Sunday, February 8, 2015

More Spousal Communication

A recent blog post provided an explanation of how spouses miscommunicate. Several of the comments I received presented reasons for miscommunication that I had missed. My friend Mary pointed out that when folks have been together many years, one of them assumes that the other one has become a mind reader. That hit especially close to home in our household. Today’s post explores this issue from a slightly different angle.

When my husband wants a favor, he rarely asks for it directly. Rather, he makes a vague statement and hopes the person to whom he’s speaking will figure out what he’d like them to do. Eventually, I came to see this as his style of communication, but I used to think he didn’t want to be beholden in any way. By not actually asking for the favor, he wouldn’t feel he received one. I found this manipulative and annoying. I tried to force him to be more direct by saying: “And I’m supposed to do what with this information?”

That rarely prompted him to actually ask for help. Over time, my response progressed to a snarky: “And I’m supposed to care about this why?” More often than not, I ended by performing the expected service, accompanied by heavy sighing, the loud banging of pots and the slamming of cabinet doors.

If you’re having trouble following this, here’s an example. My husband says: “I wonder if the box of green tea is empty.” He knows full well that it’s empty, because he used the last bag the previous night. What he really means is: “Do we have more green tea somewhere? If so, dig it out and make me a cup. If we don’t have any more green tea, make me a cup of whatever is closest, and be sure to put green tea on the shopping list.”

Recently I decided to fight fire with fire. I would communicate with my husband the same way he communicates with me. It should come as no surprise that I did not get my desired outcome when I presented him with a vague statement. I then progressed along a scale of communication, gradually getting more specific and more direct. Today’s post explains that scale, with several examples to illustrate the progression. See if you recognize where your spouse sits on the scale. At what point are you generally successful in getting the outcome you desire?

1.     Vague description of the condition or situation.
2.     More detailed representation of the condition or situation.
3.     Statement of desired outcome.
4.     Polite request to perform the task.
5.     Outright threat of dire consequences if he doesn’t do it.

Here are some examples.

I want my husband to turn on Meet the Press on TV. This is the progression of how I would try to make it happen, beginning with his own style.
1.     It’s Sunday morning.
2.     Meet the Press should be good this week.
3.     I’d like to watch Meet the Press today.
4.     Will you please turn on Meet the Press?
5.     If you don’t go get the clicker and turn on Meet the Press, I’m not going to make you breakfast. Ever again.

In this example, the desired outcome is to have the trash emptied and put out for weekly pickup.
1.     I just realized that tomorrow is Monday.
2.     The trash bin is overflowing.
3.     The trash needs to go out tonight.
4.     Will you empty the trash and put the bin at the curb for pickup?
5.     I’m tired of reminding you about the trash every week. If you don’t take care of it right now, I’m going to empty the bin onto your laptop.

How about getting him to bring his laundry to the laundry room?
1.     Your underwear drawer must be almost empty.
2.     I bet you have a ton of dirty clothes in your hamper.
3.     I plan to do laundry this morning.
4.     Please bring your dirty clothes to the laundry room.
5.     Empty your hamper or I’m going to cut the toes out of every pair of socks that you own.

Investigating strange noises in the middle of the night?
1.     Did you hear something?
2.     I wonder what that sound is coming from the kitchen.
3.     I think I hear water running in the kitchen.
4.     Will you get up and see if you left the water running in the kitchen sink?
5.     If I have to get up to check the kitchen faucet, I’m going to fill a pitcher with ice water and pour it on your head.

For most things that he wants, my husband is adept at getting his desired outcome without having to progress beyond level two. I’m stuck between levels four and five most of the time. There is no justice in this world.

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