I am completely fascinated by the differences between how men think and how women think. When I discuss my thoughts with other women, they usually understand exactly what I mean and make me feel like my thought process is universal. Likewise, when men talk, they are expressing man-processed thoughts to other thought-processing men, and they all get each other.
But oh, the vast difference between what is expressed and what is received in a cross-gender conversation!
When a woman expresses her thoughts to a man, and the man hears her words through the filter of his man-thought-processor, he doesn’t hear the same thing that she just said. And vice versa.
When I posted Part One a few days ago, a whole lot of women chimed in, saying, “Yes. This. Exactly!” I think a whole lot of men were shaking their heads, saying, “Huh?” And this is what everyday conversation in marriage looks like! She thinks she’s stating something so clearly and he’s hearing something completely different. And vice versa.
My earlier blog post could easily be read differently because of our different man/woman thought-processors. She reads it and understands the need to include thoughts of her husband amidst all The Lurkers. He reads it and sees The Lurkers as dragons that need to be slain before his wife can focus on him. All of my female readers were in enthusiastic agreement with what I’d written. But it’s possible that a lot of men were represented in the comment posted by one male reader who accused me of being a man-hater and wondered where I got my information from. Oy! Even when I, as a woman, try to explain to men how women think, men still receive that through a different processor!
So let’s flesh this out a bit. Not because I have all the answers, but because…well…this quote sums it up nicely (thank you, Janna!):
I’ve finally come to understand that I don’t write
because I know what I’m talking about.
I write precisely because I don’t know what I’m talking about.
I write to understand.
I write to unriddle my heart.
~ Mike Donehey
Let me share with you a few examples of mixed-processor communication. The first comes from my earlier post about expressing respect for my husband. I would literally say to Pat, “I disagree with you, and I don’t think we’re going to completely agree on this, so I’m willing to let you have the final word and I will go with whatever you decide.” And I thought I had achieved something fantastic by being able to say that honestly and with heartfelt joy and trust in his ability to make a wise decision that would be best for our family. But regardless of my intentions, and even regardless of my calm and loving tone, he would hear, “Fine then! Just do whatever you want, but let it be known now and forevermore that I think you’re wrong!” No wonder it took us so long to agree on how to disagree!
Here’s another example that came up as we’ve been discovering how deep and wide our miscommunication is. One day I told Pat that I was cold. And he told me that I shouldn’t be cold because (turning to look at the thermostat) our house is 72 degrees. Now, I’m absolutely sure that my female readers all think he’s a jerk for trying to dictate to me what I should and should not feel. And my male readers are agreeing that of course we shouldn’t have to turn up the heat when it’s already 72 degrees!
So let’s back up here for a moment. When I said I was cold, what I meant by that was that I was cold. It was just a comment on what I was feeling right then and there. I wasn’t asking him to change the thermostat. I wasn’t asking him to do anything! But what his man-thought-processor interpreted to him was that he needed to respond with action to fix the situation. And since he didn’t think the response to the perceived request was necessary, he answered in a way that my woman-thought-processor interpreted as a rebuke for feeling cold.
Because we’re intentionally focused on exploring these misperceptions and assumptions right now, we were able to talk through this situation reasonably. But such a simple exchange could have exploded into a nasty argument – and this probably happens all the time in so many marriages.
Here’s one more example that comes from a couple who both read my previous blog post and did exactly what I’d hoped my readers would do: they talked about it together. Their conversation started via email during the day, and continued face-to-face later that night. They sent me part of their email exchange (and they have since given me permission to share some of it with you).
It all started with the wife shopping online for a new winter jacket (Perhaps women’s low body temperatures is a foundational commonality that should be further explored). She found one that she liked and sent the link to her husband. Her intention was to include him in this minor task, possibly to get his input, but more so to simply involve him in something that was going on in her mind that day. His man-thought-processor interpreted to him that this was a task he needed to accomplish and get out of the way – a dragon to be slain – in order to gain access to her. That text was sent as an invitation to be involved in her life, but it was received as an obstacle that needed to be overcome in order to be involved in her life.
This excerpt from the husband’s email testifies that they’re working together towards a deeper, mutual understanding:
- When you text me a picture of a jacket, you are saying to me “here is something that is on my mind and I want you to be a part of my life,” but I have a tendency to hear, “You can be part of my life once you solve this problem for me.” So, you can imagine that if I think like that, and there is an endless stream of problems, it doesn’t give much hope that I will ever be included in your thoughts. What Anita said gives a man hope that he can be included in his wife’s thoughts without solving every problem on her mind.
Yes! Now we’re getting somewhere! These are the conversations we all need to have with our spouses. Not just in regards to sex, which is how this conversation started (although that’s one area that can certainly benefit from clearing up some of the misperceptions), but apparently in regards to everything we talk about. Who knew?
Now this post has turned into a complete sidebar and I haven’t even gotten to Part Two yet! Like I said, this is all quite fascinating to me, and I guess I just wanted to talk it through with you. But more importantly, I hope it will prompt you to talk more intentionally with your spouse. Don’t just say what you’re thinking and assume that that’s what they’ll hear.