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Why Can't He Hear What You're Saying?
It was a novice mistake, I admit the kind of dumb thing you do two months into a relationship, not four years. My wife and I were having dinner with friends and I was telling a story about how her brother crashed his car. Yes, maybe I hyperbolized a little bit, played it for laughs at his expense. So when Kristen shot me her death-ray look across the table the one that means: You have committed some gaffe, said something offensive, revealed something private, etc., and should cease and desist I ceased and desisted.
But afterward, on the car ride home, she was still mad. "I mean, at this point you shouldn't even apologize," she said. So I didn't apologize. I said I understood. I held her hand a little in the car, and when we got home I made a bowl of ice cream and watched Big Love. Later, Kristen came into the den, all dressed for bed, and stood silently watching Bill Paxton and wife number two in flagrante. "Well," she finally snapped, "you could have at least apologized!" When I protested that she'd told me I shouldn't apologize, she said, "It would have been a good place to start."
At that moment, I became a walking marriage cliché. You know the cliché I'm talking about. It goes: My wife speaks a strange alien tongue that I, no matter how hard I try, am too dumb to learn. It was one of those moments when you identify with that line from Knocked Up: "Marriage is an unfunny version of Everybody Loves Raymond."
But there's a reason the cliché exists: A lot of the time we guys do need help in the "What the heck are you talking about?" department. The Everybody Loves Raymond way of explaining this phenomenon is that we men are too thick to read between the lines. And, okay, this is kind of true. Kristen will try to tell me in every possible way about presents she'd like me to get for her. She might say, "Hey, those earrings are nice!" And nine times out of 10, I do not copy. I might think, Wow, she really likes to talk about jewelry a lot or Wow, does she not realize that I'm not a woman and that I don't care about earrings? Maybe if I'm quiet for long enough she'll change the subject.
The less Raymond-y way of explaining why we don't understand you is to say that we simply have different ways of talking. Men have two modes of communication: saying what we mean and repressing what we mean. We either say, "What you said the other night really pissed me off" or we say, "Hey, wanna go see Knocked Up?" Women, on the other hand, use a little more nuance. You imply things more than men do; you depend more on subtext. I remember in the beginning of our marriage, Kristen kept telling me that I looked sexy in black underwear. It took me about two months to translate that into "Your old white underpants are graying and disgusting. Please get rid of them and replace them with something that ages better."
The problem with subtext is that too often we men just don't catch it and then we completely misinterpret you. I hate to say this, because yes, it's yet another "Men are so dumb" cliché, but it's kind of like when you pretend to throw a ball for a dog but really put the ball behind your back. The dog (man) is too stupid to keep his eye on the ball (the hidden meaning) and goes running after nothing. For example, a guy I work with, Alex, told me this story about sex with his girlfriend (oh, yes, we talk about this at work; we married men may not share, but we sure like to listen to the stories of the unmarried and their weekends of riding crops and whipped cream). Alex and Alicia were in the throes of foreplay, and when he started heading south, she said, "No, don't do that." He thought, Okay, she's feeling a little self-conscious, isn't in the mood for that, whatever. It wasn't until later, when she was acting pouty, that he finally got it out of her that she was in the mood for it she just wanted to make sure he was, too. In fact, she wanted him to be so desperate to do it that he'd beg her to let him. But she didn't want to have to say so.
This falls under my Grand Unified Theory of Male-Female Miscommunication: We misunderstand you most often when you want something but are afraid to (or don't think you should have to) ask for it, whether that thing is compassion or a back rub. Part of the problem is that you all are a lot nicer than we are demure in some cases, and, it must be said, passive-aggressive in others. Alicia was too shy to tell Alex what she really wanted sexually. Kristen wanted me to "get" that she wanted those earrings without her having to ask for them. But when a man misses his cue, both parties can end up pissed. You feel like you're not being treated very well, and blurt out what it is you wanted all along (but are probably too annoyed to want anymore anyway). We feel like we've been ambushed. I'd say that's the dynamic driving fully half of the fights I have with my wife.
There is a way out. And that is: Show us some mercy. We really do want to understand you. And we are often a little intimidated in the communications department, partly because we know we have a reputation for being so bad at it. But look at us. We're trying so hard! Doesn't that count for something?
And we are not entirely untrainable: Over the course of a relationship, we'll (hopefully) pick up a few things. Recently, my friend Scott had a fight with his girlfriend about whether or not they were going to have dinner with his mother the following week. He'd been in this relationship long enough to know that what his girlfriend was really complaining about was not whether they'd see his mother, but his inability to plan anything more than five hours beforehand. So he said, "Let's plan right now for next week's dinner." That made everyone happy.
Even when your rules don't seem logical to us, we'll learn them by rote if necessary. The snafu about my wife and her brother, for example, taught me to apologize even when she tells me not to. Another rule I recently committed to memory: When the woman in your life has a crappy day, just listen and sympathize and express venomous contempt for those who have wronged her rather than trying to explain why it wasn't so bad.
Of course, that brings up a caveat. A man is not above gaming the system that is, pretending not to understand what he doesn't really want to understand. "I didn't know you wanted those earrings!" he'll protest, instead of admitting, "I didn't want to spend that much money." After all, just because we're dumb doesn't mean we're stupid.
Blah, blah, blah!
For years, researchers have claimed that women talk way more than men one oft-cited stat is that women use 20,000 words a day while men use only 7,000. But it turns out that women and men both use an average of 16,000 words per day, according to a recent study from the University of Texas at Austin.
Lost in Translation What he really hears when your lips are moving.
You say: "Ugh, my boss is horrible. I had the worst
You mean: "I really need to vent about my day."
He hears: "Tell me how to fix my relationship with my boss."
You say: "Hey, can we talk?"
You mean: "I have something important to tell you."
He hears: "You screwed up, buddy."
You say: "Oh, those shoes don't go with that belt. Why
don't you wear the brown ones?"
You mean: "I just want to help you look good."
He hears: "Aw, the widdle baby can't dwess himself!"
You say: "Let's straighten up in here."
You mean: "Let's straighten up in here."
He hears: "I resent that you're a pig."
You say: "I'm so sorry you had such a rough day. You must
You mean:"I want you to know I empathize with you."
He hears: "I feel sorry for you, you sad sack of a man."
You say: "Do you think that woman's hot?"
You mean: "Tell me that I'm hot."
He hears: "DANGER! DANGER! DANGER! DO NOT ANSWER!"
Men's ability to process language and understand what's being said to them begins to diminish starting in their 30s. Women retain this ability until menopause.
Source: By Bryan Stipe Why Men Never Remember and Women Never
Forget by Marianne J. Legato, M.D.
Why doesn't he see what I need?
The love expert says... He takes everything personally.
"If I call a friend and say, 'I'm having a terrible day,' she'll drop everything and ask, 'Are you okay?' A woman hears complaints as an invitation to move closer. But a man hears complaints as an indication that he's failed. He measures his very worth by his ability to provide and protect, so in his mind, if he were doing his job, she wouldn't be unhappy.
"Does this mean a woman can never complain to a man? Of course not! Men really want to please women. All you have to say is, 'Would you help me with...' or 'I would love it if....' Go beyond the complaint or criticism and get at the desire. High-maintenance women don't scare men. Men actually like it because it gives them a clear set of rules for how to improve, and they can tell when they're succeeding." Pat Love, coauthor of How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It
Why doesn't he understand me?
The linguist says... He assumes you're trying to be the boss of him.
"In general, men focus on hierarchy and women on connection. I always find it fascinating to go back to studies of how kids talk: Boys use talk to negotiate their status within a group, while girls use talk to negotiate closeness. This difference can cause misunderstandings with apologies, for example. When a man makes some small transgression, his wife might feel that if he'd just say, 'I'm sorry,' it would be over. But he won't, and then you end up arguing about why he won't apologize. For many women, an apology means, 'I care that I let you down; I care about you.' If he doesn't apologize, it's like he doesn't care. But for men, asking for an apology is a demand that he publicly humiliate himself. He thinks apologizing is a sign of weakness, and that you'll use it against him, because that's what another man would do. So when you say, 'Why won't you apologize?' he hears, 'I caught you in an error and I'm going to rub your nose in it.'" Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation
Why doesn't he really listen?
The psychologist says... He's too busy trying to fix the problem.
"There's a difference between how men and women process stress. In a woman, stress produces a reaction in the emotional center of the brain. Talking stimulates the production of serotonin to relax the brain, so she'll instinctively talk in order to feel better.
"For a man, stress triggers a reaction in the action center of the brain. So when you talk to him about a problem, he's so intent on taking action to fix it that there's no way he can actually hear your point of view. But if you tell him that the solution is just to listen, he can relax. He doesn't have to hunt for a solution, so he can listen, and maybe even empathize." John Gray, Ph.D., REDBOOK Love Network expert and author of the upcoming Why Mars and Venus Collide
Why can't he figure out what I'm really saying?
The psychiatrist says... He's hardwired differently from you.
"In brain-imaging studies, women have more blood flow to the parts of their brains that produce and interpret language, and there are more interconnections between the emotional center and the verbal center. Men have less well-defined connections between the verbal and emotional parts of their brains. Early-childhood studies show that girls have a greater capacity for verbal communication than boys they're more skilled at using words as a way of sharing their experience.
"The big problem between husbands and wives is that they don't realize how the other functions. A woman expects that since she is able to freely talk about her emotions, her husband is equally able to do so. Meanwhile, a man tends to view his wife's efforts to communicate as simply sharing information, not as sharing an emotional experience. So if she says, 'I'm upset that our son hasn't called to tell us he got to his friend's house,' he might say, 'I'm sure he's all right,' focusing on the 'Is he safe?' question. What she's really saying is, 'I'm anxious, I'm scared.' But he's not focusing on her emotional experience." Scott Haltzman, M.D., REDBOOK Love Network expert and author of the upcoming Secrets of Happily Married Women
"Our wires get crossed when..."
"...the TV is on. I have to pause it and force my husband to make eye contact before I say anything. Otherwise, he will literally not hear me, much less retain any of what I said. The worst part is, there are still times when he doesn't remember what I said and then he'll get mad at me when he doesn't remember!" Laura Kukucka, 30, Columbus, OH
"...something I say reminds him of something his ex-wife did or said and he thinks I'm taking him down the same path. I have to remind him that I'm not her." Katherine Miller, 29, Memphis
"...I criticize him, especially if I start with 'You never do...' or 'Why can't you....' I think it's because as soon as I say anything negative about him, all he hears is that negative statement. Everything after it just sounds like blah, blah, blah." Nature Lewis, 31, Staten Island, NY
"...there is any game on TV. It's like my husband's brain shifts and everything around him turns to babble. I think it's a hormonal change that happens to men during sporting events. So I'll tell him things I don't really want his opinion on like expensive things I've bought because he doesn't hear, and yet I haven't hidden anything!" Colleen Hoffman, 35, Washington Township, NJ
Told you so!
If you and he disagree about who said what when, chances are
you're right (you knew it!): Studies have shown that women are better
at recalling the spoken word than men.
Source: By Bryan Stipe, lifestyle.msn.com/relationships/couplesandmarriage/articlerb.aspx?cp-documentid=5660256>1=10618