My husband and I have been together for over 18 years and married for 14. By this point we are pretty aware of each other’s distinct personality traits, including our basic communication differences. For example, my husband knows that speaking to me before 8 a.m. will result in a grunt and nod at best, and at worst could be dangerous for his health. And I know that if I wait until we are both in bed to try and discuss something important, I’m going to get a lot of “uh-huhs” and “I don’t knows” before I start to hear snoring.
Over the years we have learned a lot about how to communicate more effectively and gotten past many of the basic communication hurdles that plague men and women. He gets that I have a need to hash out every detail of a situation, and lets me do so. And I have learned to stop reading into everything he says (or doesn’t say) and just come right out and ask what I wish to know. Yet, there are moments when our efforts to communicate clearly with each other actually backfires.
For example, last year we were preparing to have some family over for dinner and my husband offered to run to the grocery store if I made the list. I was planning to make chicken fajitas and my shopping list looked something like this:
Yes, I use a boxed kit and it’s delicious. Don’t judge.
But as I started thinking about how our family of five easily goes through all of the soft tortillas that come with the standard kit, I thought it best to have some extras on hand since we were having two guests. So I added this to the list:
extra soft tortillas
I put the “extra” in there because knowing my husband, who will shop with a calculator in hand to make sure he is getting the best bargain, I had a feeling if I just put “soft tortillas” on the list he’d come home with nothing, declaring that there were already tortillas in the kit, so he didn’t need to buy them separately. Makes sense, right? I was just avoiding a potential miscommunication that would lead to a return trip to the grocery store (and when you live 20 minutes from the closest store you employ whatever means necessary to avoid a return trip).
That afternoon my husband came home from the store and I started to help him put away the groceries. Bell peppers – check! Chicken – check! Fajita kit- check! Extra tortillas – well, he bought burrito sized tortillas, not the smaller fajita sized ones, but that’s OK, at least we’d have enough.
As I was putting the tortillas away my husband came over and said, “I hope these are OK, the package says they are super soft.”
Hubby: “Well, I didn’t see any that said extra-soft on the package. These were the closest I could find. Is that OK?”
Me: (pausing a moment to process what he’s just said) Bwahahahaha……can’t breathe……..laughing…….so hard…….tears streaming……..down…….my face
Hubby: “What? I don’t get it?”
Me: “I meant extra soft tortillas,” giggle, snort, giggle, “not extra-soft tortillas!”
Once it sunk in what he’d done (or what I’d done, depending on how you look at the situation) we both laughed for a while.
It’s a funny example of how sometimes over-communicating can be problematic. Unfortunately, in our house, this doesn’t always lead to a funny story. Oftentimes my “over-communicating” is perceived by my husband as nagging. Like when I ask him to call the phone company about an unusual charge on our bill. Then the next day I email him in the morning as reminder, and then I text him in the afternoon. When he gets home I ask him if he called the phone company and he says, “no, I didn’t have time, but I will do it tomorrow.”
By this point we are both completely frustrated. I’m frustrated because I’m thinking ‘I only reminded you three times! How could you not take care of this one little thing?’ And he’s thinking, ‘I told you I would take care of it, and I’ll take care of it. I can’t do everything you want me to, right when you want me to, so stop nagging!’ (or at least I assume the inner-dialogue in his head sounds something like that). And now something as simple as a phone call has built a small wall between us, and perhaps even set the tone for the entire evening.
could have should have said was “honey, I really need to pay the phone bill by Thursday, can you please be sure to call them and find out what this charge is before then? I can send you a reminder if you want.” And then just trust he will get it done, because most times he does, especially if I communicate exactly what I need, why, and when.
I know this is a better way to communicate, and it’s not all that difficult, really. But the truth is, even after 18 years, we still do this to each other. I do it because I’m distracted and don’t take the time to think about what I’m really asking. I do it because I’m caught up in the hurry-up-and-get-it-done of life. I do it because old habits die hard.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he wrote, “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29). How much frustration would I relieve, how many hurt feelings would I avoid if I made sure my words ‘fit the occasion’ and ‘gave grace’ to my husband?
Don’t answer that; it was a rhetorical question. I know I’ve got some work to do here. But I have a feeling I’m in good company.
And next week I’ll be offering a free class for married couples called, Extra soft tortillas vs. extra-soft tortillas: Why punctuation matters.