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Help me process non-verbal communication
February 14, 2007 6:53 AM   Subscribe

Help me understand my fiancee's non-verbal communication better.

I have been going out with my fiancee for more than a year and a half, and we've been living together since last January. Things are usually pretty good, but sometimes she "asks" for something and I completely miss it. Other than having her explain why she is mad after this happens, is there any way that I can start to pick up more of what she is telling me non-verbally?
posted by hobgadling to Human Relations (51 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
you have got to provide more information. For one, why is "ask" in quotes? Does she not come out and ask for something, but drop hints like, "I really wish trash could take itself out!" and then get mad because you didn't take it out?
posted by sweetkid at 7:04 AM on February 14, 2007


Yes. You can ask her. This is not something that we can really help with.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:05 AM on February 14, 2007


Women are socially conditioned to be less confrontational than men. In my experience, a request from a girl is often packaged as concern for me.

On a roadtrip, for example "Do you need to stop and go to the bathroom?" could quite possibly mean, "I need to stop and go to the bathroom."

Her communication might be more verbal than you think.
posted by CRM114 at 7:06 AM on February 14, 2007


Ask her to meet you halfway and be crystal clear with words about what she wants, rather than implying it. Women who honestly think that men can mind read or intuit what they want are so frustrating, aren't they? (I'm a woman.)
posted by infinityjinx at 7:08 AM on February 14, 2007


there are guides online
posted by Arcaz Ino at 7:09 AM on February 14, 2007


I don't agree with dirtynumbangelboy's answer. This is as good a question as any other on here, but more detail would really help a lot.

Without knowing much about the problem, it sounds like you need to say to your fiance something like "I really want to have open communication with you, but it seems like I frequently misunderstand or miss completely what you are trying to let me know. It's possible that I need more direct communication. Can you make an effort to verbalize things more?" There is no reason the responsibility should be all on you.

Then, you can make a concerted effort, when you sense there is something you are missing, to say "I think you are trying to tell me something, but I'm not sure what. Can we talk about it?"
posted by sneakin at 7:11 AM on February 14, 2007


I think the only way my fiance would notice that something he's done (or not done) has annoyed me would be if he saw me reacting to it. If its not a physical thing such as leaving a mess then spotting the reaction is going to be really difficult if not impossible for him no matter how well he knows me.

I think the secret is to be able to give each other feedback without making each other feel that you are criticising each other. Its really, really difficult to do because when you're upset about something, you can't help but sound critical.

Take the feedback well and she'll be more likely to tell you the next time something upsets her.
posted by Ness at 7:11 AM on February 14, 2007


In the meantime, I think you you should verbally ask her why she's mad at you, just so you can avoid ending up in a non-verbal (read: silent treatment) position that way. However, if you give an example that would really help. All I can imagine is that she's pointing at things and expecting you to realize she's asking for them.
posted by sephira at 7:17 AM on February 14, 2007


i've found the phrase "i'd give you the moon if you were clear on the fact that you wanted it" makes a point. let her know you love her and want to give her what she needs but that she's got to ask for it. you've got to be conducive to being asked, too.

meeting each other halfway (she comes out and asks for something she wants AND you don't get confrontational about it , i.e, making an argument about it) will go a very long way in helping the communication in your relationship.
posted by dflemingdotorg at 7:18 AM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sneakin, that's exactly what I said, albeit with less detail.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:20 AM on February 14, 2007


Could you be an ask and she be a guess?
posted by sexymofo at 7:26 AM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Haha, Arcaz, I had just seen it in the other thread and had the same idea.
Thanks, delmoi.
Reading non-verbal communication rules.
posted by bru at 7:43 AM on February 14, 2007


Read Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex By John Gray. Very enlightning and you are going to go "Now I know what she really said"
posted by Ferrari328 at 7:53 AM on February 14, 2007


Once this is definitely answered, someone please format it nicely and send to every male on earth, and please invent a time machine and send it to every male since the Enlightenment.

First off, understand that this is almost without question the most common issue in male/female relationships. Failure to communicate. This is not a hopeless situation or something unusual that most couples don't have to face. Men and woman, *TYPICALLY*, communicate in vastly different ways.

John says "I want some cake". Translation: "I want some cake."

Jane actually never says the words "I want some cake" out loud. Translation: "I feel like something is missing from my life. I may be craving something, so perhaps I should try a sweet confection to see if that makes me feel better. But of course, I have put on a couple of pounds lately, and the cake will only make matters worse. I wonder if John thinks I'm getting fat? I should start working out more. And he has been talking to Lisa a lot lately, and she's thin as a rail. And Lisa was so hateful to me last week over nothing. I wonder if I said something to her that made her upset or angry? Well, if she doesn't want my opinion on things then why did she ask me? Why doesn't anyone listen to me? GOD I NEED SOME FUCKING CAKE! Where the hell is John and why hasn't he brought me my cake yet???!?! (looks around room, sees John talking to Lisa, gives him the evil eye of death. John drops his head and sulks over to Jane, and asks "What's wrong honey". Answer: "Nothing". Two weeks later she then mentions how he never brought her any cake, cake he didn't know she wanted, but she felt should have been obvious.)

The above is 95% jest, but there is of course a nugget of truth in there. And the differences between men and women are what make hetero relationships worthwhile. It's not a CRITICISM, it's an ASSESSMENT.

I've been married 10+ years, and love my wife to the stars and back, but most of the time, what is happening in her head is a complete and utter mystery to me. And she knows this, but she's just not a jerk about it. Hence why we've been married 10+ years.

Examples really would help here, but I feel you are describing the garden-variety, truly typical disassociation between men and women and the way they communicate.

Talk to her, that's all that can be done. If she is not willing to be reasonable (i.e. "If you loved me then you'd know what I'm thinking!") then you may have some serious things to consider on your hands.

(note: I'm not saying communication failures are the woman's "fault". Blame has no place in this discussion. The fault is of the pairing. It is a function of the relationship, not one of the participants.)
posted by Ynoxas at 7:55 AM on February 14, 2007 [3 favorites]


Read You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation by Deborah Tannen.
posted by staggernation at 8:05 AM on February 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


If she can't talk about things with you, she doesn't fully trust you*. That could be your fault, or it could be her baggage, but either way something is stopping her from being comfortable with interacting with you in a mature fashion, and y'all need to get that sorted out. She uses childish behaviors that put the burden on you to make all things okay, which is not fair to either of you.

Reading nonverbals should be a value-added service, not a primary means of communication. Knowing she's ready to leave a party before she says so is cool, but it shouldn't replace her ability to make words come out of her mouth.

*Alternately, some people just have to make drama wherever they can find it. I don't think that makes very strong marriages, especially if it's a one-woman show instead of a play in which you both star.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:06 AM on February 14, 2007


Women Some people are socially conditioned to be less confrontational than men other people.

Fixed that for you. My b/f is just like the 'women' people are describing here, and I (female) am just like the 'men'. I was raised in a family where everyone is quite direct, but his family go round a great many circumlocutions in order to tell each other anything.
posted by altolinguistic at 8:22 AM on February 14, 2007


Make sure to give her positive reinforcement when she is verbal and clear about what she wants! For example, you want to avoid this:

Her: [hint to do X]
You: [oblivious]
Her: Why didn't you do X!? [angry]
You: Why didn't you tell me to do X!? [angry]
=disaster

in favor of:

Her: [hint to do X]
You: [oblivious]
Her: Why didn't you do X!? [angry]
You: Oh, I'll get right on it. Thanks for telling me! [smiles sweetly]
=communication

Talk to her about it, ditto above comments, and try to be positive and encouraging, not defensive.
posted by miagaille at 8:29 AM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Jane actually never says the words "I want some cake" out loud.

Jane sounds a little nuts.

More examples of specific miscommunications would prevent this from turning into "here's what my crazy boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife does."

Now where's that cake?
posted by myeviltwin at 8:30 AM on February 14, 2007


Miagaille:

The problem I see in both of your examples is the word "hint".

Relationships shouldnt be based on word-games, hinting or some other form of subversive communication. If you want me to do something, ask me directly and succinctly to do it.

Could you take out the trash. = Could you take out the trash?
Would you like to watch a movie. = Would you like to watch a movie?
Lets go get some ice cream! = Lets go get some ice cream!
I'm concerned about our financial situation, lets talk about it. = I'm concerned about our financial situation, lets talk about it.

I'm not saying men are simple creatures and we need everything spelled out for us like 3rd graders. What I am saying is (similar to what Ynoxas said) that if your relationship has those problems, you need to reexamine the relationship dynamic.

If you are interested and involved in a relationship, you SHOULD be making the effort to stay aware of your SO and learn what they like and dont like and what their habits are. You should be "of one mind" and not have to ask stupid questions like "do you want me to take the trash out?".

Men... stand up and be proactive. Does the trash need taking out?.. then TAKE IT OUT. Does the house need cleaned?.. HELP CLEAN IT. (yes, I know you work all day, but relationships are work too)
posted by jmnugent at 8:40 AM on February 14, 2007


Seconding Deborah Tannen (You Just Don't Understand). Her books are very good at explaining direct and indirect styles of communication (the male style tends to be direct, the female style indirect) and explaining the different ways men and women talk to show why they talk the way they do (why many men won't apologize verbally the way a woman would want to hear it, why women won't ask for what they want directly, etc.). She also goes into regional style differences and high-involvement/high-considerateness (recently cast here as Ask vs. Guess) clashes.
posted by Melinika at 8:55 AM on February 14, 2007



Men... stand up and be proactive. Does the trash need taking out?.. then TAKE IT OUT. Does the house need cleaned?.. HELP CLEAN IT. (yes, I know you work all day, but relationships are work too)


Huh? What's wrong with the house? It looks fine.
posted by octothorpe at 8:58 AM on February 14, 2007 [6 favorites]


Usually, if I want my boyfriend to do something but don't ask for it, I really just want him to be thinking about me and my needs. It probably is a function of ask vs. guess - I am constantly thinking, "What can I do right now to make my bf's life a little easier?" so when I get up to go to the kitchen, I'll ask if he wants a glass of water, or I'll plug his cell phone in if the battery is low, or if I have a spare minute I'll tune his guitar that he wants to use.

My bf, on the other hand, is sometimes completely unobservant and clueless. He'll walk by the full garbage can and not pull out the bag. He'll go to the kitchen and not offer me anything. It's not that he's inconsiderate, but he just doesn't think about my needs as much as I think about his.

So for your girlfriend, it might not be that she's giving you overt "Do something for me" signals, so much as her desire for you to think about what she might want. Some guys will say that we expect them to be telepathic, but that's not true either. It's more that we expect them to be a fully functioning member of the relatiohship, and to consider our wants and needs together.

On preview, jmnugent's answer is my answer, except he's a male and I'm a female.
posted by muddgirl at 9:02 AM on February 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


Muddgirl

Exactly!... (you just said it more eloquently :)

What it really comes down to (as much of life does) is "Thinking of others before yourself." It really is that simple.
posted by jmnugent at 9:27 AM on February 14, 2007


Fixed that for you. My b/f is just like the 'women' people are describing here, and I (female) am just like the 'men'. I was raised in a family where everyone is quite direct, but his family go round a great many circumlocutions in order to tell each other anything.

It was a generalization about American society; women in general have been socialized to be 'easy going' and non-confrontational, in large part because of the gender based power dynamics in our society. Individual behavior doesn't figure in here.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:29 AM on February 14, 2007


You know, after years of frustration with my fiance because I was asking for things indirectly and he didn't get the hint, I've learned to ask for what I want, like jmnugent suggests. It just makes life easier. Also, it makes me think about what I really do want before I ask for it...so a vague dissatisfaction about how we "never go out" turns into "Can we go to the movies this weekend?" I mean, if I can't figure out what I want, how can I expect someone else to figure it out from whatever verbal and non-verbal cues I'm giving?

It is possible to learn how to do this. However, that's not really an answer to your question, sorry.
posted by cabingirl at 9:40 AM on February 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


As discussed here, men and women communicate differently. It's not right or wrong, good or bad, just different. Women tend to think of the needs of others first, while men tend to put their own needs first. Unfortunately, this can lead to the "if you really loved me, you would....." thinking by both parties.

Communication is a skill. It has to be learned. Most of us don't learn good communication skills growing up, so we struggle as adults. Some of her inability to articulate her needs and wants may come from immaturity, lack of communication skills and/or just not knowing herself well.

Ask her, nicely, what she wants and needs. Share your wants and needs. It is hard, yes. Relationships shouldn't suck, but nobody said they were easy.

Long ago I was taught by a wise sociology professor that
"disappointment can't happen if expectations are met, but you have to make your expectations known".
posted by socrateaser at 9:52 AM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


She might really think she's asking. My partner and I have this problem all the time. For example:

Him: "lets go to a movie tonight"
Me: "Oh, I just bought this new DVD. We should watch it tonight."

... time passes ...

Him: "Hey, we need to get ready to go soon if we're going to catch that movie"
Me: "You know, it woudl be cheaper if we stayed home and watched this new DVD"

... time passes ...

Him: "Why aren't you ready to go?"
Me: "I don't want to go to that movie. I want to stay home."
Him: "I've been planning to go to this movie all day. [angry] Why didn't you say you wanted to stay home?"
Me" [angry] I DID tell you I wanted to stay home. Two or three times.

I think you can see where the communication breakdown is in the above example. Its frustrating for both of us, and I do try really hard to find a way to say "I really am not interested in seeing Borat, sorry" without actually coming out and saying those words (because I don't want to insult his choice of movie).

Often, women don't want to come out and say "your choice sucks" so they'll offer an alternate choice - but even if the alternate choice isn't what you want, try to realize that the fact an alternate was brought up probably means that your first choice isn't really on the table.

Also, what muddgirl said.
posted by anastasiav at 10:04 AM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Notice that by asking us this question, you're probably doing the same thing you're frustrated with her for doing: Refusing to ask her directly what she needs from you, and refusing to tell her directly what you need from her.

Tell her what kind of communications cues you need. Ask her what kind of communication cues she's using that you're not picking up on. Find a compromise somewhere in between.

And the point above is key: Once you talk about this with you, you have to be willing to respond to her new improved requests without animosity. Most women are deathly afraid of being accused of nagging, which is partly what starts this passive-aggressive style in the first place, but if you're not responding to direct requests quickly and with good humor, she's going to revert back to passive styles in order to protect herself.
posted by occhiblu at 10:08 AM on February 14, 2007


Usually, if I want my boyfriend to do something but don't ask for it, I really just want him to be thinking about me and my needs.

(please assume generalization, as I don't want to type "many" or "most" in front of everything)

muddgirl: Based on your posts you seem like a really cool chick, and you seem very kind and generous, and pretty much exactly what most men want in a woman, but your outlook is what makes women impenetrable mystifying to men.

It really is a fundamental difference in the way the sexes view the world. And to men, it is EXACTLY the same as asking them to be telepathic. And to women, it is only asking to be sympathetic.

Despite pleadings of individuality and natural leadership ability, men are conditioned in almost every arena to follow the leadership/direction of others. Unless they are "the boss" at work, they are told what to do. The military is built upon "do as you're told". Team sports are entirely predicated on doing what you're told, and nothing but. I mean, a guy on second base can't even decide to steal third without getting clearance from the 3rd base coach.

Men are much, much more comfortable being told what to do, when to do it, and to what extent to do it.

Dig a hole, 3 feet diameter and 3 feet deep, right here, by 6 o'clock tonight. Most every man can comply with that order.

That is a world away from the inevitable:

He: Where do you want to eat?
She: I don't care, anywhere is fine.
He: How about mexican?
She: Oh, no, not mexican.
He: Then what do you want?
She: I don't care. Whatever.

repeat 27 times.

See, the man wants a definite order/request, and we absolutely, sincerely, honestly, cannot understand why the woman won't just give us an answer. The woman wants the man to intuit what she wants, and grows increasingly aggravated when he "guesses" wrong.

Women should say what they want. Men should understand women enough to know what they want. These are not compatible viewpoints.

The only solution, truly, is compromise and communication. Otherwise, it is bedlam.

So, despite the length of these responses, the only possible solution to the poster's query is to talk to her. Asking yourself to become adept at interpreting non-verbal clues is needlessly difficult and fraught with chances for misunderstanding and disaster, whereas she only needs to verbalize her wishes.

Which seems more reasonable?

anastasiav: I'd watch damn nearly any DVD with you to avoid Borat.
posted by Ynoxas at 10:11 AM on February 14, 2007


He: Where do you want to eat?
She: I don't care, anywhere is fine.
He: How about mexican?
She: Oh, no, not mexican.
He: Then what do you want?
She: I don't care. Whatever.


I feel lousy about recognising this, but.

What you're supposed to do here is keep throwing out suggestions until one sounds good to She. It means 'I don't really have anything in mind; I haven't really thought about it. But, now that you mention it, I suppose I'm not in the mood for Mexican.'
posted by kmennie at 10:27 AM on February 14, 2007


dropping hints, and then getting angry when the other person fails to pick up on them, is passive-aggressive and unhelpful. I don't see this as a stereotypical "men are from mars/self help books are rip-offs" thing- I know plenty of men, myself included, who act this way on occasion.

You will never be able to read her mind and she shouldn't expect you to. You both need to work on communicating better and more directly.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:29 AM on February 14, 2007


What you're supposed to do here is keep throwing out suggestions until one sounds good to She

See I guess people have different expectations and views on relationships. To me, this whole fetishizing of a wife/gf as "She," some unknowable creature who can never possibly be understood, is absurd superstition, and I would rather kill myself than be in a relationship like that.

If it's not two people interacting as equal human beings, i really don't see the point. but again, everyone is different.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:32 AM on February 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


[ok now i realize kmennie was only saying "She" because the dialogue used the name "She" for the woman and I feel kind of stupid. But i stand by my opinion.]
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:34 AM on February 14, 2007


hobgadling: If I were you, I would tell her what you told us, say that you want to make her happy and you want to avoid fights, but that you can't read her mind and so she needs to meet you half way and tell you what she wants. This should help quite a bit.

I was going to say that the answer is a combination of what jmnugent and muddgirl said: (generalizing here) women should learn to say what they want, and men should make an effort to anticipate their s.o.'s wishes so they don't have to be told everything that the women want. I make a genuine effort to say what I want (although sometimes I fail bc I really don't want to say what I want, or more commonly, I know I want something but I haven't figured out what I want.) I know this is a skill women can learn, but I've learned it against my natural tendencies. But can men (those who don't naturally know how to do this) learn how to anticipate their s.o.'s needs/wishes? I'm seriously wondering if it's possible (in those who aren't accustomed to it).

(If too much of a thread hijack, disregard.) As frustrating as it is when he doesn't realize that the trash is overflowing (and that's his chore) or that the house is a disaster, it's REALLY frustrating when I say ten times, "the house is a disaster - please pick up your clothes & p.s. don't turn me into a nagging monster," and he STILL doesn't pick up the clothes. I feel like he genuinely forgets/doesn't notice. Is there a solution to that? (Or am I just being duped?) I realize a major component is that he doesn't CARE that the house is a disaster or the trash is overflowing. I feel like I HAVE to nag because even when I ask explicitly, he still doesn't do it unless I elevate the nagging in some way (ask 10 times, get angry, etc.)
posted by Amizu at 10:47 AM on February 14, 2007


Ynoxas, I wasn't trying to present myself as anything spectacular, especially compared to my wonderful boyfriend. Usually I am a complete slob who can't clean up after herself. Usually, my boyfriend is thoughtful and does stuff for me without me having to ask. I don't really find the "stereotypical female" or "stereotypical male" thought patterns all that mystifying. They're just different.

As for your "What's for dinner?" example conversation, it's important to note that I've had that conversation many times. Ynoxas seems to think that the Woman really really wants to go to, say, Italian food, but doesn't want to reveal that fact to the Man,for a mysterious reason. That's completely not the case. She's not lying when she says she really truly doesn't know where she wants to go for dinner. Or else, she knows where she wants to go, but she know's it's not where he wants to go, so she won't even suggest it. Yes, many people are capable of such a complex thought.
posted by muddgirl at 11:15 AM on February 14, 2007


Amizu
"(If too much of a thread hijack, disregard.) As frustrating as it is when he doesn't realize that the trash is overflowing (and that's his chore) or that the house is a disaster, it's REALLY frustrating when I say ten times, "the house is a disaster - please pick up your clothes & p.s. don't turn me into a nagging monster," and he STILL doesn't pick up the clothes. I feel like he genuinely forgets/doesn't notice. Is there a solution to that? (Or am I just being duped?) I realize a major component is that he doesn't CARE that the house is a disaster or the trash is overflowing. I feel like I HAVE to nag because even when I ask explicitly, he still doesn't do it unless I elevate the nagging in some way (ask 10 times, get angry, etc.)"

A couple things I have comments/opinions on:
I dont believe in "his chores" or "her chores". If you are living together, its a team effort or it doesnt work. (you might need to clearly communicate this to your SO, who may not know how to have a good enriching productive teamwork relationship).

Personally.. if I had a girlfriend that I had to nag on constantly to do things..I'd drop her like a hot iron. I expect my SO to be a mature adult, capable of taking care of themselves AND participating fully in a relationship. If they cant, they shouldnt be in a relationship.

Joining together in a relationship should be an "elevating" experience. (in every manner of speaking) ("the whole is greater than the sum of the parts"). It should be a joyous thing where you combine your strengths and conquer your weaknesses easier because you are there to support each other. (and there should be lots of great sex :P )
posted by jmnugent at 11:23 AM on February 14, 2007


I'm a little mystified by the notion that "men are one way and women are another and individuals do not figure into this equation, GET OVER IT GIRLIE" attitude. Distilling trends is completely useless if not based on empirical data--in this case, individuals.

I know plenty of males who are dominated by passive -aggressive ESP-speak. And I know a couple females who speak their mind--as one of these it is endlessly infuriating to be asked over and over "what you really mean" when what was said is a straightforward SVO sentence.

Yxonas, if you have a restaurant in mind, why are YOU expecting the female to INTUIT THAT?
posted by shownomercy at 11:31 AM on February 14, 2007


RE men and women and conditioning: look, it’s kind of like height. Most men and women are close to average, but the tallest people are likely to be men and the shortest are likely to be women. As a group, men are taller than women but that doesn’t tell you anything about my height relative to my co-worker or my lover.

I don’t know to what extent it’s conditioning or brain lateralisation or what, and I don’t really care, but I definitely prefer my communication spelled out. And I definitely have ovaries. My beloved has learned to say, “I want you to get me X for my birthday. It can be obtained at Y.”

Sometimes it’s a lot of work figuring out what I want, and I want it taken seriously when I finally do. But often it’s a case of “everything I do I do to please you and I hardly ever ask for anything so when I do ask for something I expect you to hop to it and get it for me now.”

And sometimes you just aren’t expecting her to say she wants something, so you don’t hear her when she does.

She: Let’s go out to eat.
He: Ok, there’s a new place around the corner I wanted to check out.
She: No, I want to go to X.
He: Ok, let’s go.

In this dialogue She never notices there’s a conflict. They’ve both stated what they want and She gets what She wants. The best of all possible worlds, a perfect script, life is good, no conflict to be seen for miles.

He, however, may be steaming. He said where He wanted to go and was immediately shot down. He didn’t think it was worth being an ass about so He allowed himself to be shot down, and it’s not like He absolutely had to go to the restaurant he’d picked, it’s just that... She always gets her way. His suggestions don’t get listened to unless he raises his voice, and he doesn’t feel like having raising his voice all the time.

When He goes silent on her, tuning her out because She doesn’t accept his restaurant picks, She is completely bewildered. Since when does He care? What’s the big deal about a restaurant? What’s this about restaurant picks last week and the week before??? She can’t remember anything about those discussions at all. What’s He storing up in that paranoid mind of his?

Think about this: often when you are happy with someone it’s because they are accommodating. Things work out the way you like. So it’s worth lowering the bar a little and making sure you pay attention to what your accommodating friends/partners/lovers say. They might be more clear about what they want than you realise.
posted by kika at 12:05 PM on February 14, 2007


Other than having her explain why she is mad after this happens, is there any way that I can start to pick up more of what she is telling me non-verbally?

General question to ask yourself: Am I good at picking up non-verbal communication? If yes, then the question is "Why can't I pick up her cues", which is a larger issue.

If no, then you're going to have to pay a lot more attention to her, in order to pick up her non verbal clues. A good way to pratice with this is to listen and watch for other peoples non-verbal clues/cues and see what they "say".

Here's a link for non-verbal communication: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/EQ6_nonverbal_communication.htm

Either way, why not just talk to her about what her non-verbal cues are? Done enough times, you should be able to pick up what she's saying.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:10 PM on February 14, 2007


jmnugent - Interesting that you don't believe in his chores/her chores, but we do. (For example, he's MUCH better at cooking than me, and I'm much better at laundry/folding than him, and it makes sense to specialize most of the time.) I don't see how that relates to this discussion about communication differences. As for breaking up with someone bc you have to nag them... I'm guessing you probably haven't dated many men. Of course it's a generalization, but there's a reason for the stereotype that women nag and men get nagged, and not vice versa. If I were only to date men I didn't feel like I had to nag on occasion, I'd be reduced to a very small sample size. Relationships can be wonderful and elevating even if there are frustrating communication issues to deal with occasionally.

muddgirl - Exactly. (Re: dinner).
posted by Amizu at 12:15 PM on February 14, 2007


Amizu
"Interesting that you don't believe in his chores/her chores, but we do. (For example, he's MUCH better at cooking than me, and I'm much better at laundry/folding than him, and it makes sense to specialize most of the time.)"

I can understand that and would agree that its a good solution if thats what works for you. Most of the relationships I've seen that use that example tend to get lopsided over time (1 person starts to feel that they are doing more of the "work") Personally, if i see something that needs done, I just do it. (whether I'm good at it or not, after all, the only way to get better is to do something more often :)

"I don't see how that relates to this discussion about communication differences."

Teamwork on chores (or anything in a relationship) takes effective communication. Those two things are not seperate .

"I'm guessing you probably haven't dated many men."
HA!... No, I havent :)

"Of course it's a generalization, but there's a reason for the stereotype that women nag and men get nagged, and not vice versa."


Yes, I agree, there is some truth to that stereotype. I would think that its mostly due to the fact that parents continue to teach their children stereotypical gender roles instead of teaching their children to be open minded. Boys are brought up (and taught) to be "men" (who poorly communicate and dont ask for directions) and girls are brought up (and taught) be to passive and nagging. The cycle of having generations and generations of bad relationships wont end until we quit reinforcing gender stereotypes and start teaching boys AND girls how to be better adults.

"If I were only to date men I didn't feel like I had to nag on occasion, I'd be reduced to a very small sample size."

I think you'd be suprised. (although demographics, might depend on where you live.)

All this with a grain of salt though.. what do I know.. I'm currently single. ;P
posted by jmnugent at 12:38 PM on February 14, 2007


Get both the books mentioned above (You Just Don't Understand and Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus) and then both of you should read them. I think you should get both of the books, I devoured one and could hardly make it through the other.
Also, If you ever get a chance to see a one man play called Defending the Caveman, do it. It's really funny and when we went to see it there were a remarkable number of couples who were walking out holding hands.
posted by BoscosMom at 12:44 PM on February 14, 2007


Regarding the "What's for dinner?" discussion, for onlyconnect (girly girl) and me (hard-headed boy) those discussions play out like this:

Me: Let's go eat. What are you interested in?
Her: Doesn't matter.
Me: How about Lebanese Taverna?
Her: Maybe not; we just ate there.
Me: Hmm, what do you suggest?

This draws out the desires of the initially passive party and it also alternates the "shootdown" position between us, avoiding the one-sided frustration at being shutdown over and over that somebody metioned, because each person gets shootdown authority during the course of the exchange.

onlyconnect also mentions that we sometimes speed through the first few rounds by having the originator put forward a small set of options, which can avoid several of the back-and-forth cycles.
posted by NortonDC at 12:58 PM on February 14, 2007


Definitions are helpful too. 'Would you take the trash out when it reaches this level on the garbage can please. I know we can actually get many more things in there but it makes me increasingly nervous and grumpy to have a towering game of blockhead going on under the sink".
posted by BoscosMom at 1:00 PM on February 14, 2007


You don't say what sort of things trigger this reaction which makes it trickier to help...

If it's the "where you're going to eat tonight" type of issue where she's not expressing her preferences, then you two need to talk about how you communicate - she may need to be more direct, you may need to ask more specific questions "I'm happy to pick a restaurant if you don't have a preference, but before I do, is there anything you don't feel like eating tonight?" (on preview, what NortonDC said!)

If it's chores, the answer is a bit different. And as other posters have mentioned, there is a point at which one partner may get to the point where they think "I've asked so many times that if I ask directly again, then he'll think that I'm nagging and I want to be in an equal relationship, not one where I have to nag all the time like my mother did" and so they stop asking, and just get annoyed instead. If one partner just doesn't notice when the trash needs taking out and one does, then you may want to think about a rota or building things into a routine - you check the trash on your way out the door each morning and take it out when it's full, she changes the sheets on a Wednesday night when you're at your weekly poker game. Or sharing - if she's cleaning the oven, make that a trigger for you to pick up the hoover.
posted by finding.perdita at 1:01 PM on February 14, 2007


Our compromise on the "Where to go for dinner?" debate is that we both start out by saying what we don't want and triangulating from there. Lots of options always helps too!

Me: I don't feel like cooking. Want to go out?
Him: Ok, but I don't feel like anything spicy or adventerous, so no Thai or Mexican.
Me: I'd really like a nice sit-down meal, so no takeout pizza or Chinese.
Him: How about Italian or that new steakhouse?
Me: I'm still avoiding pasta, but steak sounds good. Let's go!
posted by platinum at 3:37 PM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't have any tips for you, but i've gained some fantastic ideas for dealing with the inevitable dinner conversation that we both dread.
posted by mileena at 5:33 PM on February 14, 2007


I'm taking it upon myself to address your underlying situation and not really your question. You can study non-verbal communication, but I don't know how useful that will be for you.

I third [I think, it might be 4th] You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation by Deborah Tannen.

I'd like to add that it is a very concise book and is most useful if both of you read it.

To be perfectly honest, I don't think that non-verbal communication of the type you are asking about is communication at all. And the disconnect you are talking about will probably only get worse as time goes on because she'll get more frustrated and less patient and start being all "you never" and "why can't you...?"

You're engaged, so this is the perfect time to really work on your communication as a couple.

Another book you might want to check out is Ten Lesson's to Transform your Marriage by John Gottman. I suggest this book because it summarizes Gottman's work on marriage and communication within a marriage, but it includes actual conversations from couples and Gottman parses them down and shows where the conversations go wrong or go right. This is incredibly useful for learning about the "meta" of difficult discussions with someone you love.
posted by Mozzie at 5:53 PM on February 14, 2007


I'm a woman, but I tend to communicate in a masculine way- I have worked with mostly guys in my career. The way I explain the difference in how men and women communicate is "I never walked away from a conversation with a guy thinking 'What did he mean by that?.'" Guys say what they mean, women expect you to interpret it. Ask her exactly what she wants if she isn't explicit in her communication. Don't judge her, it's what she was taught to do. It just doesn't make it any easier for you when she communicates that way.
posted by kamikazegopher at 7:30 PM on February 14, 2007


People learn from their families how to communicate. You and your fiance will marry and become a new family. You get to/have to make new rules.

When one of you is addressing a tendency or habit that the other has, just talk about one instance. "Here is what happened today; how can we handle a similar thing when it comes up next time?" It's really easy to say "You sometimes do this," or, "I don't like it when you..." but that doesn't get the two of you closer to a solution. It ends up sounding like a complaint instead of an effort to work together.

If/when she says something like, "I thought you knew/You should have known what I meant," try hard not to let your frustration derail the conversation. You're trying make a plan for what to do next time -- try to stay focused on that, instead of how crazy unreasonable she's being. Hopefully, she'll do the same for you when you're not at your best.
posted by wryly at 12:15 PM on February 15, 2007


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