Monday, February 6, 2017

Male / Female Miscommunication, or, why does she say that?

This morning, I realized my husband was making noises very similar to many men when confronted with an obstinate / upset female of long acquaintance. And we talked about it, and after ruffled feathers were soothed, I realized this is probably one of those communication issues that confound many, many men and women over the years. So here, ladies and gents, is a translation guide.

On the surface (if there were a transcript.)

Female: Problem A exists.
Male: So, I'll fix Problem A.
Female: Two weeks ago, you failed to do Thing B.
Male: So? What's that got to do with unrelated Problem A?
Female: You didn't do Thing B!
Male: That doesn't matter. We're talking about A! And besides, I told you I'd get to B.
Female: Uh-huh. *frosty silence*
Male: What? I told you I'd fix Problem A. Why are you mad?
Female: Nevermind.
Male: ...So how 'bout them Sports Team?

Humans of both sorts, here's a full translation.

Female: It is bothering me that you have failed do anything about  Problem A, so I am now urging you to fix it, in the hopes that this will motivate you to immediately do something about the extremely obvious and irritating Problem A.

Male: Problem A exists? I did not realize this. I shall fix it, but because you have provided no coding of urgency or projected must-be-completed-by date, I shall assume it is low priority and get around to it within the next month. Or year.

Female: I do not trust your airy and overconfident promises. I have prior requested you do Thing B, and you have broken your promise to do anything about it, nor provided any explanation on why you could not do anything about Thing B. Therefore, I worry that you are obviously blowing me off, and just making soothing noises while ignoring my needs.

Male: Thing B has no bearing or relevancy to Problem A. I do not understand why you are bringing up other items on the low-priority schedule; Problem A will also go on the low-priority list and eventually get done. Yes, I still have Thing B on the list, along with Z, Q, V, and J. The list is growing shorter; I have fixed Problems and done Things S, F, H, and G for you within the last two months.

Female:  If I explain what relevance B has to A, namely your broken promise and my lack of trust in you, this shall become an acrimonious discussion. I do not with to have angry words with you; I desire Problem A to cease immediately. If I continue to press upon the importance of A, I shall be blown off as "nagging." This is a no-win situation, in which I shall be forced to continue to deal with A. And B. And Z, Q, R, T, U, V, X, I, J, K, L, M, N, O.....

Male: The female is angry. Why is the female angry? I have promised to do A. and B. Is it because they are higher priority than indicated? Who knows? Last time it appeared to be about unrelated situation C. Each time I attempt to clarify why she was angry, I get my head chewed off. Well, I shall try again, because I desire straightforward communication instead of problems.

Female: The male has decided that my concerns are trivial and unimportant. Nothing will change. I shall give up on ever getting Problem A fixed by him, and figure out how to deal with it on my own, while adding that to the broken promises and grievances list that shall eventually destroy our relationship. I have just lost even more trust and respect for my partner; this is a terrible day. I want a good cry and chocolate and Problem A to be solved, and I am not going to get any of those. I hate life.

Male: The female is very angry, and refuses to communicate why. Well, what can't be fixed must be endured. Let us change the subject, put whatever that was behind us, and enjoy the day. 

Lessons from the translation team:
Ladies, when you need Thing Done or Problem Fixed, provide a proposed deadline and the appropriate amount of urgency. If Problem of Thing is part of a multi-step process, explain that Thing 1 must be accomplished in order for you to deal with Problem 2, which has a deadline and urgency as follows. (Sometimes, your partner will find a different way to deal with Problem 2 that does not even involve Thing 1. Negotiate! Don't Demand! Recognize that he has his own priority tasks, and sometimes is counting on Thing 1 not changing state until Date 3.) Once you have ascertained the deadline, consider the matter dealt with. (Unless it's a long deadline, and then ask when is appropriate to check for periodic updates, as in, once a week or month. If you ask him and he tells you when to check in, it's not nagging.) Calendars help here.

Gentlemen, when your lady announces a problem exists or thing needs doing, request the urgency and the proposed deadline. Negotiate for a better deadline. If the urgency seems mismatched with the problem, ask leading questions like "Is Thing X blocking you from doing something else you want?" "Has Problem A recently gotten worse?" "Is there something coming up that will turn ignorable situation A into Massive Problem A?" Hopefully, this will help train your partner into providing this information on future problems.

Ladies, if you're certain that the gentleman has forgotten about items Q - X, this is the time to make a list of all the things you want. Include the urgency and proposed deadlines, and what goals you hope dealing with these will accomplish. Then put it aside until you're no longer frustrated and angry. Request that you two sync schedules, and ask him for a list of things he needs you to do. Explain you're trying to find a new way of avoiding the same stupid fight, and that you hope he will have patience as you two try this new thing out together. Then, when you're both full and happy, pull up your lists and calendars, and start negotiating. Don't be surprised if he's already done some things, and forgotten to tell you that they were accomplished. Don't be angry if he has forgotten something; we're all human.

And if you hear the words "You always" or "You never" come out of your mouth, SHUT UP IMMEDIATELY. Hold up a hand, apologize right away, and explain that you're getting emotional and need a moment to calm down so you can tackle this together. Trust me, he already knows... but the apology will do a lot of good.

Don't expect to get it all right on the first try, or even to get through all the items on the first try. Don't expect him to do everything you need right away. Expect that you may actually have to start to get somewhere, and then put it on hold and try again later. Communication and negotiation are learned skills, and they take practice. Keep trying, and it will get better.

Gentlemen, if she approaches you calmly with a list of things she needs help tackling, pick one you can do quickly to show that this is a much better way to approach life. As for the rest, realize it's not a list of unreasonable demands; it's a plea for help and an attempt at breaking the cycle of "Whatever!"

and last but most importantly:

Ladies: If you're engaged in Learning Task 123, and your gentleman has just reprimanded you for not doing Task X or demanded that you do Thing Y,  do NOT use Problem A or Thing B as a reply instead of "I don't trust you" or "I am worried that you are overlooking an issue from my perspective" or "Yes, I acknowledge that I am slow, uncertain, clumsy, forgetful, and may be doing something wrong, but I am feeling extremely embarrassed, belittled, patronized, uncertain, or scared. Or all of the above. Please stop making me feel this way, or at least allow me time to process and overcome these feelings."

Gentlemen: Get someone else to teach her Task 123. If you absolutely have to, when she brings up completely unrelated honey-do list items, realize this is her way of trying to provide a statement about her feelings and reactions that has nothing to do with the unrelated matter... but that she fears will be socially unacceptable to state baldly. Ignore the red herring, and after giving her a small breather in which you indicate calm, patience, and love, ask how you can help, and what's frustrating her with her learning Task 123.


  1. A very logical and well-thought-out approach. Hence, it will never be attempted. Humans aren't logical.

    Okay, I'm kidding. Sort of.

  2. Ill get to reading and possibly implementing this as soon as I ...... Well you know how it goes LOL .


  3. A laminated copy of this needs to be given to every male when he turns 18.

    Oh, it still okay to use terms like "male" and "he"?

    Are there even any of those left???


  4. But it IS about the nail - and the video is trivializing a real complaint.

    Going through one right now - and I'm done being the one who apologizes and makes things better. I know it's 'blessed are the peacemakers,' but I'd like to not be blessed for once. I'll see how long he can let it sit there without ME fixing it.

    Maybe when he was working, and I always worried he'd be too tired to drive safely after the least emotional thing.

    But now he is retired, and there's nowhere he HAS to go in the morning.

    A man who is about to turn 70 should learn to say, "I'm sorry," without being prompted.