Men and women use language differently, resulting in mixed messages. So how can you be sure that what you said is what he heard?
Men and women are different, and they use language differently. The same words don’t hold the same meaning for a man that they do for a woman. We have different patterns of talking. We have different word choices, and our emotions are different.
I remember one couple in particular. We were doing premarital counseling, and because of the economy tanking back then – they actually were both entrepreneurs – their businesses were struggling. And they decided to postpone their wedding.
Now in the process of that, the struggles with his children from his first marriage who were now young adults were also a big stress factor in their relationship. She’s talking to me, and she says, “You know, if I’m the problem, I’ll just walk away. I hate seeing him struggle this way. It’s just so painful. And I’m the problem, I’ll just walk away.”
The man glazed over.
It was so sad to see his face, and I instantly knew how he heard what she had. So I told her, “You know what he just heard? He just heard, ‘You better get your act together, buddy, or I’m out of here.”
She looked at me with a shocked look on her face. And she turned and looked at him.
I asked him, “Did I get it right?”
And he goes, “Yep. That’s exactly how I heard that.”
She was like, “How in the world could you hear it that way?”
Because he was listening through a different filter.
You know, men and women are both sensitive to one another, but they’re sensitive to different things. Men are sensitive to things that attack their identity as a man. And that means failure is a huge issue for him. He was trying so hard to please his children, even to please his ex-wife, and now to please his fiance. And his business had tanked, and he was struggling. He was having a really hard time. So he had this filter he was listening through.
And what he heard her say was, “You better get your act together, or I’m out of here.”
It was filtered through his sense of personal failure as a man. He was not able to provide, to lead, to please anybody. It was just a constant struggle for him, and his business was struggling, too. You know, a career is so important to a man.
Another major part of a man’s identity is to be the provider.
He actually had said in an earlier session that he didn’t want to get married until he knew that he could provide for her. Now that might seem old fashioned, but I tell you, I believe it’s in a man’s DNA to be the provider. That’s what he felt like he needed to do before he could marry her.
We see that in earlier centuries of culture, earlier centuries of our history when it was so important that a man being able to provide for a woman. Because women weren’t allowed to work, they weren’t allowed to earn their own money. And if he couldn’t provide, then he was not taking care of her. He was not doing what he needed to do.
It’s in a man’s DNA to have that drive to provide. So that was an issue for him. She’s looking at it from a completely different angle, and she’s feeling, “Everybody hates me.” Her feelings are incredibly hurt by things that his young adult children were saying about her and to her, and the way they were treating her.
And so her feelings are crushed because all of this is going on, and she’s thinking. I’m looking at him, and she’s filtering his reactions. She’s believing that he’s getting his feelings hurt when actually he was feeling inadequate. And so that’s why she came up with her solution is that, “I don’t want to see you hurting. And so I’m going to, I’m willing to leave if it will relieve you of this pain that you’re going through.”
She totally missed the part that the postponement of their wedding was about him not being able to provide for her until he was able to rebuild his business.
Do you see how different that is, and how sad it is that they got stuck that way?
Knowing the differences in what women are sensitive to and what men are sensitive to – crucial stuff for creating a successful marriage. So just be aware that what you say is not necessarily coming across the way that you want it to when you’re talking to your mate, whether it’s female to male or male to female.
That’s why it’s a really good idea to play back what you think you heard.
If he would’ve said to her, “I feel like you’re telling me that I’ve really messed up. And if I don’t figure this out, you’re going to leave me.”
Then she could have said to him, “That’s not what I said at all. What I said was I hate to see you hurt. And if it would help you for me to leave, then I’m willing to give up my dream of being with you.”
Okay. Now he gets to play it back again.
“So you actually said that you hate to see me hurting, and that if you going away would make my life easier, then you’re willing to give up the dream of being with me. Did I get that right?”
And she could say, “Yeah, you got it right.”
And then he would say, “Did I miss anything?”
And then she could say, “No, I think you’ve got the main idea of all of it.”
Now he’s had a chance to actually play it back. In both of those cases, one where he heard it wrong, where he told her how he interpreted it, and the other one where he tried as best he could to use her actual words.
Sometimes it feels a little awkward to do that.
That’s really the only way you can discover where those filters are. You know, I’ve seen couples when of them is feeling really, really sad. And it’s so incredibly obvious to me that the person is feeling sad. And I’ll say to them, mate, “What do you see in his eyes?”
And sometimes it’s hard for them to look at each other, but when she looks at him, she doesn’t see sadness, she sees anger and that’s always so puzzling to me, but it’s really an indication that she’s listening through a filter. She’s listening through a filter of fear.
There’s a movie called, The Huntsman: Winter’s War. And it’s about, you know, it’s a fairy tale. It’s about the Ice Queen and how she doesn’t want any love in her kingdom. And so she takes all these children, and she trains them not to love.
Well, you know that doesn’t work. So two of them fall in love with one another, Eric and Sarah, and the Ice Queen finds out about it. They want to leave the kingdom, and she tells them, “Fine. You can go.” But they have to fight their way out.
So they’re in this battle with their fellow kid-soldiers now that are all adults, but they are people that have been raised by the Ice Queen, and they are defeating their friends so they can go and create a life together with one another where they can actually love.
And the Ice Queen realizes what’s happening. And so she shoots up a wall of ice between the two of them. And that wall of ice is transparent, so they can still see each other and yet they can’t talk to each other, they can’t touch each other.
You see how they play it back and forth as the movie goes on. What he sees is one of their friends actually stabs her and kills her. He watches her die, and he’s pounding on the ice till his hands are bloody trying to get through thewall.
But what she sees is him just take the opportunity to run away. He takes off. He’s not the least bit concerned by the fact that they’re now separated. He just found this out, and he took off.
So that’s not what happened in either case.
She actually didn’t get stabbed. She actually was taken prisoner by their friend and locked away for a period of time. But he thinks she’s dead.
So you can see where those particular fears were actually reflected in that wall of ice.
Instead of them being able to see through the filter, to see the facts about what actually happened, they “saw” their own fears.
- He was afraid he wouldn’t be able to protect her, so he “sees” her die.
- She was afraid he would abandoned her, so she “sees” him run away.
- And neither one of those were the actual case of what happened.
I believe that’s what happens in relationships a lot. What we think we see in that filter is actually a reflection of our own fears. We don’t see through the filter to see what the other person’s experience is really.
And that’s what I want to teach couples to do: to learn how to listen to one another in a way that you get the other person’s reality, the other person’s hopes and their fears.
So you can respond to the truth instead of responding to fear.
I hope that helps. And we’ll talk to you again soon.