A few weeks back, I came across an article in The Aiken Standard, written by Roger Rollins who is the Executive Director of FAMCO, (Family & Marriage Coalition of Aiken, Inc.). For me, it was a blinding flash of the obvious and Roger’s column should receive some type of international recognition.
What do you think?
Husband and Wife Talk for Different Reasons
“..and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” – Bible
We’ve all seen the cartoon strip where Dagwood and Blondie are sitting at the breakfast table. Dagwood is reading the newspaper and Blondie is staring at the back of the newspaper. “Every morning all he sees is the newspaper! I’ll bet you don’t even know I’m here!” Dagwood reassures her, “Of course I know you’re here. You’re my wonderful wife and I love you very much.” With this, he unseeingly pats the paw of the family dog, which the wife has put in her place before leaving the room.
Dr. Deborah Tannen, in her book “You Just Don’t Understand”, explains that one of the difficulties in communication between men and women is that they have different reasons for talking. In the scenario with Dagwood and Blondie we could attribute Dagwood’s behavior to thoughtlessness, but that is only part of the problem.
Men usually talk to exchange information. With women the talk is often more about interaction. So when a man has no information to share at the moment, he doesn’t talk. Men also establish a threshold on the level of information they will talk about.
Rhonda and Robert arrive home from their perspective workplaces at about the same time. Rhonda proceeds to tell Robert about her day. Her boss was a little out of sorts, and some of her coworkers were less than cooperative. One of her best friends is getting married soon. Then Rhonda asks Robert how his day was (after prying him away from opening the mail). “Ok,” says Robert. “Same ol’ same ol’”.
Robert’s threshold of important events has not been reached that day, and hence nothing needs be said (in his opinion). He has no information to share. He doesn’t need further interaction with his wife; he sees her and has just heard extensively from her.
Dr. Tannen shares another example in her book. “A woman I will call Rebecca, who is generally quite happily married, told me that this is the one source of serious dissatisfaction with her husband, Stuart. Her term for his taciturnity is stinginess of spirit. She tells him what she is thinking, and he listens silently. She asks him what he is thinking, and he takes a long time to answer, ‘I don’t know.’ In frustration she challenges, ‘Is there nothing on you mind?’”
For Rebecca, who is accustomed to expressing her fleeting thoughts and opinions as they come to her, saying nothing means thinking nothing. But Stuart does not assume that his passing thoughts are worthy of utterance. He is not in the habit of uttering his fleeting ruminations, so just as Rebecca “naturally” speaks her thoughts, he “naturally” dismisses his as soon as they occur to him. Speaking them would give them more weight and significance than he feels they merit. All her life she has had practice in verbalizing her thoughts and feelings in private conversations with people she is close to; all his life he has had practice in dismissing his and keeping them to himself.”
In the scenario with Rebecca and Stuart, Stuart may indeed have had “nothing on his mind.” This is hard for women to believe, since their minds are often multi-tasking – going several directions at once. Men are much more single task oriented; hence their mind may truly be blank except for reviewing the mail or looking at the newspaper.
Husband-wife relationships will be much healthier if both will be aware that they communicate for different reasons. The wife can recognize that men need a reason to talk, e.g. exchanging useful information, and may be silent otherwise. The husband can honor his wife’s need to interact, to connect with him, just for connection’s sake – no other reason.
The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken, Inc. (FAMCO) provides resources for you to succeed in your marriage and families. Roger Rollins, Executive Director, FAMCO, 640-4689, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.aikenfamco.com .