Just the facts, ma’am: audible answers to unspoken questions

My husband and I have very different communication styles. I’ve posted about this before. It is an ongoing thorny issue. He tends to approach conversation like a quiz: here’s the question; provide the corresponding answer and you get a star on your chart. I tend to wander a bit in my conversation. Often, when I answer a question he poses, I’m really answering the next question that I assume will follow the one he just asked. Because often, I know where the conversation is going. (Example: He asks about something we’ve planned for later this week. But my answer is about how those plans have shifted to next week, because I know that change impacts the information he’s seeking.) But he’s not ready for the second answer…he’s looking for the answer to his first question. And sometimes I get it wrong…sometimes I don’t know where he’s going, and answering a second, unasked question takes us in a completely different direction. Not that he’s in charge of all conversation in the house. But obviously, the person who poses a question has the right to an answer before the other person takes off on a tangent.

Are you confused yet?

Is this a Mars/Venus phenomena? Is this a personality type difference? He works in clinical healthcare, and spends his work hours seeking information. He’s programmed by career to look for the straightforward response…yes; no; something definite. I’m programmed, apparently, to a more round-about style of conversing. I’m not intentionally with-holding answers…just arriving at them in a very different fashion.

A few months ago we began writing out questions and answers when we were dealing with some personal issues. That helped, and seemed to be a way for us to break this conversation cycle that we so often repeat. But with the busy summer and hectic schedules, we let that technique slide. Last night we got into another one of those verbal spirals…it wasn’t so much the information that was the issue; it was the way we shared our thoughts. He feels dis-respected when I leap ahead of him in conversation. I feel edited by his need to have “just the facts.” Does he have a finite number of words he can hear from me? I have sometimes accused him of having a private script in mind, and I often go “off-script” because I’m not inside his head, reading my next assigned line. That’s unfair to him…I know he isn’t deliberately setting me up. But sometimes it feels that way.

That’s part of the issue…when we go down this path, the words quickly become unimportant. It is the feelings that rise to the surface and take control.

After long years of wrestling with this, we at least know to stop the escalation. Usually we give some quiet and space to each other. This morning, I’m going back to the writing tool. When I answer a question in writing, it forces me to slow down, to be deliberate in my response. My thought processes move quickly, sometimes too quickly to respond in the best way. At the risk of sounding sexist, based on personal observation, I think this character trait is more common to women than to men. But probably it is also a trait of personality style. Regardless, it causes friction in my relationship. And here’s the really thorny issue…on good days, I can hear the criticism that I am racing ahead with my answers. That I need to slow down and be fully present in the conversation as it happens instead of moving to where I perceive we are heading.

On a bad day, I feel personally affronted. Why can’t he just accept me for who I am? Why do I need to be edited, changed, filtered…(insert your own word here)?

But then I have to ask myself, honestly…how does this help? What is the point of the exchange? Do I have such a need for self-expression that I can’t alter my style to be more effective? Is this style so ingrained in me that I can’t change the way I speak?

Filtering through the lens of “how does this help?” always helps. Always makes me step back and see the bigger picture. The picture I want to see is one of effective communication. I want to be mature. I choose to change, even if the change is a struggle and one I’ve attempted, off and on, for many years. The reality that change is difficult and slow in coming doesn’t alter the reality that it is needed.

I wish I had a magic wand to wave when we get into these cycles. You would think by now we would be experts at talking to each other. We’ve practiced for nearly 32 years. But no, what we’re experts at is pushing each other’s buttons.

And so, back to the writing tool. I don’t expect to use this for every question/answer exchange we have…not possible! But it is a visible and physical reminder to me to slow my words, and so I’ll try to write, as I can, to work on this behavior again. As the wise say, you cannot change someone else, you can only change yourself. And with that acknowledgement comes acceptance. This is not about either of us being perfect or being right. It is about me becoming a better version of myself…more deliberate, intentional, and focused in my responses.

So here’s my call to action: am I alone in this? Does this happen to anyone else out there? Is my instinct that this is a bigger issue for women correct? And last, if you have any wisdom to share on this subject, please do!

I saw this on Pinterest recently…aahh, someone gets me!

My mind at work...

My mind at work…

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8 thoughts on “Just the facts, ma’am: audible answers to unspoken questions

  1. Totally happens! I often am a cacophony of ideas/plans/thoughts/problems/solutions/you name it.

    Him? Not so much. All he asked was “do we have plans for Friday night?” And my answer might go like this, “well, that depends, you know we’re supposed to run food out to X b/c of her cancer she can’t eat too many things but she sure likes my soup and, before that, the kids are stopping by to pick up their swim gear. I have a conf call at 4 but I might not get home till 5:30. Getting groceries on my way home, by the way. And first thing Saturday, the dryer is being installed. So it depends, why?”

    At which point I usually get a blank stare followed by a sigh 🙂

    If the writing works for you, then I say go for it, sister!

    Love, Venus aka MJ

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    • Ah, sounds familiar! My answers are rarely yes or no! Like your example, the scenarios always seem more complex than a one word answer can satisfy! But here’s the thing: if I heard that answer from you, I would engage in sorting out the variables…my husband just gets frustrated! I truly think this is largely a gender issue! Maybe we speak as we live…multi-tasking… 🙂 ~ Sheila

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  2. I am so completely different from my husband. But I think that is good. When you combine two different sets of reasoning skills, you get way more intellectual power. At least, that’s how I look at it. Am I bewildered by it? Every single day.

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    • Thank you! Just trying to (once again!) sort this out!

      Hey, we’ve had a beautiful summer up here! More sun than we’ve had in a summer season for the past four years. Hope yours has been great too! ~ Sheila

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