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Communication without Emotion

Communication with men in general and in marriage in particular can be hard for a girly girl. I’m not a girly girl in the traditional sense, though I have my moments evidenced by my doll collection in my guest bedroom. I have simple hair, don’t wear much makeup, and find shopping in a mall a torturous experience. But I was raised one of three daughters. Now as the lone female in a house of men, I have come to realize that the way women communicated with which I grew up is not the way men communicate in my home now. I am a girly girl in my communication at times. 

Women can be more subtle with each other. Maybe we shouldn’t be, but we can be and get away with it most times. We can drop a hint. We can suggest. We can put out a vibe. But that doesn’t work as well with men.

Many times, I have dropped hints and subtly suggested things in my home. And I am ignored! Which makes me angry!! Which causes me to say a lot more with a strident tone. Then I get a reaction, but it’s certainly not the one I wanted.

A couple of resources have come my way over the last year or so that have reinforced the value of simply saying exactly what I need or want, when I need or want it, without emotion. The without emotion part is crucial though extremely hard for me. When first practicing the suggestions on how to communicate with the men in my household, I initially got emotional over the fact that I had to state it so clearly without emotion. I want to be known and understood! Why do I have to say that I want X for my next birthday? I want someone who loves me to notice me looking at X with longing and who then tucks it away to surprise me with it at a later date. That seems so romantic. But I’m coming to value the fact that my husband needs me to clearly articulate what I need or want, because when I do clearly articulate it without an attached emotion that makes him feel shamed or guilted, he responds. Because he loves me. And his love for me is tangible when it’s accompanied by gratitude that I said exactly what I meant without a negative emotion attached to it.

I’m learning that dropping hints and putting out a vibe don’t work with men, at least the men in my house. I’m learning that if I can communicate my main points in two sentences, it is much more effective that communicating additional sub points of context and emotion with multiple paragraphs. Again, that’s hard because I want to be known and tend to process things by talking something through. I have to distinguish between wanting to communicate something specific to my husband and wanting to process through something with him. In the first case, I need to say exactly what I mean in as few sentences as possible without attached emotion. In the second, I need to let him know I just want to verbally process something and that I am not looking for him to do something or offer advice about what I need to do. Then I can process with him, with emotion, using multiple paragraphs describing the intricacies of my feelings on the subject. But he’s not on the defensive trying to figure out what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s just supposed to be listening. Then he can hug me at the end and have fulfilled what I needed of him. Oddly enough, he often has very good advice with that hug as well.

When we communicate clearly without emotion, we offer the best protection for ourselves from the kind of explosive anger and bitterness that shuts down communication altogether. The great Biblical characteristic of love to bring to each of these communications is that love is ever ready to believe the best of someone. Start your communication giving the benefit of the doubt in conversation. And then say what you mean. Don’t put out a vibe. Don’t drop hints. Don’t get distracted by tangents. Those can come later. But the big rocks of what you want to communicate will get lost if you add the others in too soon.

Matthew 5:37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’ …

14 Responses to Communication without Emotion

  1. Anonymous October 15, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    Wendy,
    That is such a good lesson to have learned. I have slammed cupboard doors with the best of them when the man in my house didn't do what I had not clearly asked him to do – goodness, couldn't he read my mind! I have been married 45yrs and early on my husband and I figured out he didn't know how to buy gifts. So he takes me shopping and asks me to choose a couple of pieces of jewelry that I love and he writes it all down and comes back to buy one of them or both. Sometimes all I have wanted is a new vacuum or maybe a dishwasher. He gets my heart's desire at the time. You have hit the proverbial nail on the head.

  2. Wendy October 15, 2012 at 8:01 pm #

    45 years! That is awesome. Thanks for sharing your learned wisdom here too.

  3. Liz October 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

    Hi, Wendy! I'm off- topic today, but I wan't to express my hope that you'll read and review Rachel Held Evans' new book. Can we expect to hear your thoughts?

  4. Wendy October 15, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

    Liz, I'm not planning to review it at this point. I have a stack of previous obligations I am trying to finish this quarter. Maybe in the new year, I can do that. 😛

  5. Susan October 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    Ah, this is so hard for me to get a handle on. I find that as I have been intentional with my boys, they are better at tuning in to the more subtle nuances that make up total communication. Some are just better at it than others. The others have to work harder. To love the other person better than ourself means we make the extra effort to communicate in whatever way they receive it best and if that means short, concise, bullet statements or probing questions to understand more completely whatever is not clear, then so be it.

  6. Wenatchee the Hatchet October 15, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

    Interesting, and it strikes me that those myriad ways of sending vibes and using non-verbal communication would become even more impossible to interpret if a guy has visual disabilities.

  7. Angela October 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    Oh, I could so relate to this, especially the birthday present example. That has bothered me, but when I can see that my husband just wants to please and love me by getting me what I want, it helps, and if I can appreciate that, I will be much more content!

  8. Kristin Conniff October 16, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    Wendy, this is such a great post! I need to take heed here. Such good food for thought, as your posts usually are. So thankful to have found you!

  9. Anonymous October 16, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

    Very good post. One of the things I love about my husband is that he is uncomplicated and an “open book”. He is always very clear and I never have to guess at possible underlying meanings or intentions from him. Why shouldn't I give him the same? My husband is not very good at my idea of romance but he continually shows his love for me in the ways that truly matter.

  10. Flyaway October 18, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    When my husband and I were first married I found that a “honey-do” list posted on the refrigerator helped. Now I just send him e-mail or I text him. Sometimes I say half a sentence and ask him if he can finish the sentence!

  11. Kim Shay October 20, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    I was fortunate enough to be raised with three older brothers and I learned very quickly that hints were not tolerated. Nor meltdowns. Nor emotional outbursts. My mother was not a girly girl, I wasn't, and so I learned fast. Some people have thought it rather unromantic for me to tell my husband exactly what I want for gifts. He is just relieved. One year, he asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I found a picture of the gold Claddagh ring I wanted, posted it on the refrigerator, and have been wearing it lo these six years now. To my husband, dropping hints is a waste of time.

  12. Seda October 23, 2012 at 3:21 am #

    This post is most intriguing. I do not consider myself a girly girl either, but I was raised as the first of four daughters. I, too, am now the lone female in a house of men (three little boys and a husband). I shall be thinking and watching my words and emotions for the next few days. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

  13. Kari Crowe Seher November 4, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

    I would love to hear what those resources that you learned these nuggets from.

  14. Allison Redd November 12, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    Thank you for this — I was an only child but now find myself the mother of three boys. The “stating without emotion” is going to be THE hardest part for me! Ah! Like Kari, I, too, would love to hear about the resources… I need to read more like this.