My wife and I had an extensive talk about about how men and women hear things differently last night. When you talk to someone, there is often what you could call a “subtext” beneath what you are saying. Such as if you say: “The closet is not clean.” The subtext could be “You haven’t been doing your job in keeping it clean.” Now what I was coming to realize that while both men and women can hear subtexts, women communicate largely on the basis of subtext. Jill would not say to Alice that “The closet is not clean” because Alice would definitely understand that to mean “You have not been doing your job” rather than just a plain observation of status of the closet. So Jill just starting to clean up the closet herself might prompt Alice to say “Oh, I’m sorry, I should have cleaned up the closet” which would be the intended result. So the net is that there is a bit of a rule that direct communication is generally too strong, and the best way to let the other person know something is for your actions or words to loosely alude to it.
Now this leads to an interesting situation regarding apologies. So if I tell my wife the closet is not clean, she will likely hear me accusing her of letting it get dirty and that will hurt her feelings. But if I then tell her that actually, no, I really wasn’t saying she did anything bad at all, but I was simply asking for help cleaning it up, then she’d immediately feel better. What I did was tell her “Don’t worry the bad subtext you heard was not really there, you’re perfectly fine.” So, often, Jaime will feel much better if I just explain the subtext.
It does not work in reverse, however! Let’s pretend that for some reason Jaime saying “The closet is not clean” really hurt my feelings. (sorry need to work on the example) I say, “That hurt my feelings.” She says “Oh I didn’t mean that you weren’t cleaning it up enough.” I will not feel better. This is because I was not hurt by what I thought she meant by it (the subtext). I was hurt by what she actually said. Now she is thinking “I didn’t mean anything malicious by this, I simply need to explain that to my husband and he’ll feel better” In reality, whatever her intent, it hurt my feelings. If she explains that she didn’t mean anything bad by it, she thinks she is saying “Don’t worry I didn’t mean anything bad” but what I will hear is “It’s not legitimate for your feelings to be hurt by this, get happy now.”
The more she explains how she didn’t mean anything bad, the worse it will get because that sounds like she’s justifying herself and invalidating my feelings. She is thinking, however, that “If he only knew I had no bad subtext, he’d feel better.” She may even be thinking “It’s not fair for him to get his feelings hurt if I wasn’t trying to hurt them. ” Which from a man’s perspective is kind of funny because his life as a husband is one of constantly trying avoid hurting his wife’s feelings when he doesn’t mean to hurt them 🙂 He’s always trying to deal with the messages he either sent and didn’t know about it, or didn’t send at all, but were received that way by his wife because he doesn’t use the female subtext communications rules. Is there any way out of this, and where does the Gospel fit in?
Men: Men need to admit that subtexts are real. They are in the spirit of what is being communicated. Women may overinterpret a subtext, but if you are “out of the Spirit” you are legitimately sending a bad signal, and if someone is hurt by it, you need to be willing to apologize. In other words, you said “The closet is not clean” and what you wanted your wife to hear was “Can you clean it?” but deep in your heart you were also upset that she didn’t clean it before. The fact that she heard the part about you being upset in that case may not seem fair since it was just a fleeting thought, but it was there in the spirit so it’s actually perfectly fair. If you don’t want someone else to hear it, then don’t think or feel it. The only way to do that is to stay in the Spirit. If they do hear it, then own up to it, don’t argue about it. It feels really unfair when they hear that, and it’s frustrating because you were trying really hard for them not to. But they did. You can end up feeling like you have to be a perfect person not to hurt your wife’s feelings. Well that’s kind of true. So try to stay in the Spirit, but expect to hurt them, and if you can take responsibility when you are out of the Spirit by saying something like “You know what I’m frustrated, and I had a bad heart toward you about it, I’m sorry” instead of spending time trying to pretend that you were pure and she shouldn’t be hurt, you’ve got the gold key.
Women: It’s a very scary thing for a woman’s shortcoming to come out into the open because female culture is built on performance. If the woman does not perform, she is a failure. Women spend their lives trying to meet the hidden expectations in order to never fail to measure up and suffer the associated embarrasment and rejection. I personally believe that this is a missing key in breaking bondages for women — accepting and facing shortcomings. Trying to avoid being seen with any shortcomings is a kind of pride, and the effort to prevent that from happening is works. This is a very hard truth for women. I don’t think any kind of personal pep talks will fix the negativity women experience from this kind of culture. I believe the only way out is trutly to repent of the pride and works. This means being willing to be seen as “not measuring up” and when the devil jumps on you about it, to basically tell him he is a liar and that in fact by not measuring up, you’re ridding yourself of the pride and works that keep you from real godliness and spiritual beauty. Boy that’s tough isn’t it.
Now when women are dealing with men, it’s it’s harder because women know all about subtexts, and if they want to give you one it will be done intentionally. So when you get your feelings hurt and she wasn’t intending to hurt them, that’s going to be upsetting. “You heard a subtext I didn’t give, that’s not fair!” The hard part here is that either what you actually said was hurtful to him and you didn’t think it should be, or a subtext you sent that you thought was harmless was hurtful to him. You may have had no malice, but it had significance to him that you may not understand. You need to accept the fact that his feelings were really hurt by it, and try to understand why, or just make him feel better. Don’t try to convince him it wasn’t hurtful, which you’ll be heavily tempted to do. The fact is that it was hurtful, regardless of your intent. So for both men and women there is a similarity: something you don’t think should be hurtful can be. For men, because you are sending messages you’re not aware of, and for women because the message you’re sending seems fine to you but hurts him. In both cases, if you blame the hurt person for getting their feelings hurt, it’s an unhealthy form of manipulation.