We have just put the girls to sleep for the night and I am laying in bed next to Tony, both of us with our phones in our hands. We are ready for some down time and now I’m irritated.
“I mean seriously, why is it that any time I install an app on my phone they insist on having access to everything else on my phone? Even including deleting other apps sometimes? What is that about? It’s so annoying!”
Tony shrugs and keeps playing Candy Crush.
“No, babe, really. You work in web design and development. Are all of those permissions necessary?”
He perks up. “Well, some apps, like this Candy Crush game I’m playing for instance, need to access my Facebook contacts so I can get the most out of the game. I don’t know what you’re downloading, but it will work better if you grant reasonable permissions. It needs a certain amount of space to function, and…” blah blah blah blah…
I’m sitting straight up now, “Tony! No no no. What you were supposed to say was, ‘I KNOW! THAT is so ANNOYING!’”
“Wait, what? You said, ‘really, you work in web design and development…’”
“Yeah, yeah, but what I really wanted was for you to look away from your game for a minute and pay attention to me. I’m annoyed about the app, I want you to be annoyed with me…”
I could barely finish what I was saying without smirking and beginning to giggle. Luckily, he laughed with me. We laughed because we both recognize the absurdity. I seemed to be asking a question, and in the moment I wanted an answer. But as he gave me an answer, I realized what I really wanted was his attention. He doesn’t operate that way. But if he doesn’t give me room to operate that way, and if I don’t eventually spell out exactly what I want, we will absolutely never understand each other.
We laughed. We always laugh. Earlier in our relationship we might not have laughed so easily. I might not have come right out and told him what “he should have said.” Instead, I might have just slumped down into the covers, disappointed that he didn’t look away from his phone, grumpy and beginning the spiral of blame and frustration in my mind. I might have thought… I’m sitting right here trying to have a conversation with him and he can’t take his eyes off of that game! I’m trying to connect with him and he just offers this ‘know-it-all’ response. And, as I sunk deeper into a mood, he might have had his own thoughts… Seriously, what is her problem? Why is she so grumpy about an app on her phone? Why is she taking it out on me? Whatever.
The thing is, I want him to know me. I want him to know me and want me deeply. He wants me to know him, too. He really wants me to know that he is not a mind reader or even a hint gatherer. He is actually pretty darn literal, and unless someone tells him to, he doesn’t waste his time trying to read between the lines. I am constantly trying to read between the lines, guess people’s motives, and figure out if they mean what they say or if they are trying to say something else entirely. Maybe I do this because I might just mean something other than what I say sometimes. Maybe he doesn’t because, well, he says what he means and he means what he says.
Brain science reveals that we aren’t the only male-female couple struggling to understand each other. An article I came across in Psychology Today is helping me to see that this isn’t just a Michelle vs. Tony issue.
“The male brain is characterized by systemizing tendencies and mechanistic thinking. “Systemizing” is the drive to analyze, explore, and construct a system. The systemizer intuitively figures out how things work, or extracts the underlying rules that govern the behavior of a system. The purpose of this is to understand and predict the system, or to invent a new one.
In contrast, the female brain is characterized by empathizing tendencies or mentalistic thinking. “Empathizing” is the drive to identify another person’s emotions and thoughts, and to respond to them with an appropriate emotion. Empathizing occurs when we feel an appropriate emotional reaction in response to the other person’s emotions. The purpose of this is to understand another person, to predict his or her behavior, and to connect or resonate with him or her emotionally.
The difference between “mechanism” and “mentalism” is similar to the difference between “systemizing” and “empathizing.” In short, mechanism is about figuring things out (folk physics); mentalism is about understanding people (folk psychology).
Guys, we are not imagining things. We really do think and operate very differently. These differences are hard-wired into our brains. This doesn’t mean that women are not system thinkers or that men cannot be empathetic. It simply means that at our core, these are probably not our most natural tendencies. Still, reading about it and thinking about the differences between the male and female brains in a general way only sinks in so much. In my daily married life, I still mostly don’t get what is going on inside of his head.
For instance, if it’s been quiet between us for a while and I ask him abruptly, “What are you thinking about RIGHT NOW!” and he replies with, “Nothing,” it really is nothing. Nowadays, now that he knows me well enough to know that “nothing” is not going to satisfy my curiosity, he will tell me what “nothing” consists of. “I was just thinking about this hill we’re driving on and that the car seems to be pulling a little to the left.” Yeah… that’s not was I was hoping for.
So, I am learning that if I want a long and deep conversation about his hopes and dreams, I need to come out and ask him for that. Part of loving him on purpose is accepting that his is a male brain, it will never be female. I can either allow the gaps in communication to frustrate me and drive us apart, or I can choose to see that as a joyful mystery and try harder to understand and appreciate him. According to neuroscience, we will never think exactly alike, and it is better to accept this for what it means and how it affects our interactions than to spend time and energy fighting against this truth. What we can do instead, as women, is speak our wants and needs more clearly, and as men, actively listen when your wife is sharing with you. We will inevitably still have some misunderstandings in our marriage, but that shouldn’t stop us from pursuing to understand each other and loving one another on purpose.
P.S. Have you seen Jason Headley’s It’s Not About the Nail? Watch this short video with your spouse tonight. It’ll make you laugh, and it might even shed some light on where each of you are coming from.
You are reading Day 21 in our 31 Days of Loving on Purpose series.
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