex. Growing up in different social situations with different social expectations has made us talk in different ways. Remember that your wife is not trying to communicate like a man but failing--she's trying to talk to you in the way that she knows how. That can be very strange for us, believe me.

Most of all, talk about conversations. Talk about talking. There's nothing wrong with trying to grasp the other point of view, not matter what the situation.


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11 comments:

Tip Diva said...

Thank you for submitting your post to Carnival Of Tips!

Great tips - unfortunately, communication has been the biggest problem I've known in most failed relationships.

Anonymous said...

While I think some of these points are valid and well observed (e.g. don't belittle her) I think some go too far toward catering to women and don't do enough to allow men to act like men. I understand communication is important, but I disagree that it's such a significant cause of broken marriages (even if women tend to blame their divorces on it). I think it's important for each side to make concessions to a degree. I'm not sure if you intended for this article to be one-sided, but I think there are few opportunities for women to do their part in helping with communication issues (like not stressing out if your husband hasn't said anything to you in the last 15 minutes). Yes men can be over-rational, but women can be over-emotional. Like many things in life, the middle ground is the best place to be.

Anonymous said...

really good observations and great tips but I think this is not only a great read for men but also for women too. It helped me remember that my husband is a guy and not one of my girlfriends or sisters. While yes it's great when he does follow those basic tips for the most part. I do beleive that women also need to remember and not "nag" there man whenever he's quiet for more then a 15 min. If there is something wrong? for the most part, he'll let you know.

Sara said...

I just discovered your blog and I think that I want to marry you! Instead, I'm going to forward a link to my own (very wonderful) husband, so that he can read your blog, too.

Sol Smith said...

*blush*

Chas Addams said...

hey great article for women too. My husband and I get into those situations where I feel he is trying to spend time with me, but isn't communicating so I feel like there must me something wrong or he's mad at me. This points out that there are times when he's just going to be quiet and enjoy my company, even if we aren't going to be saying much.

I'll be forwarding this to my hubby so he can read it as well!

Anonymous said...

Best & Great Post!! Every Guy should read this once.

Geetha

Deguello said...

I agree with anonymous...I am seeing the pussification of men always having to validate the feelings of women. They need to understand our issues as well. Other wise it spirals out of control where you get your woman always screaming that you are not validating their feelings...

I am married, and I do engage in discussion...this just seems extreme in some of its points.

Sol Smith said...

Deguello-

I don't think that striving for understanding or validating feelings is pussy. I don't think that anything here "caters" to women, like Anon says, either. I don't think there has to be a winner, a loser, or even concessions made in communication.

The true skill of a person's relationships must surround empathy and understanding. There's certainly nothing here that says "give in, do whatever she says" or "She's right, you're wrong" or the other way round. It's a simple plea for understanding, patience, and communication.

When I find myself taking an issue personally that is simply a matter of communication, I disengage myself as much as I can from my ego and try and find the other perspective. I ask the same of anyone else, of course, but I know that if I cannot do it, I cannot expect someone else to. Taking the lead in these situations is not only noble but necessary.

If a man cannot feel masculine while skillfully navigating a relationship, he has emasculated himself. Certainly fabrications and cliches of manhood do not make one manly. If that is so, we've let everyone else do our thinking and feeling for us.

Anonymous said...

Another great tip - Don't try to solve her problems unless she asks.

If she says "I had a terrible day, my boss unloaded an extra project on me and I don't have time to do the one I'm working on now." Don't respond with "Well you should..." instead show that you care by saying something like "I bet that's stressful."

A lot of times she just wants to vent but for some reason we think she's asking for advice or help when she's not and this can make her even more frustrated.

qualitysmusic said...

Thank you, this has been very helpful