Staying Married: Clarity of Communication

19 November, 2009 by Lawrence in Communication, Staying married

This is somewhat of a follow up to my post about one of my biggest fights with my wife.  This will probably have an even more tenuous application to law, but go with me and let’s see where we end up.

I’m probably a typical guy in that I don’t help around the house as much as I should, and when I do help, my efforts are viewed by my wife as clumsy and inefficient.  My wife doesn’t understand that men are for doing things like dragging home dead animals, chopping wood, and nailing things to other things.  Making living quarters neat and tidy are not our strengths.

The laws of cleaning physics just don’t work as well when used by a male.  In my hands, the duster doesn’t pick up as much dust, the vacuum doesn’t suck as hard, and the washing machine makes tie dye everything.  When I put decorative things back where they belong, I always manage to place them in a way that is almost entirely unpleasing to the eye.  It’s not my fault.  These are forces of nature we’re dealing with.

When I am cleaning or helping with chores I try to be as diligent as possible.  This requires, however, clear direction on my wife’s part.  I’ve explained to her that she needs to tell me exactly what she wants in exact terms.  Men don’t operate on subtle hints.

For example, guys ask each other for favors using clear language.  Guys talk like this: “Will you help me carry this refrigerator upstairs?”; “Do you have a 1/2 inch drive socket wrench I could borrow?”; “Would you prefer to remove your car that’s blocking my driveway before or after I repeatedly apply this sledgehammer to it?”

Simple language that can’t be misunderstood.  Nothing complicated until you put a wife into the equation.

One day the wife and I were working on laundry.  I’m sure we’re like most people in that this means dealing with a bed covered in freshly washed clothing.  We folded and hung and put away and as I was walking into the closet my wife says “I need hangers.”

Dutifully, I asked, “How many shall I bring you, darling, love of my life?” (This may not be an exact quote.)

“Grab a couple.”

Most times, you can track the beginning of any conflict down to a single act.  In this case, her answer of “Grab a couple” was the turning point in my day.  If you’ve been paying attention, I’m sure you can guess how many hangers I brought my wife.

That’s right:  Two.

Apparently she thought I was kidding.  “Are you serious?  You only brought two!”  She said, barely able to contain her giggling.

“You said ‘a couple’.  A ‘couple’ is two.  How many people are in a married couple?” I asked.

Lesson one:  Don’t talk back.  Accept that you have failed and take corrective measures.

I hadn’t learned that lesson yet (I was still in my early thirties at the time), so I persisted.  Ignoring her shocked reaction I went on: “Listen, a ‘couple’ is exactly two.  A ‘few’ is up to five, ‘several’ is between six and ten, a ‘dozen’ is exactly twelve and more than that gets into ‘a bunch’, ‘a whole bunch’, ‘a ton’, and ‘as many as you can find’.  No sane person ever asks for eleven, so there’s no approximate number for it.”

As she slowly came to realize what she’d married, her eyes became as big as saucers.  Her mouth gaped open.  Her face was pale.  After a moment her jaw started to work, her eyes became slits, and her voice rose as if someone was slowly twisting the volume on a rack of amplifiers.

Her retort can be summarized as follows: I was very, very, very, very, very wrong.

My punishment involved immediately locating a suitable number of hangers and several hours of remedial Lifetime television, where I learned how much men really suck.

Lesson two:  Repeat lesson one until you arrive at an answer that makes her happy.

Fortunately for me, misunderstanding my wife’s definition of “couple” doesn’t fit into any of the available grounds for divorce.  However, it really wouldn’t matter as it doesn’t actually take much of a reason to get divorced these days.  I’ve only heard of a few cases where a divorce has been denied due to insufficient grounds.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from my example, it’s that if you want something from your spouse, you need to learn to speak in a way that he or she understands.   If I figure out this trick, I’ll be sure to blog about it.  Don’t hold your breath, this is a topic that keeps daytime television and self-help authors in business.