Marital Miscommunication (before I get to “Part Two”)

24 Oct

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.


Posted by on October 24, 2013 in Marriage


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9 responses to “Marital Miscommunication (before I get to “Part Two”)

  1. Korin

    October 24, 2013 at 1:42 PM

    I appreciate your thoughtful insight on these tough matters. I don’t read as often as I’d like because time seems to be fleeting more and more these days, but I wanted to say “thank you”. My husband and I are also trying to work through a lot of this in our own marriage and your post is spot on. I will be sharing you blog with him. God bless!

  2. Jon Wise

    October 24, 2013 at 2:46 PM

    when i get texted a picture of a jacket, all that goes through my head is “Why is she sending me a picture of a jacket? Did I ruin her jacket somehow? I knew I shouldn’t have tried to do the laundry. Maybe she just wants a new jacket. If she likes that jacket, and I say I don’t like it, then I’m in trouble. But what if she doesn’t like the jacket, and I say I do like it… then I’ll be in trouble too. Maybe I should just change the subject… or I could pretend I didn’t get the text. Or maybe I should just give my honest opinion. Maybe she just wants me to give her permission to buy the jacket. She should know I trust her to buy a jacket on her own. Maybe she’s hinting that I should buy the jacket for her… Crap, did I miss an important date? No… that’s not it. I’ll just tell her to do whatever she wants, that’ll make her happy…”

    Turns out that’s the wrong answer too :-p

    • Anita Neuman

      October 24, 2013 at 3:01 PM

      Ha! And that’s probably the thought process that the other husband went through, too…until he talked it out with her.

  3. Hypocraea

    October 24, 2013 at 7:36 PM

    So this has helped me to accept her comments as an invitation into her life (rather than dragons to slay), but it only solves half the problem. Now, if she sends me a note saying, “I feel cold” I realise that she’s not expecting me to drop everything and go buy a second furnace, but it doesn’t tell me what she does expect me to do. I’m vaguely aware that such comments illicit appropriate responses from other women, but since I’m not a woman, and I’m not supposed to respond like a man, what am I supposed to do? Pretend? Or just say “thank you for that insight into your feelings?”

    • Anita Neuman

      October 24, 2013 at 8:00 PM

      Ummm, that response probably wouldn’t get you very far. 🙂 You can still respond like a man, though, if there’s something that you can offer that might make her feel more comfortable. Certainly if my husband HAD offered to turn up the thermostat, or get my slippers for me, or just give me a nice long hug, I wouldn’t have been offended. I do recognize that guys want to fix things, and that can be okay. But in this instance, his response was that I shouldn’t be cold in the first place. It might be helpful in uncertain circumstances to simply say, “My primal reaction is to try to fix this for you – is there something you’d like me to do to help? Or am I helping you best just by letting you talk through it with me?”

  4. Tammy Bull

    October 29, 2013 at 4:40 PM

    Interesting… Sorry if my previous comment was a little mean-spirited towards said male, but I really wish people would stay sincere in their comments. If I read I blog I don’t agree with, I don’t feel the need to debate that person, I just don’t have to read their blog again…
    However, I would say that someone somewhere must have taught my husband how to speak to me, cause your sentence beginning with “My primal reaction…” is often how he will try and relate to me ~ and I love it! (I can only hope that my responses to him have become more focused and attentive, as well)

  5. Jcm Manuel

    November 2, 2013 at 4:25 PM

    Okay, wisely avoiding the sex blogs you wrote before this one (he he) I arrived at the first seat here here and of course I’m flabbergasted that I’m not mentioned as an exception to your role – as my “man-processed thoughts” were always reaching a perfect understanding audience, being you. NOT, of course: the understanding was no doubt entirely kinda upside-down. But isn’t this the essence of why it’s fun talking from “man-” to “woman-thought-processor”? It turns out we are created that way, things are being understood in reverse order (sort of) and then magically make so much sense – so much that the only correct after-effect is laughter – which is, of course, what we are made of. We know it was all joy when Aslan sang the world into being – and look at the fauns and all toe odd creatures (you are a faun, me one of the other odd creatures), the world has to be funny. Which makes sense through these reverse-engineered thought processors. And you, my friend, again, turns out having discovered all of this – right before I was going to tell you about it.

    Mike Donehey on the other hand clearly beats me in wisdom (which is an opportunistic way to say I’m no match – but this aside, you know how this thought processor works, you’re okay with that). Also glad to hear about your husband Pat, again. Okay I will follow your advice to consider him a jerk (unless this is just another typical male misunderstanding of course 😉 ) — Oh, and let me add: his “a rebuke for feeling cold” is no doubt preferable above any comment of a more theologically elevated level such as “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot”. Because there is no fun in that – but misunderstandings are fun – we are created that way (did I already explain this? Yes I did, ref. above).

    Oh my… I read on to then end of your message and I’m seeing the s_x word again. How did your blogs turn into … eh… this cold and hot stuff? I don’t recognize my place here anymore! (Ssssst – don’t speak, I know… it’s all in reverse, again)

    Ha! How R U doing my witty friend? I hope all is okay. I wished I didn’t have to miss out your blogs because if time constraints – as I need to feed my man’s thought-processor with bookish stuff too (these brains need science like a machine needs oil, haha). Glad having read your clever stuff again. I recognized myself perfectly in almost every word. (And don’t reverse that – I pre-reversed it for you this time, so it’s ready for uncomplicated consumption).


    • Anita Neuman

      November 2, 2013 at 5:48 PM

      These circles in which you speak have got me so dizzy I can’t see straight! But it is great to have you pop in for a visit, and your comments always make me smile. 🙂

  6. Jcm Manuel

    November 2, 2013 at 4:29 PM

    Correction: exception to your *rule*


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