Dear Vulcan Homeworld, I want to learn how to converse better with my wife. Currently my overly-logical thought and speech patterns upset her, frequently in ways I'm unable even to predict. She deserves better. I've struggled on my own to come up with dozens of different approaches, all of which have ultimately failed in different ways, so I come to you for help.
posted by blue_and_bronze to human relations (39 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
[Apologies in advance for length.]
Possibly important background: by "wife" I mean my best friend of years; we have children together and plan to spend our lives together but do not have a romantic relationship together, which we both do with "husband"; we are a triad. I am a woman. I am happy to provide more information if it's found relevant but hope this is a sufficient explanation.
Note: She's not very interested in couples therapy. (I see a potential value.)
Snowflake Details: I am a fairly introspective, logic-oriented person. My highest values are truth and self-education, along with striving for a deep respect and love for all people *as themselves*. I've been called very "Spock-like", although I do deeply respect the role emotion plays in all of our lives - but I also think the truth is ultimately more important than my response to it, and I've been tested as on the autistic spectrum. Both my mother and brother are Aspies, and so I grew up in a household where correcting people and long-winded discussions on arcane topics were completely normal.
Due to this I've tried to make a life-long careful study of "normal" everyday interactions between people, and modified myself to be more emotionally responsive and supportive instead of responding in the way that is, to me, more natural and comfortable.
For the most part I've done okay with this. I have a success at work, which is all customer-oriented, good friendships, good family relationships, and do not have this problem with our husband at all. However, I can't quite get my head in gear for my wife, and it's causing her problems.
Our relationship: What happens in discussions, whether "Relationship Talks" or just chatting, is that I:
* Attempt to problem solve when I should be listening
* Active listen when she wants problem-solving
* Step back to explain a concept I just used, which makes her feel ignorant
* Assume she knows a concept I just used, which makes her feel ignorant
* Respond "too logically", which is by far my most grievous error, and frequently ends in her yelling at me and storming off.
I do feel very awful that I've made her feel so bad, but I think the biggest problem is that I have NO idea what I'm doing wrong. In my mind - which is not the whole truth, obviously - I'm speaking normally and have no idea that she's going to react so negatively, or afterwards, what I did wrong. I have tried asking what she needs at the start, eg, "Do you want to rant or discuss the topic?" but she feels that's too artificial an approach, or says "I don't know" and my guess is frequently wrong.
My "emotional disguise", too, breaks down when I'm stressed, sick, and so on. Which of course means that in deep discussions I'll start drifting into not making eye contact, speaking in a rushed, clipped speech, and generally being weird. This is obviously obnoxious and I'm not very good at steering myself back to normal once I'm in the headspace. I DO know that I can be really annoying at times - correcting data, adding an un-asked-for opinion, pointing out a logical error in a series of assumptions (mine most of all, of course), babbling for ages about a topic no one cares about, ect. I need to cut this out, I know. I've at least cut down over the years, but wife has known me that long and remembers it very well. This is the way I was raised, so it honestly took me awhile as a child before I realized it was even wrong to others, and sometimes I slip and make the same mistakes. I apologize but again: I know this is super, super annoying.
I have a college education and am an autodidact; our different interests have caused me to by happenstance absorb more "high culture" than her. (My ignorance is also laughably huge and I do not understand at all how to put a table together or watch a football game accurately.) BUT this does not mean I am smarter than her! Not at all! She knows FAR more about problem solving and everyday life than I do, and I frequently remark upon her brilliance, go to her for advice, admit my ignorance of a subject she knows vastly better than I, and so on. I do, though, think this ends up playing into a dynamic, because she has said I'm an elitist snob ect - as a gentle teasing, but still. She is a creative, vivacious, amazing person and I deeply admire her. I try to make that clear in my speech and actions as much as I can.
Old and Important: She purchased some non-FDA approved medicine for Son during a cold. The instructions were written in Swedish, but what was in English said it was homeopathic. I said that while I was grateful for her going out and getting medicine, I wasn't comfortable giving him this. We started arguing about it, her pointing out that I should trust her choices, and it ended in me asking, as kindly as I could, if we were on the same board as to what "homeopathy" meant. She gave a… non-standard definition. I asked if we could look at a source we mutually agreed was credible, to see if I was incorrect.
She yelled at me that I refused to ever admit she was correct, that I thought she was stupid, that I always "had to have my big sources", and that I was a robot.
When she had cooled down I said that of course I didn't think she was stupid, not ever, but that I wanted to make sure we were making the best medical choices - and no, I didn't think homeopathy was included in that. That led to a discussion. I put forth my viewpoint of a rational, empirical universe and that I strove for truth; that my being wrong is good, because it means my truth is being updated, and that we should rely on evidence for certain important matters. (I do always thank her for correcting me if I am wrong about something. I try not to point out if she happens to be incorrect unless it's something major, like this medicine example. Again this is contrary to my 18 years of childhood development so sometimes I screw up). She said I needed to learn how to speak like a human. This was one of the biggest fights in our long years together.
Old and Minor: Ugh this is embarrassing to remember. I was telling a story to a mutual friend about a class that had gone horribly awry, after our TA made a basic mistake and then stuck to it despite all evidence to the contrary, disrupting the entire class period and ending in a Wiki edit war. It's a kinda funny story, but in it I said "I mean EVERYONE knows what Plato wrote!" What I meant was "A TA with sufficient training to sub a Philosophy course would presumably know Plato vs Aristotle's corpus, or at least be willing to agree with the entire internet on the matter." But, as wife pointed out, what it sounded like was "Everyone who doesn't know Plato is a total idiot", and since that included her, she was naturally deeply offended. I should have chosen my words better or not said it at all. I always assume everyone knows what I'm talking about (it seems mean to assume they're ignorant) but that's not very helpful (or logical!). (I mean, people assume I know what they're talking about when the say "allen wrench" or "waterproof mascara", but that's my own fault for being hopeless. :) )
Recent: She was absent when husband and I started working on a job search for him, on her computer. When she returned, she offered an idea on file saving. At first I started mentioning how I'd worked around that problem, but then stopped myself. Wanting to honor her contribution, the fact that she was now joining us, and the fact that I did have *her* computer, I asked if she wanted the keyboard instead of me. She raised her voice and stated that it wasn't something she had asked for, that I was being a jerk, and that fine, she wouldn't participate in family events then. She went to the bedroom and refused to speak to either of us for the rest of the night.
The next day she was still a bit cold around me, so I left that evening so that she and husband could hang out, maybe talk or at least maybe she could de-stress a bit. I asked him if there was anything I could do to avoid these confrontations in the future, and what I might be doing wrong.
He actually said that he thought her reaction was out of line, and not really my fault. That surprised me because I assume all of these such interactions are due to my ignorance. She is a giving, loving woman and if I make her feel stupid or unheard that's something I want to immediately change about myself.
But he doesn't know the right way for me to go about this either, or how to be "less robotic". I've tried meekness, self-assertion, compassionate listening, active listening, giving her lots of space, giving her lots of attention, being dispassionate, not arguing for my viewpoint, arguing for my viewpoint - everything I can think of, and am just stuck at this point. I do feel like I've changed myself a lot and try to not-be-myself as much as possible; in some ways it is just a slip which I try to be aware of and apologize for, in other ways I don't know the right way to change myself or who-to or even sometimes why.
TL;DR: How can I be less "Spock-like" and learn how to be better with my words? My wife needs a better me. Tell me all the ways I am wrong! Thank you thank you thank you.