Marriage Communication . . . it’s a funny thing. Okay, sometimes it’s not so funny. You love each other. You both speak english reasonably well. It’s not like your trying to order lunch from a food stall in the old market place in Marrakech, Morocco.
So why does it keep happening?
You start a conversation about something that really matters to you and suddenly, your husband says something that proves he’s on planet Zork or your wife is speaking in an alien tongue and accusing you of not listening or caring.
If you’re married you know what I’m talking about, don’t you?
The conversation starts out okay but then spirals down until you’re both completely frustrated. Not long into it, he started saying some really annoying things. And her! She was totally misunderstanding – twisting even – what you were trying to say, right? Can’t a guy catch a break? You were only trying to help.
Sometimes it can get worse than that. It’s not only a minor misunderstanding. Suddenly a canyon-sized void opens up between you and everything you enjoy about your relationship is gone until you climbed back to civility a few hours/days/weeks later.
I’ll never understand that woman!
He just doesn’t listen! He doesn’t even care!
There’s a reason you both keep going back to the well of misunderstanding and frustration.
Now, it could be that you’re just prideful and selfish and want every conversation to be a “win” in your column. After all, in Proverbs 13:10 King Solomon did say, “From pride comes contention”. If that’s the case, you’re marriage is headed for the rocks. Not much of a “win” there.
But for most of you, I’m guessing that’s not the problem.
So what is it? What’s the reason for the continuing misunderstandings when you’re trying to share what’s on your mind?
It’s pretty straightforward.
Men Have Boxes
Women Have One Big Ball of String
Let me explain.
Early in our marriage and even today (if I’m off my game) when Lisa tells me there’s something troubling her and I see “that look” in her eyes, before she’s uttered a word, I go into autopilot. In my mind, I’m looking for my overalls and tools. There’s work to be done. Something that needs fixing is coming and the sooner we can get it fixed, the better. That’s what we men do with problems our wives present to us. We fix them! (I’ll bet the wives reading this feel better already!)
Most men compartmentalize (have separate mental boxes that everything fits into): the work box, the play box, the relax box, the job box, the sex with my wife box, the problem box. Men typically have more boxes than the UPS man. When we’re done looking in the box, we close the lid and look for another box that needs opening.
When our wife earnestly says, “There’s something we need to talk about.” We know what to do! Time to open the problem box, grab the tools and go to work.
Except for one thing . . . she didn’t bring the problem box to the discussion . . . she doesn’t even have one.
But, she did bring something that’s very important to her. She brought her single, large, ball of string.
And, what is that big ball of string? It’s the totality of her thoughts/feelings/experiences of her day (and often preceding days). For her, it’s all connected, everything – the events of her day, how she’s feeling physically, that difficult conversation she had with a teacher at school, the cold her second child has, the intimate time you both hope to have tonight, the overdue house payment, the neighbor’s call about their stray cat, the great article on autism she read while eating lunch, the misunderstanding she had with her sister over the phone, and the news report of the avalanche in Nepal where thousands were killed.
For her, it’s ALL connected.
No, it really is. And don’t try to unravel it just because you believe some of those things shouldn’t be in there. In fact, its best if you don’t even touch that ball, right now.
Her emotional, spiritual, and physiological wiring handles a major current that assimilates and coalesces into her state of mind. Again, it’s all connected. Which can be really difficult for the male sex to grasp and embrace.
There are exceptions to the rule but for most, men have boxes and women have a single, big, ball of string.
Men compartmentalize. Women assimilate. He wants to “fix” her problem. She doesn’t want to be fixed.
She doesn’t want to be “fixed” She wants to be heard.
So, the next time she comes to you with a “problem” and you want to respond in your super efficient, helpful way . . .
Husband: Here’s how I think you can fix this: STEP 1, STEP 2, STEP 3. ISN’T THAT GREAT!
Remember, she’s not looking for a fix, she’s hoping for a sympathetic ear.
Wife: I’m not telling you what’s troubling me so you can fix it. I don’t want you to fix it. I’m telling you because I need you to listen to my heart . . . which calms my spirit . . . which I need because my perspective is a bit blurry . . . which is why I need you to just listen . . . because talking helps me sort out my thoughts.
Boxes VS One Big Ball of String
The next time you bring concerns to your husband and after he has heard 3.5 sentences and starts in on his solution to your problem, just say, “Hey Babe, you’re a great fixer but, do you know what I need right now? I need someone to hear what’s on my heart and I wanted that person to be you. I don’t really want this fixed. I was just hoping you would listen to how I’m feeling right now.”
Lisa has said this to me many times over the years . . . not because I’m unwilling to learn. Not because I don’t want to change. Not because I willfully don’t care how she’s feels about the topic. Not because, etc., etc.,
It’s just that, well, I have boxes and she has a big ball of string and both approaches are perfectly legitimate. Contrary to the politically correct culture we inhabit, men are not defective women.
But learning and growing together is possible with some understanding, patience (trust me, Lisa has had many opportunities to develop her patience – we both have, actually) and a willingness to reflect on and embrace the very real, God-designed, differences between men and women.
Good, positive communication with your spouse is possible for those willing to grow.
Does some of this resonate with your experience in marriage? Do you have any funny (now!) experiences from your relationship you’d like to share? Join the conversation and share what you’ve learned.
As a teaching elder/pastor of Tumalo Bible Fellowship for the past 12 years, I have often had occasion to teach this concept to married couples, as have countless other pastors over the years.
The funniest treatment of the subject I’ve ever encountered is the 2013 youtube video by pastor Mark Gungor, which several of his parishioners mentioned to me as part of a very popular marriage seminar he gives. Check it out. I think you’ll really enjoy it!
CLICK HERE: A Tale of Two Brains
Matt Jacobson is the founder of FaithfulMan.com a biblical marriage, parenting, and discipleship ministry providing written and audio teaching, as well as couples marriage coaching. He is the co-host (with his wife, Lisa) of Faithful Life Podcast and is author of the bestseller, 100 Ways to Love Your Wife. Matt is pastor of Tumalo Bible Fellowship and is married to Lisa, founder of Club31Women.com (they have 8 kids!).