Mean What you Say

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Big Man and I were watching a typical sit-com scene where the man asks his wife for permission to do an activity, she says “yes,” and later he gets in trouble for doing said activity. Big Man looked at me and said, “Well, he hasn’t been married long enough to know that when she says ‘yes’ she really means ‘we will talk about it later.’ See, when a guy says ‘yes’ he actually means it. Girls mean something different.”

Now, Big Man said this to me jokingly and we laughed about it, but it got me thinking. Is that really true? I know it is a common stereotype about men and women and marriage and it provides endless fodder for comedy sketches. Is it really so common that women say one thing and mean something completely different? And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it is quite common.

I am not saying all women do this. Nor am I saying that all men “say what they mean and mean what they say.” But I am saying that men and women communicate differently and misunderstanding is bound to happen. One of the parts of a healthy marriage is living in understanding with your spouse and I think that includes speaking truthfully and clearly. So I have been thinking about my own communication style and wondering how many times I have told Big Man one thing while meaning something entirely different. And sadly, I’ve come up with a lot of examples. If I am really honest with myself, I can even find examples where I was intentionally manipulative or less-than-honest in what I said. And that is definitely not OK.

I shouldn’t be making it difficult for Big Man to understand me. I shouldn’t be playing mind games and making him guess my true meaning. I should say what I mean. And mean what I say. It’s not really an optional thing. Jesus was pretty clear on “let your yes be yes and your no be no.” That doesn’t leave a lot of room for I’m fine when I am really not, or I don’t care which restaurant when I really do. It definitely doesn’t allow for Yes honey, go have fun¬†and then the cold shoulder when he gets home. I’m trying to get better at saying what I mean. Speaking clearly and honestly and not engaging in half-truths or double meanings. I don’t want Big Man to feel wary every time I say something and wonder what it is I really mean. I don’t want to say one thing and mean another.

I know we will still have misunderstandings and times when we don’t communicate well. We’re both human and there are inherent differences in communication style. But if I do my best to let my yes be yes, that can only improve things.

Listen and Respond

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the way I communicate with Big Man. Here’s an example of a conversation that happens all the time between us:

Me: I’m trying to decide what to make for dinner. Do you have any preferences?

Big Man: No, anything sounds good to me.

Me: Are you sure?

Big Man: Yeah, it all sounds good. Just pick what sounds the best to you.

Me: I think I’d like to make tacos. How does that sound to you?

Big Man: Tacos sound great.

Me: Are you sure? Because I can pick something else if you want.

Big Man: Really, tacos sound great.

Me: OK, but just tell me if you would rather have something else.

And thus ends the rather pointless discussion of tacos. I know it’s my communication “style” that draws the conversation out forever. Apparently, I cannot ask a question and just accept Big Man’s answer the first time. I must ask him repeatedly if that is really his answer. And I’m starting to realize that this quirk of mine is rather annoying to Big Man. Now, in a case like this where the subject matter is unimportant, he does a great job of letting it slide. But when we talk about important things and I continue to make him repeat his answers to me, it makes him frustrated. Justifiably so.

As I have been thinking about my habit of insisting Big Man answer the same question multiple times, I’ve realized that while I don’t do this intentionally, it is a consistant pattern. I think back and realize I have had this habit for as long as I can remember. I don’t even know when or why it started. I can’t think of anyone I know (like my parents or close friends) from whom I might have learned this. And I don’t think I have a secret desire to host “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” (Is that your final answer?)

I think initially it was just an attempt to be polite, to defer to the other person’s preference. But it has become a habit now that I repeatedly ask the same question regardless of the answer. And while the initial motivation behind this habit may have been good, it has far outlived its usefulness. If I’m really honest and think about the way I converse with Big Man, it is pretty disrespectful to insist that he answer the same question multiple times. It comes across as either 1) I didn’t listen the first time he answered, or 2) I heard him but didn’t believe he was telling the truth. Both of those options are insulting. Clearly this habit is one I need to break.

So my big personal project currently is to fix this communication issue. I’ve been consciously working on this for the last couple weeks and honestly I’m having a really hard time with it. I fact, I don’t know that I have made any measurable progress at all. I doubt Big Man has noticed a difference. The biggest victory I can claim is that I now recognize what I’m saying at the first repeat, and catch myself before asking a third or forth time. But even still I don’t always catch it , and I haven’t yet changed enough to break the pattern.

So I guess this post is more about a failure that I’m trying to fix more than a victory. But I hope that by writing about it I’ll have more accountability, and maybe my experience will be helpful to someone else. Overall, I know that I can’t fix this by myself. It is my responsibility to do my best, but I definitely need Christ’s help. So I’m praying that I will be conscious about what I’m saying all the time. That I won’t just speak out of habit, but that my words would be good and purposeful.

I think that as this part of my journey to be a better wife unfolds, I’ll discover some other things about how I relate to Big Man. There will probably be a follow-on post sometime in the future. I’m know by consciously working on speaking and responding better, there will be more harmony and fewer miscommunications between Big Man and me. Which can only be a good thing. Right?

(See, I only asked once!)