DISCLAIMER: This post contains a lot of generalizations, named such because they are generally true. They may not be true about you or your relationship.
One of the things I love about blogging is that I get to give away my secrets. In this post I’m going to teach you something so important that you simply cannot afford to not know it. As soon as I tell you this, you need to begin considering this stuff and building on this information that might be brand new. If you do, you will see communication in your marriage begin to improve almost immediately. It’s that important.
NAGGING? OR INVITING?
“I’m going to bed sweetheart. Are you coming?”
Once those were challenging words, constricting words, words that nagged and coaxed and wheedled.
“Sure,” I would say, with no intention at all of moving from that spot.
I could hear her getting ready, smell her lotion and soap and toothpaste wafting from the bathroom. I couldn’t wait for her to be in bed, for the house to fall silent, to know I was finally free to pursue with total abandon whatever vapid thing I was doing that evening.
This was my life. For decades. Sure, if she’d have said occasionally, “Hey, I’m going to bed now, if you care to join me, you might get lucky,” I’d have probably considered coming to bed once in a while. Then again, once I’m into something, I struggle to put it down and change mental channels.
“No thanks. I’d rather sit here changing channels. Reading Facebook. Installing software. Writing my blog. Whatever. Please don’t bug me, and make me feel guilty about not going to bed early enough.”
Like that’s all it was. Like my beautiful, sweet wife, just couldn’t go to bed every night without hassling me.
I don’t know when I wised up, but it occurred to me (far too recently) that she was rarely hassling me at all. She was inviting me. She was making an opportunity available to me — and herself as well — where we could be together.
Not necessarily like that. Maybe just talking. Maybe reading. Maybe a little of that. Maybe spooning for five minutes before rolling off to sleep. Maybe all of the above.
An invitation. One which I received most nights for years, for decades, and nearly always misread. Why? Because I don’t usually speak female, thus I don’t naturally listen on that wavelength.
HOW MEN WANT WOMEN TO SPEAK
“Excuse me, I am retiring now, partly because I am tired, but partly because I am not too tired, yet, for what may happen if you join me in bed. And if you don’t get it yet, I’m talking about S-E-X, butthead.”
“I hope you notice how tired I have been. I could really use a few days away. Will you stay home with the kids so I can leave for the weekend?”
“Tomorrow is my birthday. You should buy me flowers. Red ones. Roses. Two dozen of them. Include a sweet, signed card with nice words in it. Send them to my work. I don’t care how, but work chocolate in somehow.”
But she doesn’t usually talk that way. Instead she might say:
“I’m going to bed, are you coming?”
“My birthday is tomorrow.”
“I have been so exhausted. I feel like I never have time for myself.”
All of these are invitations, inviting the man who loves this woman to “Come hither,” to meet her on a level that matters, of his own free will, not because he has to, but because he wants to.
WAYS MEN AND WOMEN MISS EACH OTHER IN THEIR WAY OF COMMUNICATING
Men don’t communicate this way. Our communication is rarely nuanced.
When our wives want to know what we really meant by what we just said, that usually grants us far too much credit. Men are generally pretty simple creatures when it comes to communication, often frustratingly simple for women, who often just cannot resist attributing meanings to men’s words that were not intended.
Women, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you begin disciplining yourself to listen only to a man’s words, and stop reading into what you are hearing. When you read into his words, you will usually end up picking up what he’s not throwing down. When that happens often, he will feel deeply misunderstood, like you aren’t listening. But the problem isn’t that you’re not listening, it’s that you’re actually listening too closely. You’re looking for hidden meanings, but usually where none exist. If he says “A,” and you infer “B-Z” from that statement, you’re not reading him better if all he meant was “A.”
You don’t have to work so hard.
Usually he’s not being evasive, he’s just really said everything he meant to say. Women often find that stunning. “You mean that’s it?” Most of the time — Yep.
Women, if you would just get this about men, you would spend so much less time hurt and offended. If you’re married to a good guy, and he says something you can interpret in two ways, and one of those ways hurts you or makes you angry, there’s a really good chance he meant the other one. Seriously.
But I get what’s happening. You think there are all these layers to his words, because this is how you communicate. It’s just not usually how he does. When a man says I’m going to bed, are you coming, he is just asking if you plan on coming to bed. I’d suggest you not start getting excited about cuddle time. If he wanted sex and affection, he’d probably just ask you for it. (Then you guys would argue that he’s never romantic enough when he wants sex, because he speaks to you not how you need him to, but in the language he speaks most comfortably!)
Men frequently mistake a woman’s invitations for nagging. He will often think she is trying to boss him around, but often she is trying to do the opposite. Rather than wanting to boss him, she is simply inviting him to enter into closeness with her, to take an opportunity she is trying to give him to be close to her. If she asks repeatedly, it’s often because he is not getting it and she doesn’t know what to do other than to keep asking.
THE GREAT DIVIDE
The fact is, men generally communicate informationally, either to give you information, or to get information from you.
“Are you coming to bed?” when asked by a man, is usually an informational question. He wants information from you — either yes or no. Chances are good either of them is fine, he just wants to know.
Women generally communicate relationally, to invite others into further connection and relationship with them.
“Are you coming to bed?” when asked by a woman, is often (not always) a relational question. The literal answer is probably missing the point entirely, because the question isn’t actually about the fact of whether or not a man is coming to bed. The question is actually more like, “Will you show me you prioritize me now? Do you value our relationship enough to stop what you’re doing and be with me now? Do I matter to you now? Do you really love me, in this moment?”
Notice, men, that it will not suffice to simply say, “Oh, I see what you’re doing. Yes, you matter to me, and yes I love you!” and then turn back towards your computer. She isn’t looking for information. She is looking for connection. That’s why you give her the same information over and over again, and it doesn’t seem to connect, because information and connection are different things.
This is the real reason men and women struggle with communication, and the sooner both men and women understand this critical difference in communication styles, the sooner they can learn to hear each other better. You simply cannot afford not to know this.
WHICH STYLE IS BETTER?
Please read me correctly: Both ways of communicating are important and needed. But they accomplish different things. Without informational communication styles, the business of the household could never get done. Without relational styles, the mystery and romance would die out, and there would ultimately be no household left to attend to. Each style of communication is necessary in a certain context and, outside of that context, it will be inappropriate and frustrating to one or both partners.
Though both ways of communicating are important and needed, that’s not to say they are equal. Relational communication is, in many ways, “higher” and “better.” It is innately spiritual communication that requires moving beyond words and philosophical statements. It does not coax or convince — it invites. It opens up opportunities, and waits to see if the other person takes those opportunities. It is not about yes’s and no’s, proofs, arguments, and mere facts. It is about possibilities, presence, exchanges, and stories.
Informational communication helps partners stay on the same page and makes sure each one knows their responsibilities and commitments in the relationship, which is essential. But relational communication actually builds relationships. Relational communication is the dance of the relationship itself. It offers and invites, listens and reveals, reaches out and draws in. It breathes. It only survives as both inhaling and exhaling are happening. Women are usually wired (literally wired in the brain) to do this. It does not come naturally for men, but it is the lifeblood of relationships and the sooner a man learns how to do it, the happier you will both be.
For all the good it will do you in your marriage to understand these two entirely different ways of communicating, what would you think if I told you that this relates directly to why there is such bitter division and misunderstanding in the church? It does! I’ll explain in my next post.
In the meantime, I am inviting you to tell me some of your own struggles with these communication styles in the comments section.