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Communication problems with my wife: cultural? Personality? Just Communication styles?
May 25, 2011 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Communication problems with my wife: cultural? Personality? Just Communication styles?

For some reason, my wife and I have some major communication problems, even after ten years of being together.

I'm just going to start throwing out examples:
  1. My wife calls me to ask how to get her iPhone to switch languages. I say, look at the keyboard. See the spacebar at the bottom? Now, what's to the left of it? [true answer, a little globe icon]. She says, er, the 123 button. I spend a certain amount of time trying to figure out what's gone wrong with her phone. But you know what, it does have that button. She eventually says OK, there's a little circle thing, but I didn't know what it was called so I told you the 123 button instead.
  2. The other day she asked me where a certain shop was. I say, you know where the bike shop is? She says yes. I say, it's opposite that. You'd better draw me a map, she says. I don't get it. You know where the bike shop is? She agrees again. So, go there, turn around and you'll see it. But still she wants a map. Eventually after a couple of minutes, she says, OK, no, I don't know where the bike shop is.
  3. This morning I left for work early, to get some exercise on the way. When our son woke up, he was upset that I wasn't there and asked Why did daddy leave early? She told him because daddy had to go to the doctor. I got a little annoyed at this when she told me about this, and she said, as if I was the one causing difficulties, well, what would you like me to tell him? Pretty much obviously, I would like her to just tell him the truth. I have no idea why she came up with another, untrue explanation.
  4. She very often answers a question she thinks I'm asking, instead of the question I'm actually asking, or responding to a demand she thinks I'm making when I'm just trying to find something out. An example: we're going out to the shops. She says I'm not going to bring my phone with me. I say, really, why not? Obviously there are lots of really good reasons for both husband and wife to have their phones. Oh all right, she says. I'll bring it! As if I'd said I insist you bring your phone! But really, I'm just asking. It's not a matter of life of death, but I'm puzzled. The phone weighs 4.8 ounces, it's not weighing her down. I repeat the question, I'm just asking, honey, what possible bad thing can happen if you bring your phone? Is the battery flat? And all I get in reply is OK, OK, I'll bring it if it's so important to you! again as if I was saying something completely different.
This behaviour baffles and often frustrates me. It seems self-sabotaging and completely irrational. When asked what button is to the left of your spacebar, would your first impulse be to lie? When you were the one who needed the tech support?

Contributory factors? My wife is from Vietnam, so of course cultural factors might be involved.

Also, I'm a bit of a geeky, logical, things-should-be-done-the-most-efficient-way sort of guy, and I often get frustrated with people, much as was discussed in this question, who appear to be acting irrationally and not listening to the question I'm asking.

And the family is somewhat under some stress for various reasons. But not very serious life-or-death stress.

So I remain baffled. Why would someone create such extraneous difficulties for themselves, and the rest of their family, for no obvious reason? I don't think I'm being unreasonable.

Asked anonymously but contact me via breakdownincommunication@gmail.com if that helps.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (96 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Are you asking why she does this, or are you asking how to deal with it?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:38 AM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


1 -- You asked her a question that you knew the answer to. She could just as easily be mad at you for doing that.

2 -- She asked for a map. You didn't give her one. She could just as easily be mad at you for doing that.

3 -- Okay, this one was all her.

4 -- You refused to accept her decision to leave the phone at home, asking her again why she would make such a decision instead of explaining why she should take it with her. She could just as easily be mad at you for doing that.

Notice how easily most of your examples could be turned around and used as examples of "Why is my husband creating such extraneous difficulties for himself, and the rest of his family, for no obvious reason?" Try to look at things from her perspective. Think about why she might have reacted like that. If you really can't figure it out, ask her, in a neutral way, preferably a little while after these things happen, why she reacted the way she did.
posted by Etrigan at 11:43 AM on May 25, 2011 [20 favorites]


We don't know. Ask her, at a neutral time, about this, being careful to be non-accusatory and using "I feel" not "You make me" type statements.

(Though, for the record, your description of #4 makes it sound a helluvalot like you DID want her to bring it, not that you were curious. You asked her because in your opinion the downsides outdid the upsides, but you didn't say that to her, did you? I very often don't bring my phone when I go out with my husband because I don't really like to and I honestly can't think of the lots of "obvious" reasons for 2 people who will be together on an outing to both bring their phones. I'm hard pressed to think of any reason, actually, unless she is unable to take care of herself should you get separated. Would you have accepted "I don't really want to" as an answer? If not, can you see why she assumed that you asking was actually the first step in you talking her into bringing it, so she just skipped it?)
posted by brainmouse at 11:44 AM on May 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


You sound a bit hectoring and condescending here, in this post, when you're not talking to her. Is it possible she's trying to avoid doing anything that will cause you to jump all over her for being dumb or not answering the way you wanted to?

You seem to ask questions in place of making statements, and then don't like the answers you get, so I can see why she'd be leery of answering those questions truthfully.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:45 AM on May 25, 2011 [64 favorites]


Why would someone create such extraneous difficulties for themselves, and the rest of their family, for no obvious reason?

Is that your question? I don't see how (4) involves extraneous difficulties - it seems to be a case of someone responding to the tone of a question, rather than the actual words.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:46 AM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


It actually sounds a lot like my parents. I get so completely flummoxed listening to them argue (something that occurs almost every time they open their mouths), since they both like to turn simple yes-and-no questions into a complicated dance of semantics, each of them assuming that the other one is deliberately trying to trick them. I have NO IDEA why they're so crazy.

They've been married for nearly 35 years.

Some people are just terrible at communicating with each other.
posted by phunniemee at 11:46 AM on May 25, 2011 [12 favorites]


As chest_a_arthur so brilliantly pointed out, part of this is you. Your question to us is just like your question #4 - "really, why not?" You maybe think you're asking about the merits of your wife's decision, but it sure sounds like you're telling her about your own feelings in a disguised way. Sounds partly like your wife is loosy-goosy with trivial facts, and partly like she's trying to side-step what she sees (probably justifiably) as your controlly-ness. You can adjust to her by just answering her questions in a straighforward way (as you didn't in question #2 or #4) - but she's not going to be able to adjust to you. I think you have to be the one to relax here.
posted by facetious at 11:46 AM on May 25, 2011


Also, I'm a bit of a geeky, logical, things-should-be-done-the-most-efficient-way sort of guy, and I often get frustrated with people,

Which probably means that she feels condescended to a lot.

I totally agree that her little dishonesties are a problem and must be frustrating as hell, but if she is intimidated by you (your smarts, your persistence, your pedantry, your volume, etc.) then I can imagine her trying to obfuscate certain details in order to keep the dialogue rolling on a certain path. She's afraid of getting bogged down in the insignificant (to her) details, she wants to smooth things over pre-emptively or avoid negative attention. Which probably works fine lots of times -- but when it fails, it makes her look foolish and dishonest.

That even explains the incident with your child. She imagines that the child will not understand or accept "exercise" as a reason for your absence, so she lies and says "doctor," knowing that the child is more likely to accept that answer and stop crying. She's relying on her imagination to anticipate what other people might think or accept, but unfortunately not that great at it.

It also sounds like something she does when she's frustrated or panicked and doesn't want to be under scrutiny.

I agree that it's ineffective and self-sabotaging.
posted by hermitosis at 11:47 AM on May 25, 2011 [45 favorites]


How familiar are you with Vietnamese culture? #2 sounds like an example where your wife may have been trying to save face and not admit that she didn't know where something was. Perhaps reading up on customs and society may help you to understand her communication style.

Have you shared your frustrations with your wife?
posted by amicamentis at 11:52 AM on May 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Is this a new problem for you after 10 years of marriage? or has she "been like this" since you've known her? If it's the latter, well, you've simply just gotten tired of dealing with her. If it's the former, there might be something more acute you can work on.
posted by teg4rvn at 11:53 AM on May 25, 2011


Actually, I think you both need to do a little work. It sounds like you think she's just being difficult, and that you're clear as crystal. In real life, it doesn't actually matter if you're right and she's wrong, or vice versa—if you can't communicate, your correctness doesn't really matter. You still can't talk.

In order:

1: Why didn't you just say, "Hit the little globe icon to the left of the spacebar." I could see your teaching moment being really confusing if your wife has never looked at or noticed the little circle key as a key before.

2. I could see a scenario where she doesn't know precisely where the bike shop is, but has a general idea that she thought would be enough to follow what you were saying. But your response is entirely based on the precise location of the bike shop. Which is fine, but you guys didn't understand that the other person was working with different assumptions. Her question needed to be more precise; your response needed to be more precise. Better: for her to say, "can you tell me exactly how to get to this store?" Or for you to answer with, "Do you know the exact location of the bike shop? Because I can tell you in relation to that." Or better yet, for you to just tell her how to get to the store, or draw the map she asked you to draw.

3. That's strange, and you should talk about that so you understand why she lied. Maybe she thinks exercise isn't "necessary", but doctor's appointments are, and that your son would be hurt if she told him that his dad took off for something that isn't, in her mind, necessary. Who knows? The point is, there's probably a reason she said what she said, especially with how upset she got about it afterward. Figure that out with her.

4. I do that a lot. It's totally a guess vs. ask culture thing. I grew up in a family where we communicated almost entirely based on assumptions and subtext. It makes situations like this difficult. You guys should work together on that—ask her to work with you to really just answer the question you're asking. And you should only ask the question you really want to know the answer to. In your example, though, it sounds like you *did* want her to bring her phone, you were just offended that she acted like you were *insisting* that she bring her phone. But really, you were. Why go on about it otherwise? Why not just say, "Oh, actually, I think you should bring your phone," if that's what you really think?

Point is, her communication style and yours aren't working well together. She should work on some stuff, you should work on some stuff, if you want to be able to live your lives peacefully. It's not her being difficult and you just trying to deal with it.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:53 AM on May 25, 2011 [24 favorites]


It sounds to me like:

1. She's afraid of sounding dumb because she doesn't know the name of the button.
2. Does she know exactly what opposite means in this context? I assume she would if she's lived with you in an English speaking country for 10 years, but is it possible she doesn't, and again, doesn't want to look stupid?
3. No idea, that's really odd.
4. There's something in your tone, or her perception of the question, that's making her hear it as a criticism of her decision not to bring the phone, rather than you wondering why she decided that. (I am also very logical - most of the time - and I think I've been you in conversations like this. Some people are more sensitive and less literal, and read things into stuff like this.)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:53 AM on May 25, 2011


I think there are a lot of power dynamics here and she may not feel like fighting all the time. I often don't like to bring my phone places, why?, because I don't won't too. I've had boyfriends in the past who talked to me the way you are talking to your wife, you know very well you aren't just asking "why" you are indeed telling her that you want her to bring the phone and she doesn't want to fight you about it.

Not saying she doesn't know where the bike shop is? You have probably made her feel small and stupid for not knowing where something is before, so she kinda fudged that one and hoped that the answer you gave would not be dependant on actually knowing where the bike shop is.

How do you fix it? Part of it is going to be recognizing this as an issue, congrats! You've done that and now listen to her and see if you can circumvent some of this. Next time she says, just draw me a map. Draw her a map and then later, you can say something about knowing she wasn't sure where the bike shop was and its ok, but you are concerned that she may be scared of your reactions and see if you can get to the bottom of it.
posted by stormygrey at 11:54 AM on May 25, 2011 [17 favorites]


I don't like it when someone asks me leading/pedagogical questions. If I ask "where's the THING?" and you respond like it's your job to help me deduce where the thing is, it feels very patronizing. If I ask you for information and we're equals, you give me the information; you don't ask me leading questions to help me work it out, as if you're the smart one and I'm a little slow.

And another downside to this - if you start asking me leading questions every time I ask where we keep the toolbox or how to use the grouting gun, then every question you ask starts to sound pedagogical. "Why aren't you taking your phone?" turns into "I have a reason that you shouldn't take your phone, and we're going to play our little socratic game until you figure it out".

I've experienced - and profoundly disliked - this dynamic with a couple of smart, educated guy friends. It was honestly a sign that something was wrong in the friendship and only speeded up the inevitable decline.
posted by Frowner at 11:58 AM on May 25, 2011 [166 favorites]


I'm sure there is a technical name for this, and I'm sure someone here knows it, but to me your wife sounds deeply insecure and intimidated by everything so much so that her primary instinct is to obfuscate.

Was she abused in any way, or maybe recently traumatized by something like an accident? Or maybe she finds living in a different country excruciatingly challenging?

I think your wife needs (gentle, caring) help. She sounds like someone who is constantly scared and struggling to keep up. That must be very difficult for her, very sad and tiring.

The way she is responding to everything seems like a throwback to coping skills she developed when she was younger.

I think you should reach out to her to find out how she's feeling deep inside. She might not even be aware of any problem (maybe being this stressed is normal for her??) but there is no way she's truly enjoying her life if your descriptions of her interactions are accurate.

Reach out to her and find out what's up.

-------------------------

Upon preview - yeah, maybe you're contributing to this problem. Perhaps you are the source of her intimidation and fear.
posted by jbenben at 11:59 AM on May 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


I do this all the time and I'm just realizing how crazy it drives people. I will automatically answer a question with what I THINK might be correct or what is sort of answer. I'm not purposely lying, more like reflexively answering. Then I'll back track when I realize what I've said isn't exactly, you know, "correct."

From my point of view, if I were her, this may be why I was doing these things...

1. I blurt out an answer. I realize you are right about the globe thing halfway through the conversation, but don't want to admit it because I'm embarrassed. I stick to "123 button" until it has clearly become untenable and I must confess I have no idea what you were talking about.

2. I sort of think I know where SOME bike shop might be, but not sure, so just draw me a map. You keep questioning me about the bike shop, so then I have to tell you that I probably don't know where it is, although I do know where maybe one bike shop COULD be.

3. Since he is upset by your absence, I want the kid to think you have something really important to do. Don't want the kid to feel abandoned that you just wanted to go for a run, which may not seem important enough to justify your absence.

4. I already feel that you are going to be iffy about me not bringing my phone, so when you ask the question, "Really? Why not?" you are living up to my expectations of being unhappy with my decision. I've already been having a conversation in my mind about the phone, and by the time we actually get to the real conversation, I'm already exhausted. I just give up before we even talk, because I KNOW what you are going to say!

Try to keep your sense of humor, I guess. Encourage her gently to be more precise, or be more accepting of her impreciseness. She may be defensive because you are so accurate and she is more expressive, and your different styles of communication make her feel wacky or something.
posted by amodelcitizen at 12:01 PM on May 25, 2011 [16 favorites]


Dude, this is you not her. She's making what are actually clear requests and you're... I don't know what you're doing but it would make me insane.

My wife calls me to ask how to get her iPhone to switch languages. I say, look at the keyboard. See the spacebar at the bottom? Now, what's to the left of it? [true answer, a little globe icon].

It's not a test. Just because you have knowledge and she doesn't is no reason to make her jump through hoops. Why why why would you not tell her to tap the globe icon????

You'd better draw me a map, she says.

So draw her a bloody map. She's making a clear request. The fact that you don't think she needs one is neither here nor there - she's the one driving, she thinks she needs a map.

She says I'm not going to bring my phone with me. I say, really, why not? Obviously there are lots of really good reasons for both husband and wife to have their phones. Oh all right, she says.

She's thinking out loud. She's undecided. You express a preference, she goes with that. She's just chatting; this isn't a logic exercise, you don't need to lead her through all the permutations.

#3 is weird but honestly if you were less awkward about 1, 2 and 4, your marriage communication issues would be limited to the one item that is an actual problem with your wife and not, to put it baldly, a problem with you and your attitude towards her. Which is, in a word, diminishing, not to mention unpleasant and paternalistic.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:04 PM on May 25, 2011 [70 favorites]


Sounds like maybe you don't understand the Vietnamese concept of face nor do you have the patience of instruction. Some people just cannot understand what you're trying to communicate when engaging with an object that may be of foreign conception and it's too embarrassing for them to signal this so instead they go through the difficult process of repeated failure until you're at the point where they can understand you. Neither party wins, but the female will usually make the male feel like an overbearing, impatient shit.

It's painful. I go through it every time my mother wants to learn Photoshop in order to send a picture from her digital camera to a friend. Good times are had by everyone when all I need to be is more patient with and accepting of someone who is completely unable to process instruction from someone whose knowledge is of daily use in a familiar environment. Or buy her an iPad with a goddamned camera.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:05 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


logical, things-should-be-done-the-most-efficient-way sort of guy

Some people like to take breaks from this way of living by operating in illogical, inefficient ways that "feel right" or that jibe well with gut instincts or to see what happens.

Obviously, bringing one's phone along or not bringing it isn't about the weight of the phone. I think it would be good for you to accept that there are other possible reasons that you don't need to know and that she might not know either.

Operating in accordance with someone else's logic (especially if it is framed as a universal logic) can get draining and disempowering after a while.
posted by Jagz-Mario at 12:07 PM on May 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


You wife's brain works differently than yours. Stop trying to figure out how or why she says the things she says. Instead, work on actually communicating both of your actual desires in a way that is helpful to you both. That means, draw her a map if she asks you for a map; don't try to repeatedly give her information she clearly finds unhelpful. Ask her to take her phone with her, if that's what you want, rather than making her defend her choice. Tell her what to look for (the globe button) instead of engaging in a socratic dialogue with her.

The ONLY example you have her that gives me pause is lying to your son. In that case, don't try to figure out why she's doing it - ASK her not to do it.
posted by yarly at 12:08 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I hate to bring this up but....

if this behavior is a sudden shift that's different from the previous 10 years, is there a possibility there is something neurological going on? Which could be related to something as basic as a change in diet or an exposure to chemicals at work or something. Sorry to bring that uncomfortable possibility up but to be honest, that was the first thing which occurred to me (but I Am Not A Neurologist)
posted by Bwithh at 12:10 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


It sounds like you're condescending (and she is probably oversensitive to that) and she's self-conscious. In #1, you are talking to her like a child and she gave you a wrong answer because she didn't want to admit not knowing what "the little circle thing" was called. In #2, she doesn't want to admit not knowing exactly where the bicycle shop is and you get fighty instead of drawing her a map as she requests explicitly. In #4, she probably just didn't feel like bringing her phone for no conscious reason, and your questioning made her feel defensive and embarrassed. I have no idea what's going on in #3, but she probably had some kind of reason that she didn't totally understand herself and is too intimidated to try to explain it to you knowing that you're going to cross-examine her.

My advice:

1) Never, ever condescend. Don't talk to her like she's a child, don't try to lead her to the correct answer, don't say or imply "I told you so." Give her the information she needs while being cognizant of the fact that she is very self-conscious about not knowing or not being to articulate things.

2) Don't underestimate her ability to read subtext you might not be aware of. Just because she is oversensitive doesn't mean she's always wrong. In #4, when you said "Really, why not?" there probably was more a subtext of "You should bring it" than you realized. Geeky, hyperlogical people tend to be a little blind to between-the-lines meanings and the true motivations behind their own verbalizations.

3) Seek to reassure her that you don't look down on her. Don't do this obviously and clumsily by telling her that you don't look down on her, just be careful to never, ever imply that you think she's silly or illogical. It would be helpful for you to focus on what I just said about not underestimating her skills because you may realize that she's better than you at some of those things.
posted by callmejay at 12:12 PM on May 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


My wife calls me to ask how to get her iPhone to switch languages. I say, look at the keyboard. See the spacebar at the bottom? Now, what's to the left of it?

Were you genuinely trying to elicit information from her? Because if you were sounding the way I am hearing you sound in my head when you said this, I would be annoyed. It sounds (to me) very patronizing and condescending. You may not have meant it that way but it is a thing that guys tend to do when explaining something to women (and never to other men).
posted by amicamentis at 12:12 PM on May 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Or what nadawi said, much more succinctly.
posted by callmejay at 12:13 PM on May 25, 2011


That poor woman. Cultural issues aside, you're treating her like a child. Stop doing that.

1. It would have been less condescending if you said, "see that little globe button next to the space bar?" Why make it a quiz like you might for a six year old?

2. I am a native English speaker and asked if I knew where the bike shop was, and then said the place I was looking for was opposite of that, I'd have no idea what you're talking about? If the bike shop is 5 miles north, do you mean I have to drive south 5 miles? Or did you mean, it is across the street? A better way to communicate would be "it is across the street from the bike shop on main street."

3. You're on your own on that one.

4. She's probably doesn't feel she needed her phone and you're quizzing her about it like her parents would have about something when she was a kid. You're the doting mom saying to bring your sweater and she doesn't think she'll need it.
posted by birdherder at 12:14 PM on May 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Stop pretending to ask questions. Instead, give directions.

1) Say "Press the globe button."

2) Say "It's across from the bike shop."

3) Tell her that it is not appropriate to lie to your child.

4) Say "I would prefer it if you would bring your phone, because _____ "

Basically: less Socratic dialogue, more clear directions. Let her ask the questions.
posted by General Tonic at 12:15 PM on May 25, 2011 [19 favorites]


I say, look at the keyboard. See the spacebar at the bottom? Now, what's to the left of it? [true answer, a little globe icon]... She eventually says OK, there's a little circle thing, but I didn't know what it was called so I told you the 123 button instead.

It might be that tone is difficult to read online, but this sounds really brusque to me. Is it possible that she thought you were pissed off at her and got flustered? Open ended questions like that, especially if they begin like, "LOOK at the keyboard... Now WHAT button is to the left...?", often confuse me because I feel weirdly on the spot about it, like this is something I'm supposed to know and the person who I've asked for help is trying to humiliate me.

She very often answers a question she thinks I'm asking, instead of the question I'm actually asking, or responding to a demand she thinks I'm making when I'm just trying to find something out.

Yeah, this, too, makes me think it's something about conflict, rudeness, moodiness, or her getting flustered because she doesn't want to be "in trouble" - in a situation which to you is perfectly neutral.

I don't know if this is cultural or not, but I know that, as a (US) Southerner who now lives in a part of the country where people are much more plain spoken, I sometimes get into weird situations like this, myself. For instance I'd definitely interpret "Why aren't you bringing your phone?" to be some kind of indirect command to bring my phone, or possibly a passive-aggressive commentary about my choice to bring it or not.

On the other hand, it could not be about cultural differences in communication at all and have to do with emotional baggage that one or both of you carries. In which case, the answer is obvious: therapy. Probably of the "couples" variety. (But maybe individual therapy for one or both of you as it fits your needs?)
posted by Sara C. at 12:16 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not agreeing with all the "you are condescending and intimitating" or "she thinks you think she's dumb" accusations here.

I suspect the Vietnamese culture is very Japanese-like.

Basically, if you ask someone Japanese a direct question that has a yes or no answer, they will always say 'Yes.'

It doesn't mean 'Yes'. It means 'yes, I heard your question.'

This is a significant source of annoyance to Westerners in business when they think they are making progress and checking and re-checking everyone is on the same page and has the same understanding (a very Western trait), meanwhile, their Japanese counterparts are nowhere in agreement, or may not even understand what is being discussed.

Her asking you to draw her a map is her saying "No, I know of the bike shop, but do not know where it is or how to get there."

You will never have her immediately reply she doesn't understand what you asked or doesn't know something when asked a yes or no question.

It requires you to learn how to ask questions and give direction to get your answer in a very different way. There are probably books on this.

I have learned just from personal experience and expereince from friends. It's a totally different approach to solving a problem with the other person.
posted by rich at 12:16 PM on May 25, 2011 [19 favorites]


how are you asking those questions?
Bc both 1 and 2 makes it seem like she's afraid to embarrass herself in front of you, her husband. She shouldn't have to feel that way with you. Very likely you're doing something to make her feel that way (or contribute to it).

3 is weird, but seems symptomatic of her feeling frustrated/anxious of being asked questions, even by her own kid. She really needs to address this - therapy is a good thing!!!
Please please please re-examine how you ask her questions regardless.
posted by Neekee at 12:20 PM on May 25, 2011


I don't know what you're spouse's problem is...but I'm pretty sure showing this column to her will only exacerbate whatever problem it is.

I think you just need to talk to her and figure out what is going on. It probably has NOTHING to do with ANYTHING said in this thread.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:20 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your wife feels intimidated and insecure. If she feels more secure, she will feel better about making mistakes. That is a good thing, because everyone makes mistakes.

Next time she "messes something up" try giving her a hug or reassuring her that it's confusing, or that it's not a big deal. When you're not fighting, tell her how much you admire the way she does things. Ask her for advice and take it.

Being right is toxic to a marriage. So is being smart. Be gentle and forgiving instead.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:23 PM on May 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm American, and yet I have responded to #1 and #2 the same way your wife has: Giving an affirmative lie because (Yes I know where the bike shop is....the button to the left of the space bar says 123) because I know that I'm going to look stupid if I say, "I have no idea about this bike shop...No, I don't see this key you're talking about." So I give a nonsense answer and hope I can work it out later or otherwise work my way to a solution without betraying my extreme stupidity.

So it's not necessarily cultural. It may be because the other person is capable of making me feel stupid, and probably WILL make me feel stupid if I don't give the smart/correct/whatever answer.

So I'd listen carefully to the posters above are saying about making sure you are taking the correct tone with her, always. I'd sit her down, say something like, "I'm sorry if I come across as condescending or patronizing, or exasperated. I know you're not stupid and I don't want to maintain an environment where you are afraid of telling the truth because you're afraid I'm going to condescend to you. You're not stupid. And really, we're ALL stupid. Remember that one time I (fill in anecdote where you were the one just. not. getting. it.)?"

If you stick to this, then maybe the communication will improve. I just know I really felt pangs of empathy...not just sympathy, empathy...for your wife.
posted by mreleganza at 12:24 PM on May 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Sorry, missed your third and fourth questions-

This whole cultural thing applies to questions 3 and 4 as well. Leaving your family early to exercise is a selfish activity, and she would prefer your son not to feel like you would rather spend time alone on purpose and not with him. So she made up a good answer that would not impact his feelings of daddy being a selfish pig and not caring about him.

Question 4 is her trying to please your implied request. You questioned her actions, so you must not agree, so she is therefore going to try to please your implied request.
posted by rich at 12:24 PM on May 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Given that this is the second question you've asked where you have problems communicating, I'd say a large part of it is you.

1. You sound really patronising. Why wouldn't you just tell here there should be a globe icon to the left of the space bar? I only talk that way to my partner when he's missed something really obvious/asked something really dumb and if you just give him a nudge and a second it'll dawn on him without you have to point it out and you can both have a good laugh about - that doesn't seem to be the case here

2. Knowing where something is and being able to get there are 2 different things. I know where my local supermarket is but I still take my gps with me so I don't get lost. She wanted a map, why cause an argument instead of just drawing her a map?

3. Presumably she wanted your child to think the only reason why daddy wasn't there when he woke up was because daddy had something really important to do not just because daddy wanted to go to the gym

4. Sounds to me like she was just trying to save herself the hassle of an argument/interrogation. I imagine if she'd told you why she didn't want to take her phone you'd have countered with your list of good reasons why both the husband and wife should have their phones and she'd have ended up having to take her phone with her anyway.


If she were a western woman, I'd say she's afraid/intimidated by you but I think Rich is right that a large part of it is the whole cultural, never say no/I don't know thing - its infuriating but its their way and you just have to learn to deal with it - but since you've been married for 10 years, surely you should know about this stuff?
posted by missmagenta at 12:26 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


logical, things-should-be-done-the-most-efficient-way sort of guy

I don't think you're being very logical at all.

Just tell her to hit the globe button. Just write her a map. Don't grill her about what she's going to bring or not bring out with her. You're not her teacher or father!

You would drive me crazy.
posted by Windigo at 12:30 PM on May 25, 2011 [28 favorites]


One more question—how's your wife's English? How's your Vietnamese? Do you guys share a language you can both express and understand nuanced reasoning in?

If you don't, going to need to work harder—either to share and figure out subtle interaction stuff, or to be more tolerant of difficult interactions.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:30 PM on May 25, 2011


*you're both* going to need to work harder, gah.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:32 PM on May 25, 2011


I think some people are missing the point of topic number 1. If he'd said, "press the world button," she'd be no closer to knowing WTF than before. Same with the bike shop. The easiest way to communicate something is to start with something that's assumed to be known. SO the space bar, the bike shop, etc. So a bunch of people are crawling up the OP's ass for using common pedagogy.

OP, it may be a combination of you being a little intense, and her culturally not wanting to admit she doesn't know something. When I'm trying to fix my grandma's computer over the phone, I won't say, "use the windows key", but rather, "on the left side of the keyboard between the key marked "alt" and the key marked "ctrl". For a key marked with an icon, that's about all you can do.
posted by notsnot at 12:35 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


If he'd said, "press the world button," she'd be no closer to knowing WTF

If he'd said, there should be a globe button to the left of the spacebar, she'd have both known where to look and learned what that symbol is supposed to be. Asking a question he already knows the answer to is patronizing.
posted by missmagenta at 12:39 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


So a bunch of people are crawling up the OP's ass for using common pedagogy.

There's a difference between "See the spacebar at the bottom? OK, now press the little globe that's to the left of it." and "See the spacebar at the bottom? Now, what's to the left of it?" [wait for answer, get annoyed when answer is 'wrong'].

One gives you a reference point to find the information you're looking for. The other turns it into a game where one person holds all the information/power.
posted by phunniemee at 12:41 PM on May 25, 2011 [29 favorites]


#1: See the spacebar at the bottom? Now, what's to the left of it? [true answer, a little globe icon]

#4: She very often answers a question she thinks I'm asking, instead of the question I'm actually asking, or responding to a demand she thinks I'm making when I'm just trying to find something out.

These seem sort of at odds with each other. In #1, you ask her an open-ended question about the phone, knowing there's a "true" answer but not telling her, and getting frustrated that she doesn't get it. Then in #4, you ask her a question that you don't intend to be leading, but she interprets it that way. Why wouldn't she, given the way you handled #1?

You think there's a right answer to things, and that anyone reasonable would know it, and she doesn't always get it right, and you get frustrated and she feels bad. You're making it uncomfortable for your wife to be wrong, or not to know something, so she's trying to figure out the right answers to placate you, without much to go on.

Also, seriously, why didn't you draw her a map? The one example where she specifically asks you for something - to communicate in a way that she can understand - you dismiss her.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:43 PM on May 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


People are being way too hard on you here and making way too many assumptions. I don't think it's really fair to assert that this is all your fault and you obviously must treat your wife like a dumb child just based on a few minor, ambiguous examples. It's just as possible that her parents, friends, or ex-boyfriends treated her like she was dumb and those experiences left her very defensive about her knowledge. I mean, she lied to your son for no reason, too - this isn't just about being afraid of you. I also agree with rich that this is just as likely a cultural thing, not you being a patronizing, condescending monster as other posters have implied.

This also isn't really about gender - your wife's behavior would drive me totally insane, and I'm a woman. Why not just say you don't know where the bike shop/globe key/etc is? Whether you are to blame for it or not, she does seem to be quite defensive, and for whatever reason, she doesn't seem to trust you not to insult her intelligence. I agree with other posters, though, that the leading questions are almost certainly coming across as condescending. I would definitely try to ask fewer leading questions, and be more plain-spoken and direct (though this can also be interpreted as rude or condescending by some). Make sure you're not jumping on her or sighing or giving any other outward indications of being annoyed when she doesn't know something.

However, I also think she has just as much of an obligation not to be overly defensive with you as you do not to be overly condescending toward her. Both parties in a relationship need to always make sure to interpret each others' behavior as charitably as possible. Just make sure you're truly living up to your side of that bargain, and have a heartfelt talk with her where you make it clear that you love her, value her intelligence, and never mean to antagonize her with your questions. Talk about ways that you can both make an effort to eliminate this dynamic from your communications - for example, she tells you the moment she feels condescended to, and you tell her the moment you feel she's being defensive. If you can catch this cycle in its beginning stages, it's a lot easier to deal with than after it has escalated into a big thing.
posted by dialetheia at 12:48 PM on May 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


You both have a hand in this. She has a hard time being direct for whatever reasons (perhaps culture, perhaps something else), and you do come off as patronizing.

I don't think you necessarily intend to patronize, though. It's just that for you, if something seems logical, you believe it should also be obvious. You use some form of the word "obvious" several times in your post. I think you need to realize that what's obvious to you may not be obvious -- and may not even ring true at all -- for another person. You have blinders just like everyone else. For example, you say in point #4 that her phone wouldn't have weighed her down. Well, aren't there other logical reasons why someone may not want to bring a phone along that may not be obvious to you? Maybe she didn't have a convenient place to carry it, even though it's lightweight.

But ultimately, human beings aren't perfectly tuned logic machines. Sometimes it doesn't matter what the logical explanation is, or if there is one. Life is messy, and sometimes humans make decisions emotionally, irrationally, subconsciously. If you accept that there are valid perspectives that include things other than logic and efficiency, it may be easier to talk to your wife and understand where she's coming from.
posted by spinto at 12:51 PM on May 25, 2011


I think rich has it here. This sounds like direct vs. indirect communication. (You can also try googling "high context culture".) Caveat: I have no experience with Vietnamese culture, but I live in a country where cultures of indirect communication are the norm.

1. As a direct communicator, you think you are asking a simple question. As an indirect communicator, your wife assumes that since you are asking the question, it is something she must know the answer to. Why would you ask unless you thought she could tell you? The fact that she can't means either that she is failing to live up to your expectation or that your expectations are unrealistic; in either scenario the response that makes the most sense is to lie to hide the shame one of you is incurring.

2. Same scenario. When you phrase a question that way, the only possible answer she can give is "Yes." But maybe if you really try for a really long time, you'll be able to see all the non-verbal cues she is giving you that say "But really, no."

3. Are you sure she knew why you left early? If not, see response 1. If so, rich's second response is dead on.

4. From her point of view, you are DEFINITELY telling her to bring her phone, and asking more questions is reinforcing and underlining the demand that she bring it.

Living with communicators of the other type is hard. If she has a Metafilter account, I bet she wants to ask a question about why her husband thinks it is so damned important that she have her phone.
posted by solotoro at 12:56 PM on May 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


I think you are all misunderstanding the OP about the globe icon / iPhone thing.

If the iPhone has already been set up for multiple languages, the globe is there. If it hasn't, it isn't. So OP isn't asking rhetorically or to quiz her; the globe might or might not be there, and the next steps to change the language are different depending on whether or not the globe is there.
posted by Perplexity at 1:02 PM on May 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


If someone is doing something different from what you would do, and it is odd and less efficient but will eventually work or is harmless, then just shut up and let them do it. Please. Stop wondering why people are different, they just are. It would be boring if we were all the same.
posted by meepmeow at 1:03 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


If the iPhone has already been set up for multiple languages, the globe is there. If it hasn't, it isn't. So OP isn't asking rhetorically or to quiz her; the globe might or might not be there, and the next steps to change the language are different depending on whether or not the globe is there.

Then a less patronizing seeming question would be 'Is there a globe icon to the left of the spacebar?' Gets the same information, treats the wife less like she's a five year old who has to be lead into remembering to say 'please' and 'thank you' with 'what do you say when you want something?' style questions.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:05 PM on May 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


One more try and them I'm going to shut up. The majority of posts here are coming from a highly biased viewpoint and experience base. I agree with all of them, of course, if the wife in question was one of you - an American or European or South American woman/man.

I'll also agree that the OP is probably somewhat limited in the art of communication.

But the people answering need to stop thinking this is you being asked these questions, and how you would react. Because he obviously stated she is Vietnamese, and your worldview is completely different.

I have been in many meetings where I have sat face to face with someone from a culture like this and asked them, "so we are in agreement, yes?" And they said "Yes." And smiled at me. And it turned out the last 20 minutes they didn't understand anything that I was saying. Or they patently disagreed with the approach. There is a significant shift in the way I need to approach issues with my counterparts, which allows them to be the ones driving the approach as opposed to me telling and asking questions. Because then they aren't put in the position of potentially insulting me by disagreeing or saying they don't understand.

Simply rephrasing the iPhone question to something you consider 'less patronizing' will do nothing in this cultural divide.

The key is the 3rd question. Classic cultural situation. It's about the relationship, not about the person or the answer. It is about maintaining the best relationship in the face of potential insult, danger, or bad feeling.

In India, there is similar thing, the head bobble - lampooned many times on Outsourced. Two women on my staff who are Indian do it to me every now and then to wind me up (they are more 'americanized').

On preview.. thanks, solotoro.
posted by rich at 1:09 PM on May 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


You can adjust to her by just answering her questions in a straighforward way (as you didn't in question #2 or #4) - but she's not going to be able to adjust to you. I think you have to be the one to relax here. (emphasis added)

I disagree. Of course she can adjust-- she can recognize the communication style that her partner employs and read the questions with that shade of glasses.

My partner and I both have to do this for each other: She approaches things emotionally and practically 2/3 of the time, and I approach them theoretically and logically 2/3 of the time. When we get a mismatch, it's easy to tell that it's happening, and it's easy to reconcile it by doing a touch of work and "translating" the other person's wishes.

It is not just one person's job.
posted by herbplarfegan at 1:13 PM on May 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


There may indeed be significant cultural forces at work here, or it may be simple personality conflicts, or it could be years of marital tension coming out in a petty fashion, or the husband could be extremely patronizing, or the wife could in fact be a complete dullard. I mean, we really don't know.

But in pretty much all of those scenarios, the obligation is on both parties to work towards a system that works for both of them. Cultural differences? Well, you BOTH agreed to enter into an inter-cultural relationship. You both share equal responsibility for understanding the other partner and modifying your behaviours to adapt. The onus is not one-way on the husband to adapt entirely to Vietnamese behaviours any more than the onus is on the wife to adapt entirely to (I assume) North American behaviours. You both need to meet in the middle -- and given the length of time you've been married, it's frankly troubling neither of you have figured this out yet.

In sum, the only possible way out of this impasse is to talk to each other as husband and wife, even at the risk of trampling on some of each other's cultural preconceptions. At this stage in your marriage, it shouldn't be hard.
posted by modernnomad at 1:19 PM on May 25, 2011


This sounds like more Ask culture/Guess culture interface friction to me.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 1:24 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just for the record, I never read that book, just actually have dealt with many people in Asia.

The majority of Koreans I've dealt with don't behave that way at all. And I'm not proscribing this to the 4 billion people in Asia, but noting the significant *lack* of consideration of culture by most everyone.
posted by rich at 1:26 PM on May 25, 2011


Across the street from the bike shop means nothing. She asked for directions from where she was, not from the bike store.

The doohickey by the spacebar has a name? Why not just offer to do it for her? Nice gesture.

Kids asked lots of questions--i'd guess she wanted to stop the Q&A as soon as possible. Kid knows about Dr. visits.

And maybe she didn't bring her phone because she didn't want to be distracted by calls when she's out with you, her sweetie.

In general, maybe treating her more like a girlfriend and less like a colleague or subordinate might help. Take care of her, offer to do things for her, not just point out the best solution.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:30 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


My wife is Vietnamese, but I don't really recognise cultural patterns here. Our own (minor) communication problems are usually due to me using common words and idiomatic expressions that she doesn't know but "understands" anyway, or to her using words that don't mean what she thinks they mean (in spite of her near-perfect command of my language). A typical issue is the green/blue confusion in Vietnamese, which results in one of us being frustrated after looking for a green shirt that was actually blue. Example 1 more or less rings a bell here ("I don't know what it's called!"). Future tenses are a common source of misunderstanding too, with the subtle but very practical differences between immediate and less immediate future being lost in translation. There are many little hurdles like that, that seem to be due to complex differences between languages. Some people here are talking about face-saving, but it's really human to not say "uh?, please repeat" every time one misses as word in a conversation, particularly for people who've known each other for a while.
posted by elgilito at 1:37 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


"things-should-be-done-the-most-efficient-way"

There IS no "most efficient way". You are wrong to think that there is.

My ex-wife had to be right about everything and it was a core problem in our relationship. She was extremely controlling, which is what honestly, you sound like to me. It's couched in questions and "logic", but really as far as you're concerned it sounds like you're right and she's wrong. As a result, she *knows* there is no right answer to any question you ask, because you're not actually interested in her answer. She's trying to second-guess what you're really after because you won't let her be okay with what she thinks. You don't appear to respect her. I'd want to freaking smother you in your sleep if I were her.

There are some good ideas in this thread, but you're going to have to do some work yourself, including why it matters that you're in the right or not.

You have to communicate about these communication styles. This comment has been favorited over a thousand times for a good reason.
posted by idb at 1:46 PM on May 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


While your wife is taking a passive-aggressive approach that is unhealthy, unproductive and unhelpful, it's important to understand where this kind of behavior comes from. It is okay to be frustrated with her. But you need to sympathize with what it is to be in her position in comparison to yours, because her side is just as valid and needs to be considered if you are to have a healthy relationship.

I don't think it's fair to chalk it all up to your wive's culture. That is belittling, dismissive and ignorant.

Men like to refer to themselves as logical and theoretical. I find these kind of claims self-deluded. When really, no one's behavior is ever logical, it's just that men have the ability and entitlement to call themselves so. When men pull out the logic card in their relationship, they often use it falsely to dismiss their partner's feelings and to justify their poor behavior, skirting responsibility and thereby dismissing their partner's POV/experiences. It's just a way men have learned to talk about themselves positively in order to differentiate themselves (higher) from their partners. Belittling your partner because you are frustrated by her self-defeating behavior is not logical. That's reactionary, cold and cruel.

I think condescension is the biggest contributor to this behavior. This isn't to attack you, you may not have been aware until now, but now it should be time to take a look at the hand you have in creating and sustaining this kind of relationship dynamic. I hope you consider all of these other people who are on the same page as I am. You are treating your wife like a child.

I like what Fowler said: If I ask "where's the THING?" and you respond like it's your job to help me deduce where the thing is, it feels very patronizing. If I ask you for information and we're equals, you give me the information; you don't ask me leading questions to help me work it out, as if you're the smart one and I'm a little slow.

When I've been condescended to (either in relationship or workplace) I reverted to weird, anxious passive self-defeating behavior. A relationship with a condescending partner is incredibly anxious. Over time it subtly leads you to question your own intelligence, feelings, knowledge and worthiness as a person - which will likely look silly and irrational to someone who has never been over-controlled and belittled in their personal life. This comes out of being taught to act this way over a long period of time. The relationships we sometimes choose mirror what we've already experienced, which may be why she's put up with it for a while. It's familiar to her to act this way. Your wife's behavior sounds like a learned helplessness, maybe some frustration. When you are in her position, sometimes you just can't shake it at first, it takes a few times of being pushed around and condescended to to figure out you've been molded that way and then demand more of yourself.

When a person feels secure and equal, they generally are able to communicate and express themselves with greater authenticity. This is because the potential for threat is lower. Expressing herself has been a threatening experience for her, even if you have not intended it or realized it, so she has adapted her behavior according to that. Your wive's behavior looks that of someone who is afraid of expressing herself and thinking for herself, because there have always been consequences for doing so (condescending belittling comments, along with how you may be treating her overall). I have felt and acted exactly the way she has. It can be really really damaging to a person.

It's not fair for your wife to have to adapt to your behavior with any changes done on your part. It should be something you both work on together. Now the good news is, hopefully, you will be able to talk to her about all of this with humility. Hopefully you can both talk about it together openly and with some self-awareness so you can both work on eliminating it.
posted by GEB's fun world at 1:47 PM on May 25, 2011 [35 favorites]


I should add an addendum by saying I made some sweeping generalizations that might get some pants in a mess when i use the world "men", but i'm hoping most will understand i mean "controlling hetero men who act in the way i'm talking about".
posted by GEB's fun world at 1:58 PM on May 25, 2011


I'm a bit of a geeky, logical, things-should-be-done-the-most-efficient-way sort of guy....

I have to wonder if this is so, since you seem to have used a vague, roundabout way of answering her question about the iPhone:

"How do I get my iPhone to switch languages?"
"Press the button with the globe icon, then {blah blah blah}

vs.

""How do I get my iPhone to switch languages?"
"look at the keyboard. See the spacebar at the bottom? Now, what's to the left of it?..."

Or, hell, why not just show her? Wouldn't that have been more cut-to-the-chase?

It sounds more like you think you're being perfectly clear because it seems logical to you, but you're not understanding that what is perfectly logical to you may not be to her. You may think you're a things-should-be-done-logically guy, but you're talking like a things-shuld-be-done-MY-way guy. That may be part of the problem.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:02 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Or what GEB's fun world said!

I think you need to find a way for both of you to be "right", e.g. my way of looking at things is legit *and* so is hers.
posted by idb at 2:03 PM on May 25, 2011


Or, hell, why not just show her? Wouldn't that have been more cut-to-the-chase?

As stated in the original post, she called him to ask how to do it.

OP, I probably would have done the switch languages thing in the same way, just because I usually need to visualize things when explaining them to someone and am not always 100% sure what's on the screen I can't see. So I ask for verbal confirmation of what's going on, to make sure that we're both on the same page or step. I don't see your confusion and frustration at her answer as being indicative that you're wrong or a terrible person. But it does show ya'll communicate different, for whatever reason, be it culture, personality whatever.

Ya'll need to talk about this, in a non-accusatory way, so you can both understand each other and learn to translate on the fly. You may never understand exactly why and they may irritate your personality, but you need to work through that.

Stop thinking of her as being wrong. That doesn't help the situation.

The bike shop thing doesn't make any obvious sense, until she says "Ok I don't know where the bike shop is." She needs to learn how to be direct or work on her language skills. Not knowing what a button that looks like a globe is odd.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:15 PM on May 25, 2011


In the short term: stop asking your wife so many questions! Especially when you are actually trying to give her information. Make statements of fact. She apparently feels like there are right and wrong answers to questions (and the right answer seems to be pretending you know and understand something even if you don't) and that you are asking questions rather than being direct.

Her: "How do I do this on my phone?"
You: "Look at the bottom of the screen, then look the left, at the little blue globe circle."

She says I'm not going to bring my phone with me. I say, really, why not? Obviously there are lots of really good reasons for both husband and wife to have their phones. Oh all right, she says. I'll bring it! As if I'd said I insist you bring your phone! But really, I'm just asking. It's not a matter of life of death, but I'm puzzled. The phone weighs 4.8 ounces, it's not weighing her down. I repeat the question, I'm just asking, honey, what possible bad thing can happen if you bring your phone? Is the battery flat? And all I get in reply is OK, OK, I'll bring it if it's so important to you! again as if I was saying something completely different.

So here's the deal. You were asking a different question! You said here you'd rather she bring it--so just tell her that. You wouldn't have brought up this example if you truly didn't care if she brought her phone. Or consider these two alternatives:

Her: "I don't want to bring my phone."
You: "Okay."
OR
Her: "I don't want to bring my phone."
You: "I'd feel more comfortable if you did."

I suspect there are deeper communications issues than this. I suggest you two go to marriage counseling together to work this out.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:15 PM on May 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Some people here are talking about face-saving, but it's really human to not say "uh?, please repeat" every time one misses as word in a conversation, particularly for people who've known each other for a while.
posted by elgilito at 4:37 PM on May 25 [+] [!]


QFT.

It may seem that your communication problems are becoming worse over time, but I bet it's one of those situations where your closeness as a couple has caused you to forget that you're not actually living inside each other's brains.

I know I sometimes act as though my bf should know what I "really mean" simply because we've known each other for so long. But then I realize I wouldn't expect this of anyone else, and I wouldn't have expected it of him 5 or 10 years ago either.

Maybe that's a starting point for when you and your wife sit down and talk about your communication trouble.
posted by lesli212 at 2:30 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Neither of you are listening to one another.

If you know what the button is, explain what the button looks like and tell her to push it - don't make her guess what the hell it is you're talking about.

If your wife wants you to draw her a map, draw her a map.

I don't think she was listening to you when you said you were exercising - she probably had no idea what you were doing and said the first thing that popped into her head.

She thinks you're trying to pick a fight with her and she just wants to give in and not have any drama.

If you ease up on the need for her to behave exactly how you want her to behave, you might have less relationship angst. But this is basic Power Struggle 101.
posted by mleigh at 2:34 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some of your tone reminds me a little bit of the now-ex-boyfriend in this post. Not a bad guy, but completely logical, efficient to a fault and desperately unable to understand where I (a little like your wife, it sounds like) was coming from.
The thing about human beings is, they are inherently (at least a little bit) irrational. Other people will not always do the thing that seems so blindingly, obviously right and reasonable to you. They just won't. I can see how this could be frustrating and difficult to understand sometimes, but people, and emotions, are complicated. They are not logical robot supercomputers. They are flawed, messy humans. As her spouse, you are supposed to have her back - that is what you signed on for. To respect her and trust her judgment in your life together. To be her teammate - you may fight, but in the end you guys should be on the same team, tackling life's challenges together.

My question is, WHY are these things so frustrating to you? Yes, it is weird that she told your son you were at the doctor, but does it really matter? Are there any real consequences? She wasn't LYING to him about a serious issue. To me, it sounds like she was just grasping for a quick and easy story that would satisfy him. There is no empirical, black and white, right or wrong thing here (to me).

Frankly, most of these examples sound like she is a little intimidated by you and hesitant to admit something that will result in your calling her stupid. To me, it sounds like she didn't want to admit to not knowing where the bike shop is because she didn't want to sound stupid, or for you to call her stupid. Is that not understandable (albeit an ineffective way to resolve the situation)? Why not just draw her a map? Why would that be such a hardship?

(And perhaps there are cultural differences at play here. I can't really speak to that.)
Clearly you guys have radically different communication styles. Obviously, she needs to work on her communication skills too - I don't think she's handling her feelings in the best way either. But (to me) you sound patronizing and condescending, like you think she is a total moron. You guys should commit to working on this together, which means thinking of each other as equals and partners.
posted by bookgirl18 at 2:43 PM on May 25, 2011


If we assume that Vietnam is culturally similar to China---and I realize this may not be a good assumption but it's the only way I can address this question---then your communication problems do sound, at least in part, like a cultural problem. Even as Americanized as I am, I still have this problem with American flat-mates all the time.

Before I get into the cultural aspects, though, I should point out that the first example is completely normal for giving verbal tech support. We do not have to invoke cultural differences to explain why she might have told you a key that was left of the spacebar instead of the particular one you wanted. I've literally had people swear to me that they had pushed a button oggn a device with no accessible buttons.

But to analyze this as a matter of cultural differences, the important point is that when I communicate with someone else, I try to interpret everything through my best guess at their world view and intentions. There's a psychology experiment that goes like this: you stand somwhere so that you can only see one of the two blocks on a table, and then ask the subject to pass you "the block." Westerners (I forget the exact population) will ask which block you want. Han Chinese will immediately offer you the block you can see, supposedly because they have no evidence you know the other one exists.

So, I think the key to explaining the first example is that she might not have known you were actually looking for a particular key. You just asked her about the spacebar purely to use it as a referent to walk her to a different key. So if she thinks you're still looking for reference points, then the 123 key works just as well as the globe key.

It's about the relationship, not about the person or the answer. (rich)

This is very true and I don't understand why rich's answers haven't gotten more favorites. You told us that you upset your son by leaving before he awoke. So if he asks "Why did daddy leave early?", the topic isn't where you went but rather why you left him. And if your wife answers that you had a doctor's appointment, then she reassures him that you'd only leave for a good reason. Problem solved. Again, she's addressing the concern underlying your son's question, rather than the question itself.

I often have to deal with the reverse problem, which is that (to paint with a broad brush indeed) white Americans don't seem to consider motives at all. I can't count how many times I've been doing something which needs a small screwdriver and been passed a giant one. Or I'll be setting a clock, ask for the time, and be told "a few minutes before five."

So my guess is that, if you don't consider motives when answering other people's questions, you also don't consider perceived motives when asking questions, so you're unconsciously giving your wife all sorts of false signals. The fourth example is a perfect case in point---it seems not to have occurred to you that your questions might suggest a preference.
posted by d. z. wang at 3:02 PM on May 25, 2011 [10 favorites]


To a non-native speaker, the phrase, "It's opposite that," could be completely befuddling.

Opposite is used as a locative much less often than it is used as a descriptor of things.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 3:06 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


This stuff happens so much within cultures, I think it's a mistake to chalk it up to cultural differences.

Frowner: "If I ask "where's the THING?" and you respond like it's your job to help me deduce where the thing is, it feels very patronizing. If I ask you for information and we're equals, you give me the information; you don't ask me leading questions to help me work it out, as if you're the smart one and I'm a little slow."

#1: People are complaining that instead of helping her find the button that looks most like it would access language settings, he should have just given her the straightforward information she asked for. In my experience, this direct approach is just as likely to provoke a negative response. Instead of the "don't patronise me with games, just tell me" you get the opposite - "soooo sorry I didn't realise that was the obvious button like clever old you, why couldn't you be a bit slower in explaining". It's often a very fine line between being too direct and too patronising. I think getting annoyed at someone trying their best to help you isn't the best approach.

#2: She's scared to admit she doesn't know where the shop is? Why not just draw a map? Why not just not be worried about giving straight-up information ("I'm not really sure where it is") to your life partner of a decade. The more obvious question is, why oh why make things difficult by saying something absurd like "yes, I know where it is" when you clearly don't.

birdherder: "asked if I knew where the bike shop was, and then said the place I was looking for was opposite of that, I'd have no idea what you're talking about"

Ideefixe: "Across the street from the bike shop means nothing. She asked for directions from where she was, not from the bike store."

I also can't understand people saying that it's unreasonable to give directions to a place by reference to a store it's "opposite". The people saying there are multiple ways to interpret that are being pedants - it's a perfectly normal and legitimate use of language which any reasonable person will parse correctly. It's completely completely normal to use a common landmark when giving directions. What's not normal is being obtuse about what you do and don't know when asking for help.

#3: WTF?

#4: How should he have asked this question instead?
posted by turkeyphant at 3:13 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


My question is, WHY are these things so frustrating to you? Yes, it is weird that she told your son you were at the doctor, but does it really matter? Are there any real consequences?

Causing the kid to worry over why Daddy is at the doctor and setting a precedent for the child not trusting a parent.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:14 PM on May 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


My wife is from Japan, and I have the same issues sometimes. This is an issue that touches on your interpersonal dynamic. There is no easy solution. Be thankful that she's asking you for help. If she asks for more help (such as drawing a map), give it to her.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:18 PM on May 25, 2011


On #2, and all cultural issues aside, I feel like I am having variations of this conversation more and more often with the increase in technology. There's always been the thing where some people can take oral directions and some need written (or drawn) directions. Now you also have the option of google maps or GPS or whatever. I ask my husband "where's the haberdashery?" and he says, "Know where the bike shop is?" "Vaguely" "[LONG INVOLVED ORAL DIRECTIONS THAT IF HE DOESN'T KNOW AFTER TEN YEARS I CAN'T POSSIBLY REMEMBER, HE IS NEVER GOING TO FIGURE IT OUT]" I keep trying to cut him off to remind him this is not productive and I require a drawn map.

Just today I asked a woman where a particular office was that she was setting up an appointment for me at, and it turned into 20 questions: "Do you know where Movie Theater X is?" "Yes?" "Do you know where Road Y is?" "Yes?" "Okay, do you know where Tiny Shop is?" "YES???" "Okay, so there's a (totally different) tiny road behind (shop not yet mentioned) and if you turn there ..." It was bizarre and I wanted to scream. In fact all I wanted was "It's in a little strip mall behind Kohl's" or "here is the exact address" so I could either estimate my travel time or enter it in my GPS and get a specific location. But "Can you tell me where the office is located?" I guess isn't a specific enough question anymore.

Short version: If someone asks you for a map, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GIVE THEM A MAP. People do not all process directions in the same way; there are any number of systems (cardinal directions vs. right/left turns; landmarks vs. proper names; written instructions vs. maps). Try to conform to the asker's request if you can!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:27 PM on May 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


tl;dr. It sounds like you may be impatient with your wife.
It sounds like your wife tells you what you want to hear.
It sounds like there are trust problems and obvious communication problems.

You have a pretty strong sense that your way is the correct way. Who cares? Try to give her help the way she wants help. Maybe she thought you were going to the doctor.

Therapy.

Spend wayyyy more time looking for things about her that you appreciate. things to praise, ways to make her feel listened to, loved, valued. You will feel better when you do these things. Really.

I hate when people give me directions that begin "You know where X is?" because they never work well for me. Maps and correct addresses work much better. GPS works great.
posted by theora55 at 4:11 PM on May 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


one corporate definition of "communication" is that the recipient changes their behavior as the sender wished them to do. You can send emails, make banners, announcements over the PA system, but the communication is not successful until the behavior changes. It is the responsibility of the communicator to change the delivery of the message until the desired goal is reached.

OP needs to delete the word "obvious" from their operating system. Whenever OP hears the internal dialog "it should be obvious!" or "the answer is so obvious!" there should be a warning bell.

Take a look at the situation and say, "it's NOT obvious to the other person. Why?"
posted by ohshenandoah at 4:26 PM on May 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


For # 1: When someone asks me an obviously simple question I really want to give them the right answer. If I don't know the answer my brain kind of panics and I get muddled. I could see a conversation happening similar to the one you had with your wife if I really felt pressured or stupid. This interaction made you feel frustrated and your wife feel stupid. Try a different approach next time. When she finally admitted her mistake someone above suggested bringing up a time when you were wrong to build camaraderie. This is a great idea.

For # 2: This has been touched on by several people but to put a very fine point on it, there is a distinct difference between knowing where the bike shop is and knowing how to get to the bike shop. If I haven't seen a map of my route it's unlikely that I will be able to navigate properly. Maybe your wife is this way also? Not everyone thinks in the same way you do. If they say that they work best from a map then you will both be happier if you trust them on that.

For # 3: When she said, "well, what would you like me to tell him?" did you then say, (in a curious, rather than annoyed tone) "I'd rather you just told him the truth. Did you think that would upset him?" You've got your wife right there. Better to discuss it with her to understand than try to use the internet's speculations.

For # 4: There are obvious reasons that someone would not want to bring their phone. Because you made a point to question her about it she probably took that as you disdaining those reasons. Otherwise, why would you bug her about it? If you really were just curious you should have said that. It sounds more like she read you correctly and you did actually want her to bring her phone.

In these scenarios I think you cut the story off right when it was getting interesting. In each case it's what you did next that will set the tone for the next similar situation. When someone admits a mistake or when you confront someone and they get defensive it's like a bomb that must be diffused. In the immediate worry less about why the bomb exists and more about how to get out with everyone unscathed. Work on being extra nice and understanding at that point until you put them completely at ease. If you can work on lowering your frustration and using the misunderstandings as a springboard to a feeling of teamwork they will occur less and less frequently.
posted by tinamonster at 4:42 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your wife knows you are a logical, rational, and efficient kind of guy, so when asked a question by you, she immediately gropes for the not-wrong answer. Partly, perhaps, for reasons of Vietnamese "face" culture (not being an anthropologist nor familiar with the culture, I wouldn't know), but most likely also for the same reasons anybody else might do so. To avoid being belittled or grilled any further, causing further cumulative doubt in her own mental faculties.

I came across this after a couple seconds of Googling, and it seems to support a cultural interpretation of your wife's reaching for this strategy instead of, say, a blunt instrument. The following, in particular, seems relevant to your case: "Chastising or correcting a Vietnamese person in public is a large dishonor [...] The importance of harmony often promotes avoidance tendencies to maintain the peace."
posted by tel3path at 4:49 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Other people have given good advice. I just want to comment on the fourth example. She thinks you're second-guessing her--because you are. You think she should bring her phone. You're not demanding that she bring it, but by asking her to explain her reasoning, you ARE trying to convince her that her reasons for leaving it at home are poor.

You need to show her that you respect her choices. Your goal, when she makes thinking-out-loud statements like the one about the phone, should--for the time being--be to affirm her choices unless you want to explicitly ask her to do something else. So, "OK honey," when she says she's not taking her phone, or "Actually, could you please take it? Mine's dying." Don't say anything in between, don't ask any "clarifying" questions until you've convinced her that you're not secretly second-guessing the little choices she makes throughout the day. Make peace with the fact that something can seem logical and sensible to you and not be something your wife chooses to do--and that's ok and it doesn't make her irrational.

Also, in the third example, here's my guess: your child was upset because daddy wasn't there, so your wife scrambled for a reason important enough that it would make sense to a child that daddy would be gone. A doctor's appointment is something a child understands, "felt like going jogging" is harder to explain. Not saying it was the best thing to do, I just think it makes sense that she'd want a simple explanation that seemed weighty enough to merit not being there when the kid woke up if the kid is used to you being there in the morning.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:21 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think this boils down to communication style/personality. Does this happen between her and her family and friends? Or just with you and her? Even if it happens between her and her family+friends, this isn't a big deal.

1: Spacebar: What's to the left of it? The 123 button and the Globe. Sounds right to me! It's not a lie! Since I'm techy I know you likely want me to click the Globe, not the 123. But a not-so-techy person would list what they see to the left of the spacebar. Which happens to be the 123 button and the Globe button. This happens a lot in tech support. Example:

(Windows XP computer. Let's assume window is maximized, for simplicity)
A: Do you see the close button?
B: Where?
A: Top right of the screen.
B: Oh, ok. I see a minus-sign, a square, and an X. (They are listing what's on the top right of the screen. That is, "What's left of the spacebar".)
Hint: they might not call it Close Button, they might just call it X, or maybe they always go to File > Quit, since they might not know that X button is supposed to close the program. See how something that's obvious to us might not be obvious to others?
A: Yep, that's it, click the X.

Someone who doesn't know what that spiderman logo (the Globe! I mean, seriously, it's a ball with lines on it) is might not be sure what word to say, and stop at "123".

2: Bike shop: I don't know, but if she needs a map, she might have forgotten how to get to the bike shop place; she remembers that shop, and where it is, but not how to get there. Fuzzy memory, you know? If I got so frustrated that the person won't give me a map, when I specifically asked for one, I would be thinking "For Fuck's Sake! Just draw the map!" and I would blurt out: "You know what?! I don't know where the shop is! Why don't you draw me the map I SOOOOO kindly asked for 20 minutes ago?!" just out of frustration.
Barring any translation issues (you didn't mention how fluent she is, does she speak like a US native yet?), she might not want to go through the whole "go here, then turn before the post-office, and here, then take this street right after the ice cream shop, and then..."
Some people just need to see it in a map, so they can think of it ahead of time.
Whenever someone gives me verbal instructions, it goes in one ear, and out the other. I need to see it on paper, then think about it in a way that makes sense to ME, then I can go out and drive.

3: Dad's at the doctor: you didn't mention how old the child is. I imagine if he's upset that you're not there in the morning, and calls you "daddy", then he must be a little young toddler.
This is just how toddlers are: they ask lots of questions. Toddlers are cute, but also annoying. If she says you went out running, you don't know how many questions he's going ask her. "Why's daddy running? Is daddy going somewhere? Why didn't daddy take the car? Why didn't daddy take me with him? Can I go with daddy next time?" Blah, blah, blah, toddler's questions just never end.
Telling him you're at the doctor is one thing toddlers understand. He probably knows it's one of those things that have to be done. It's a white lie, and your wife can hurry and go back to making breakfast/doing the laundry/whatever she needs to do.
Parents do this sort of thing a lot, because they have a life to live, instead of asnwering the "1000 questions my toddler has".

4: Phone: How did she say "Oh alright, I'll bring it"? Was it like, mellow/passive? Or angry? You need to notice the tone of voice/body language.
If mellow, she probably was just shrugging and going "meh, I guess it makes no difference. Suppose I'll bring it". If she sounded angry/snappy, then maybe she was upset about something, or even just tired, and just didn't want to think about it / argue with you about something there's no point arguing about. Because, you see...
A lot of times when going out, I don't feel like bringing my phone - or my wallet, or my jacket. Why? No reason. It doesn't matter. I could bring it. Or I could not. No difference. Sometimes I just don't want to fiddle with the phone when I'm looking for a pen in my purse. Sometimes I just don't need my wallet. Sometimes I don't want to be holding on to a jacket I won't wear. It's just one of those things. It doesn't mean anything.

None of these strike me as particularly irrational. These things are a lot more common than you think. It happens to nearly everyone I know, men and women, every single day (yes, even with immigrants).

Now, I've got to ask you some things that make no sense to me, you being a logical kind of guy:

And the family is somewhat under some stress for various reasons. But not very serious life-or-death stress.
Why did you write this in this post? How does it relate to the rest of the post? Is this something we're supposed to reply to? If so, in what context?

So I remain baffled. Why would someone create such extraneous difficulties for themselves, and the rest of their family, for no obvious reason? I don't think I'm being unreasonable.
Do you mean your family, as in, you, her, and your son? Or her side of the family?
It doesn't sound to me like these things she is doing are so stressful. If this sort of thing makes her such a messed up person, then BOY, OH BOY, most people in this world would be in trouble! This stuff is so... well... normal!
posted by midnightmoonlight at 5:28 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Would like to add:
I don't think she's intimidated by you in anyway, or that you are a scary person (as many here are implying). Or that either of you needs therapy.

This is just common communication problems that everyone has. There's no right or wrong way. With every 2 people, there will be different dynamics.
It's just that some people understand this, most do not. I could only be around my mother after I learned how to deal with her style. She always got so offended, and so hurt, at things that would not offend a "reasonable person" (in my eyes). Now, I can tailor my words, etc, in a way she will understand what I mean. Now we can be around each other for more than 5 minutes without wanting to get at each other's throats ;-P

I thought I'd have to end my relationship with my boyfriend because of communication problems, but once I figured out how to get around that, using MTBI, things are fine. He read this stuff and understands it too, so we get along real nice.

Maybe you should read about MTBI:
There's some guidance specific to communication styles, but I can't find it right now... but atleast reading about the personalities should help a little.
posted by midnightmoonlight at 6:13 PM on May 25, 2011


After re-reading your post multiple times, I would say that the disdain you have for your wife, her culture of origin, and her relationship to you as your life partner is the key reason why you have problems communicating. The way you portray her is belittling and condescending. I don't blame her for feeling flustered around someone who perpetually is making her out to be stupid. Re-examine your feelings for your wife, because if you love her, you will do everything you can to meet her half-way. If she needs your help, give it to her. If she asks you to draw her a map because that is what she needs, do it. Don't make her feel as though she's stupid for asking. As it stands, all you're doing is damaging the relationship you have with the mother of your child.
posted by patronuscharms at 6:57 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


From the OP:
I want to address two quick points of information:

1) My son knows what exercise is, and indeed, lectures me on the importance of it. He would not have been upset to heard that I was exercising.

2) At the risk of doubling down on the "patronising" thing, have you guys looked at your own iPhones lately? The globe icon isn't always there. It only appears if you've set the phone up a certain way. So it really was a vital part of my (admittedly, Socratic, pedagogic, etc) process to make sure we were looking at the right button before we pressed it.

3) Some of you seem to have missed that this iPhone tech support situation was happening over the phone. Tech support by phone is a frustrating task at the best of times, but rendered pretty much impossible when the other person gives you incorrect information. I would love the posters advising me to adopt a different strategy, what should that strategy be? Remember, the person you're communicating with, by phone, is going to tell you things which are not true. It seems a pretty much insoluble puzzle to me, if you're forced to accept that as a condition.
posted by jessamyn at 7:16 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, you wanted to know if the globe icon was there. Instead of -- as you admit -- being Socratic (and thus patronizing) about it, you could have been clear: said exactly what you were looking for and why. "Just to the left of the spacebar -- is there something that looks like a globe there? If not we need to go back a few steps and set up your phone." When she said what she said, you could have said "oh, hmm, there's no little globe there?" It sounds like you didn't do that, thus obfuscating more. She didn't know what you wanted to hear and why. So tell her.
posted by brainmouse at 7:20 PM on May 25, 2011 [11 favorites]


I think you habitually try to understand things you don't understand, even when they aren't productive towards your goal, while she habitually ignores things she doesn't understand if she doesn't have a reason why it's valuable towards the goal.

Her approach probably works most of the time, maybe even more efficiently than your approach, and you only notice it when it doesn't work.

I can see someone assuming something on a screen they don't understand is just decoration or something, not a button.

Consider the point at which she's asking for a map, and you're still fixated on understanding why she needs a map. From her point of view, it's now your insistence that you need to understand the situation before taking action is now counter-productive.

She wants to comfort the boy, she tells him something that will achieve the goal of comforting a boy without concern for whether she has helped him understand your real reason for leaving early. When you object to this, she doesn't ask what you think was wrong with that or volunteer her reasons for saying what she did, (which would be attempts to understand the problem) she asks only what you would want her to say instead. (Alternate ways of achieving that goal)

When she says she isn't bringing her phone, and you ask why, she presumes you wouldn't bother asking (understanding) unless you wanted to change her action. (goal) In turn, she doesn't bother asking the reason you want her to bring it, but gives you the benefit of the doubt, which is what she would want in the same situation. (Just like asking for a map.)
posted by RobotHero at 7:32 PM on May 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


You're being urged to examine your part in this communication problem and I agree. Further, I believe you might find you had a hand in creating this problem because you might once have enjoyed and encouraged the very traits that you now find annoying.

You seem to have most of the power in this relationship and you might well need to change your assumptions about your communication skills. Also, please don't chastise your wife for trying to save face for you in your son's eyes at least until you are quite sure you are not lying to yourself about your part in this conflict. What you think your son knows about your exercise priority might be different from what your wife thinks he would feel about your absence upon awakening. Her opinion and choices matter to her and to your son and they need to matter to you. It's ridiculous to believe you are so reasonable and easy to understand and she is just so irrational and wrong.

Get some books about interpersonal communication, get a counselor, work at this and be a student in the project, not super-tech. Be nice. What you two learn now will benefit you both and will benefit your son. You're making the world he comes from right now. Do it better than this.

Aim for mutual gentleness and respect in your interactions and for a loving family life. Good luck.
posted by Anitanola at 8:01 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't know about your wife's language levels, so I can't be sure if this will help or not: My wife and I had/have a good number of language issues that have blown up into relationship issues at various times. Aside from being from radically different cultures, having different native languages makes things more difficult. Not bad, not good, just harder. Both of you (and this might be where couples counseling might not be so bad) need to learn patience with each other. It takes more time to communicate clearly, and you need to be okay with that.

As for the phone thing, one early problem we had was that trying to talk over the phone caused huge problems due to misunderstanding. A lot of times, text (while time-consuming) is a lot easier than talking on the phone. Once we figured that out, things were much easier for us, and as my Japanese skills have improved, we're able to talk on the phone more easily now. Trying to give instructions on the phone? That's hugely complicated. Trying to give instructions on the phone currently being used to have the conversation? That's just not going to end well.

You need, for the communication issues, to be patient, to use clear and easy-to-understand speech. For the other issues, you need to talk, and ask questions. For things she does that you don't understand, talk with her, and ask her questions, and make sure to listen to her. Don't interupt, don't finish her sentences, wait until she's said what she wants to, before making any comments or asking any questions.

Marriage is hard enough. Cross-culture/bilingual marriage? A hell of a lot harder. Also, how's your Vietnamese? Seriously. Without knowing her language level, I can't be sure about this advice, but if there are communication issues, how far across the gap are you willing to go to meet her?
posted by Ghidorah at 9:09 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Remember, the person you're communicating with, [...] is going to tell you things which are not true.

That's not an immutable condition if you don't patronize your wife. She's only being untruthful to save face and/or to get you to quit with the Socratic stuff already. Just give the woman a direct answer already. Sheesh.

I would love the posters advising me to adopt a different strategy, what should that strategy be?

"There's supposed to be a little globe icon to the left of the space bar, do you see it?"

Extra clarity, for bonus points: "There's supposed to be a little globe icon to the left of the space bar, but the problem could be that it's not there. Do you see it?"

SO NOT HARD
posted by AV at 9:09 PM on May 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


Remember, the person you're communicating with, by phone, is going to tell you things which are not true.

No, the person you're communicating with is going to get confused and say something just to keep the conversation going.

Have you not spoken a foreign language with a native speaker? At least in my experience, when you're the non-native speaker, there are plenty of words and expressions you just don't understand right away, and you have two options--stop your native speaking conversation partner every 30 seconds to ask what he means by borkborkbork, or assume you'll figure it out through context later. Most people do the latter in order to gain conversational language skills. It does cause misunderstandings, but it also facilitates faster learning of the overall language because you learn how to talk to people, not just word definitions and verb conjugations.

I'm not suggesting that your wife's English is poor, but if English is her second language then she must have done a fair amount of this glossing over expressions and planning to find out their meanings later. Add to that a culture of saving face, and no wonder she does things like say, "123 button." There is a button on the screen that says 123. You were asking what button she saw. She didn't know what you were getting at, so she said something just to say something. She wasn't maliciously lying. She was trying to move the conversation along to a place where she could understand it.

It seems like, on the one hand, she would do well to trust that you want to help her and you won't be upset or judgmental if she admits she doesn't understand something. But on the other hand, you need to stop seeing her verbal strategies as lying or otherwise wrong--and you need to stop getting upset or judgmental when she gets confused. Your style is intimidating. I hate when people go all socratic method on me, like I need to prove I know steps 1-4 before they'll tell me #5. It makes me feel really stupid because I'm on the spot and maybe I don't remember step 3 perfectly. It probably makes your wife feel stupid, so cut it out.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:37 PM on May 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


4. She very often answers a question she thinks I'm asking, instead of the question I'm actually asking, or responding to a demand she thinks I'm making when I'm just trying to find something out. An example: we're going out to the shops. She says I'm not going to bring my phone with me. I say, really, why not? Obviously there are lots of really good reasons for both husband and wife to have their phones. Oh all right, she says. I'll bring it! As if I'd said I insist you bring your phone! But really, I'm just asking. It's not a matter of life of death, but I'm puzzled. The phone weighs 4.8 ounces, it's not weighing her down. I repeat the question, I'm just asking, honey, what possible bad thing can happen if you bring your phone? Is the battery flat? And all I get in reply is OK, OK, I'll bring it if it's so important to you! again as if I was saying something completely different.

It seems to me like she's reading you perfectly here. It sounds like what you're essentially saying is "Do you have a good reason not to bring your phone? Can you justify it to me? Because if you don't, I think it's dumb/silly of you not to bring it." And so what she's essentially saying is "Okay, fine, there's no good reason not to bring it [or 'no reason you'll think is good enough'], so I'll just bring it then, so let's drop this discussion rather than going into the details about whether my reasons were good enough." I mean, I'm not in your house to judge for sure, but between her reaction and the way you talk about it here (if you were really "just asking" out of pure curiosity, why go into so much detail about the good reasons to bring her phone, how little it weighs, etc?)-- I highly suspect that you are basically challenging her to justify her decision, to produce reasons that you'd consider sufficient, rather than "just trying to figure something out" an an innocuous and neutral way.

If so, it seems like you ought to work on both being more self-aware of the messages you're sending (beyond just the literal meanings of what you're saying), as well as looking at what seems like it might be a broader dynamic of you being judgmental and her trying to avoid feeling judged and criticized.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 9:52 PM on May 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Dude, this is the globe icon you're talking about? Recognizing that's a globe takes a good amount of cultural context and I bet a fair number of Americans wouldn't automatically know what it's supposed to represent nor what to call it. In both this and the second example you're assuming she knows something and setting her up to look ignorant when that's not the case. Here's a better and clearer approach: "We're looking for the globe icon, a little circle with lines through it between the spacebar and 123 key. If it's not there we need to do XYZ."

And if tech support over the phone is proving to be frustrating it's okay to say "Hey, this would be a lot easier to work through in person so maybe we can wait to fix this until later?" This applies to lots of situations; learn to recognize the situations that you and she don't handle well and figure out a different approach/time/etc which works better for both of you.

The map: why not draw her a map the next time she requests one?

Exercise/Doctor I got nothing. Sounds strange out of context but maybe within the context of you seeming to question her decision making on various topics.

The phone: you come off as questioning her judgment. If it's important to you for her to bring the phone then tell her up front (I was thinking maybe we'd split up at the mall so I'd like you to bring the phone so I can call you when I'm done at Sears). If it's not important to bring the phone then just let it go. And look for other situations where you might be perceived as questioning her judgment/intelligence/knowledge/decision-making, even if that wasn't your intention.
posted by 6550 at 12:28 AM on May 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


6550: "And if tech support over the phone is proving to be frustrating it's okay to say "Hey, this would be a lot easier to work through in person so maybe we can wait to fix this until later?""

That's so not going to go down well nine times out of ten.

6550: "If it's not important to bring the phone then just let it go."

Surely the whole point of the question was to help figure out if it's important. She might have had a good reason he wasn't aware if which is exactly what he was asking for.

AV: "Just give the woman a direct answer already. Sheesh."

Could the OP not equally expect the same?! He asked, "Do you know where the bike shop is?" The problem in that conversation is that it was impossible to get a direct answer from her to the very first question asked. Once there was a problem with that, the whole thing was made several orders of magnitude more difficult.

patronuscharms: "The way you portray her is belittling and condescending."

I don't really see this assuming she understands she's an equal and is not trying to read disses into plain and straight-forward communication. The pedagogical style can (if not excused) also been seen as attempting to foster a sense of curiosity and a willingness to experiment which will help her problem-solving abilities in the future.
posted by turkeyphant at 4:06 AM on May 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Surely the whole point of the question was to help figure out if it's important. She might have had a good reason he wasn't aware if which is exactly what he was asking for.

Which means the starting point of the questioning was the assumption that she needed to have a good reason NOT to take the phone, otherwise she should. The OP even says that's his underlying thinking for trying to find out: "Obviously there are lots of really good reasons for both husband and wife to have their phones." This does not read as just a request for information, it appears to be a request for justification. In that context, her response is not unreasonable. If I were in her position, saying "Oh all right, I'll bring it!" would be my way of saying "I didn't have any particular reason not to take it, but you clearly think I need one; therefore, it is important to you that I bring the phone, so I will."
posted by solotoro at 4:25 AM on May 26, 2011


My question is, WHY are these things so frustrating to you? Yes, it is weird that she told your son you were at the doctor, but does it really matter? Are there any real consequences? She wasn't LYING to him about a serious issue. To me, it sounds like she was just grasping for a quick and easy story that would satisfy him.

That sort of behavior is FUNDAMENTALLY condescending, and worse, it isn't even overt. Do you know how unsettling it is to find out that someone has been just feeding you bullshit based on their mindreading? Maybe I'm from Mars, but when I ask a question, whether I am an adult or whether I am a toddler, it is because I wanted to know the answer, not because I was looking to be satisfied.

Maybe this guy comes off as condescending, but I'm not sure how a rational person couldn't come off as condescending when they've been trained for 10 years that their "partner" just lies to them. Most of us would probably do the same.

#4 gives me the willies, because I have had and have witnessed these sorts of conversations. If having a discussion about it wasn't going to be welcomed, why did she say anything in the first place???

This "saving face" as culture thing is a red herring. Nobody wants to be corrected or embarrassed. It is a submissive-style power/control structure. It is a Machiavellian "give them enough rope to hang themselves" way of saying "no". Example:

"Where do you want to go to dinner?"
"I don't care."
"TGI-McApplebees?"
"Sure."
[time passes, dinner is completed]
"That place sucks, why did you bring me there?"

Now there is no way to solve the problem, and the second person "wins" because they were agreeable, and the first person has been taught a lesson.
posted by gjc at 6:22 AM on May 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Are you an engineer? Because then things would make more sense. I'm married to a engineer, and love them, but you all can make things more complicated than they need to be. (For the record, my husband is notsnot. Hi honey!). The difference is when he would launch into a Socratic dialog about which button to push I'd cut him off and say "Just fucking tell me which button to push." Which would just be a personality difference between your wife and me. So..you're both to blame. You need to be more direct, and she needs to tell you when you aren't being direct. (Except the lying about the doctor thing, which is totally a head-scratcher...)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:43 AM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


If having a discussion about it wasn't going to be welcomed, why did she say anything in the first place???

"I'm not bringing my phone," informs you that she's not bringing her phone.

"Should I bring my phone?" invites a discussion of whether or not she should bring her phone.

Usually, in relationships, there's room for asking "Why?" when one partner makes the first kind of statement. If I told my husband I wasn't bringing my phone somewhere, and he asked "Why?" I'd feel comfortable giving an explanation. But that's because I know my husband isn't second-guessing me and evaluating my reasons: he's just curious. If he wants me to bring my phone, he'll ask me to. Clearly, your wife feels like you don't respect her reasons, like your "Why?" really means, "There are lots of really good reasons for both husband and wife to have their phones. Defend your choice not to do it." And it's true--you don't seem to respect her reasons and choices. You think that your choices are logical, so if hers differ from yours, they must be illogical and you'll use questions to get her to see that.

OP, you asked--sarcastically--for the posters who suggest you take a different strategy to tell you what that strategy should be. My suggestion is: respect your wife. Stop assuming your logic is foolproof and hers must measure up to it. Learn to think of conversations as succeeding when each of you feels heard, respected, and helped. When she asks for a map, you should hear that and draw her a map. When you feel upset or annoyed because she made something up rather than admit she didn't know, she should apologize. Each of you needs to have a goal of helping the other, not of being right.

Consider couples' therapy. Not because either of you is broken or bad, but because you have a whole lifetime ahead of you of talking to each other, and it would be really nice for both of you if it were fun rather than frustrating.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:03 AM on May 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Being smart is toxic to a marriage. Being right is toxic to a marriage. If you insist on being smart and right instead of being kind there is no script that we can give you that will help. If, however, you look at the situation from a perspective of "how can I avoid bad feelings" then the solution becomes obvious:

Script: "Hey honey, this is going to be too hard to do over the phone. Is it okay if I do it when I get home? It is? Good, I don't want to leave you without a phone you can use for too long. How's our son doing? Really? How funny! Well, I gotta go. Okay, I love you. "
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:15 AM on May 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


one corporate definition of "communication" is that the recipient changes their behavior as the sender wished them to do. You can send emails, make banners, announcements over the PA system, but the communication is not successful until the behavior changes.
posted by ohshenandoah at 4:26 PM on May 25


This definition I find interesting for my "understanding vs. goals" theory. It values the communication solely by whether it achieves a particular response from the recipient. It places no value on the recipient receiving accurate information.

Take a look at the situation and say, "it's NOT obvious to the other person. Why?"
posted by ohshenandoah at 4:26 PM on May 25


This seems at first glance to make sense, but I think it's a potential trap in this case. The goal person doesn't CARE why it's not obvious and doesn't want to sit here FIGURING OUT and EXPLAINING why it's not obvious, they want to keep moving and ACHIEVE THEIR GOAL. But the knowledge person will easily latch onto this question and try to answer it before they will help them to continue moving towards the goal. This is what happened with the map request. It seemed to him it should be obvious where the shop was given she knew where the bike shop was, and he had to persist in figuring out why it wasn't obvious rather than providing a map and remaining ignorant of why it was necessary.


I've done this from the knowledge side before, where I had a disagreement with a goal person. The goal person decided the disagreement wasn't worth arguing over, so he promptly claimed to now agree with me. He didn't understand what he was agreeing to, but didn't care. I didn't care whether or not he agreed with me, but wanted to understand why he hadn't. So I kept trying to find out his reasons for disagreeing, and grew frustrated that he wouldn't answer me. He grew frustrated that I was still discussing the subject after I had achieved what he assumed was my goal, (him agreeing with me) because his goal was to not discuss the subject.
posted by RobotHero at 11:33 AM on May 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


I am useless with directions. Really, really useless, especially with directions given orally. I'm aware of this deficit, and try to be upfront about it when possible, but sometimes I'm just so much more useless than the other person can guess, in which case I might just resort to demanding a map. I don't usually have a problem admitting my directional uselessness, because I otherwise feel capable and respected.

Does your wife otherwise feel capable and respected?


(If not, it does not matter where the problem comes from, be it you or her or tiny little ponies-- what matters is what both of you can do to rectify the situation. Your current challenge should be to make your wife feel capable and respected. How can you make that come about?)
posted by nat at 3:59 PM on May 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's nothing wrong with the "What's to the left of the spacebar" approach so long as both parties are on board and aware of the "Let's make sure we're on the same page" aspect of it.

I worked in telephone tech support for a printer company for many years, and went through this hourly.

"What's to the left of the spacebar" FULL STOP sounds brusque and condescending. It sounds like a quiz. If the caller doesn't know the answer they feel bad. Yes, you're trying to be helpful and determine if the necessary preconditions have been met for activating that button you want them to press, but the caller doesn't know that. "What's the right answer?", the caller's thinking. There are some buttons there, and some grey space. Does he want to know how many buttons? Does he mean the one right next to it or the one way off at the edge of the screen?

"That keyboard is activated with a button in the lower left; can you tell me what buttons are to the left of the spacebar? If the one we're expecting isn't there we'll have to go turn it on in the settings." Now you're working together. The caller knows what you're driving at rather than hearing a bunch of snappy questions.
posted by chazlarson at 7:14 AM on November 3, 2011


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