Let’s face it. You and your partner are very different. Not only do you come to marriage with different upbringings—you have different personalities and gender differences that make communication inherently challenging. You and your spouse may not be from Mars and Venus but you each have beliefs and experiences that color how you see and interpret meaning. If I say, “Hey, let’s talk about it”—I mean, let’s sit down and hash it out for an hour or more. When Gary says the same thing, he likely intends we chew on something for about 5 minutes and then its decided and over. Slam dunk. If we agree that the overgrown tree in the backyard needs to be cut down, I’m thinking it will be a wood pile by morning. Gary’s thinking the chopping would be a good project for later in the fall. You likely see how our differing expectations could get us into trouble.
When it comes to communication, we often think our mate thinks like we do. If your wife is upset, you reason that she might want explanations as to why she shouldn’t feel that way or some space to think it through. After all, that’s what you would need. Typically, if a man has something heavy on his mind, he prefers to isolate, consider the possibilities, and make a decision. He then can reengage with the matter settled. When he gives his wife the explanation or space he thinks she needs, she feels unloved. She concludes her husband is disinterested and uncaring.
When a man appears upset, his wife typically asks a lot of questions and expresses concern. After all, if a girlfriend were upset, she would need a friend to help her “process” through the issue. She may not come to any resolution, but the experience of having a friend listening to her, itself has been soothing. She, of course, assumes this is what the husband needs, so she pursues him and asks a lot of questions to help him work it through. Does he feel relief? Not usually. He may more often feel distrusted and controlled. He may push her away to gain some space, which leaves her feeling unloved and unwanted.
So what can you do to crack one another’s communication codes?
- Listen in a way that communicates love and support. This requires that each of you to explore what the other means by ‘love’ and ‘support’. For wives, this may mean making time to give her undivided attention and really tune in to the feelings she is having. For husbands, this may involve, listening and expressing empathy without telling him what he should do.
- Realize you do wear tinted glasses. Although you may think you see things clearly, you, too have a colored lens through which you view every situation. Simply asking, “What was important to you about that?” or “What did that mean to you?” can be a great way to lighten the tint on those glasses.
“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.” (I Corinthians. 13: 12, NLT)
Laura Taggart is also the author of Making Love Last: Divorce-Proofing Your Young Marriage.