I'm just stating a fact, not asking for something
May 31, 2015 3:17 PM   Subscribe

I know this is about guess verses ask culture, but is there any way to get around it?

The hubs and I come from two different backgrounds and we're still relatively new to each other (three years now). He's an extreme introvert that grew up in a guess culture and I'm definitely an ask person. I'm more than willing to take "No" for an answer on pretty much anything with no hurt feelings, and he's gotten good at recognizing that. I've gotten good at recognizing that he will say "yes" to nearly any request because he was raised to think that people don't ask unless they want to hear yes. So, we're working around that.

But what we haven't been able to work around because it's so ingrained in him is when he tries to parse the meaning of what I'm saying when I only mean what I say, and nothing else. For example, if I make an offhanded comment like, "I think the temperature has dropped a little. Do you think it's a little chilly?"

His immediate response is often, "Do you want me to turn up the heat?"

Um, no, I just voiced an opinion and asked a question. I didn't make a request at all. I didn't even voice it as a request. I raised four kids. I know how to voice a question as an imperative. I'm also perfectly capable of saying, "Would you turn up the heat? It's cold in here." as well as turning up the heat mydamnedself, because, you know, I have functioning hands and feet.

Another example, say we're eating out and I order coffee, and the coffee is a little off, maybe bitter and I'll say, "Hmm this coffee is bitter. It's probably an old pot."

His response will be, "Do you want me to have them get you another coffee?"

Gods! No! I just commented on the bitterness of the coffee. I'm perfectly capable of flagging down a server and having them swap it out if it's too awful. Otherwise, bitter coffee isn't the end of my day. Note: I don't say all of this, I think and feel it. I'll usually just say, "No, it's cool." or, if it is too bitter, I'll say, "No, I can do it." and flag the server down myself.

While logically I understand that this is an ingrained part of his basic personality, it still irks me. I can't not comment on things, or we'd never have another conversation again. I mean it's not just the negative stuff he tries to parse. For example when we went to the store the other day I noted aloud that there was a Michael's (a craft supply chain) nearby, and he smiled and said, "Are we going to Michael's" No! I just noticed it was there! Ugh!

I want to have conversations with my husband that don't involve me inwardly seething -- even if it's only for a moment or two -- because he's trying to guess what I 'really mean' when I'm commenting on things around me. Or are we just doomed to a lifetime of this? And if we are... my question is, how can I stop from being irked by this? Telling myself that he can't stop himself from doing it hasn't really helped. I've talked with him about it, and I think he's tried, but it's involuntary. Second nature. The questions come out before he even thinks about them. Is anyone else in this type of relationship? What did you do?
posted by patheral to Human Relations (102 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Ok, well what do you want him to say then? "Yes, there is a Michael's"? He's taking your starting point and making conversation. It gets tiresome when your end of the conversation is just "Oh" all the time.
posted by ctmf at 3:23 PM on May 31, 2015 [144 favorites]

What stories are you telling yourself about why he's responding the way he is?

What if you replaced them with "It's so sweet that he's concerned enough about me to want to help solve every little thing or cater to my every whim."

(It's a different story if he's feeling or displaying resentment about the offers he's making. If that's the case, he may find When Anger Scares You helpful. He might find it helpful anyway; it helped me overcome some of the unhealthy co-dependent parts of my Guess upbringing.)
posted by jaguar at 3:31 PM on May 31, 2015 [14 favorites]

Come up with a canned response that let's him know that it really was just a comment, not a request and that you don't need him to do anything (without having to repeat that over and over). For example, "Sweetie, thanks for asking but I don't need anything."

So, you can still comment, he can still try to take care of you but you can let him know (easily, politely, without aggregation) that this is one of "those" statement and then the only change you need from him is to recognize the signal and agree to back off once you give it.

To make it work, you two will need to talk about it ahead of time. You've already laid the groundwork - understanding that you are from two different cultures. You just need a signal to let him know when it is happening in the moment.
posted by metahawk at 3:32 PM on May 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

His answers both seem completely appropriate to me, so I guess that's my culture as well. I think you can just say, "No, thank you" without getting frustrated every time he offers to do something nice for you.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:32 PM on May 31, 2015 [78 favorites]

If you're using language that suggests you're uncomfortable ("chilly" weather, "bitter" coffee), you can't blame your husband for wondering if you are. I wonder what would happen if you started letting your husband do some things for you. Let him get the replacement coffee, for example. Yes, you have hands, etc, but he's asking if he can care for you. It's not something worth being angry about. If he can't change his personality, you have to try to change your attitude.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:33 PM on May 31, 2015 [125 favorites]

I don't think this is an ask/guess thing so much as you're not being a great conversationalist. You just want to say things without relating them to anything. For your coffee example, I'd be stuck on what to say if I didn't mention you wanting to complain or get a new cup. You can expand the conversation by saying, "nah, not a big deal I just prefer a different taste profile, would you like to take a sip?". You're making everything a dead end. He's commenting - just build off of his comments. His comments are quite typical and normal to be honest. Your side is the wonky side to me.
posted by Aranquis at 3:33 PM on May 31, 2015 [141 favorites]

There are two things going on here. But while initially it seems like you feel he's being clingy or something, and trying to please you (in a way you find annoying), I'm not sure that's the case.

In your first example, well, I'm an ask person, too, but if I suspected the other person weren't saying all they meant, and I asked "Do you want me to have them get you another coffee?" and they answered, "No, it's cool," I'd feel that was a little, well, not passive-aggressive, but a little less than open. If they said, "No, it's cool, I'm just letting my thoughts out to stroll." I think you SHOULD say, "Naw, honey, if I wanted you to do something, I'd ask you, and if I wanted something to be DONE, I'd probably do it myself. But I appreciate you wanting to resolve the situation for me. But yeah, the best response to my statement really is, "Oh""

But taking your Michael's example into account, I think the issue is that his way of following up on a comment is to look for more information. You accept that you can't NOT comment; why do you mind that he also can't NOT comment on your comment? He's just saying, basically, "I acknowledge the statement you've made and wish to explore it in greater detail, perhaps asking you questions you've not yet considered."

If someone says to me, "Hey, there's a Kohl's!" I'm going to ask either, "Do you not have them where you live?" or "Would you like to go in?" or "Do you have strong opinions about Kohl's you'd like to share?" Because the followup to someone making a statement is to either completely ignore it -- which would be rude -- or to add on to the conversation. You're husband seems to be doing it the "right" way, but not right enough for you, so you need to know what do you WANT him to be saying when you make statements?

Would you prefer if he responded to every declarative statement with, "patheral, I acknowledge that you've spoken, and assume you do not wish me to make inquiries" or do you have a plan for what you would like to hear?
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 3:34 PM on May 31, 2015 [43 favorites]

I wouldn't be able to stand that either. I like to be able to comment on my experiences without being forced into some position I'm not taking. I like other people who like to conversationally speak about their experience of what's going on around them too. What's there to talk about otherwise? Just the logistics on whether to ACTUALLY turn up the heat or get another pot of coffee?
posted by Blitz at 3:34 PM on May 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think he's just looking to be helpful. If someone said the first two examples I might respond the same way he did.

As for the last one, his two choices of response are either "Do you want to go?" or "We should go there sometime."

It seems that maybe you like to say things to fill the silence and he's just trying to be practical.
posted by blackzinfandel at 3:35 PM on May 31, 2015 [9 favorites]

I'm not sure this is about Ask vs Guess so much as it is about small talk. I think I'm more like your husband here, and from my perspective, what's the function of commenting that the temperature is a little cold or the coffee is bitter? There's not really enough "there" there to base a conversation on, so of course I'd be wondering if you wanted me to do something about it. Not like all comments have to have an explicit purpose, but there's a reason "how 'bout that weather lately" is a byword for "safe" conversation between two people who don't really want to connect.
posted by dorque at 3:36 PM on May 31, 2015 [7 favorites]

If someone said to me "I think the temperature has dropped a little. Do you think it's a little chilly?" I would 100% take it as an opener for a conversation about actually turning the heat up or down, and you wanted my opinion on changing it. I would probably respond by asking if you wanted to change the temperature.

Maybe you need to take these things a bit less seriously. His responses to all the examples you posted seemed perfectly reasonable to me. He's certainly not trying to be malicious.
posted by christiehawk at 3:38 PM on May 31, 2015 [14 favorites]

Best answer: If he's an extreme introvert he may have forced himself to learn the conversational strategy of "ask a related question."

Teach him introvert strategy #2: acknowledge and related true statement.

I think the temperature has dropped a little. Do you think it's a little chilly?
No, I'm fine. It must be because it's cloudy today.

Hmm this coffee is bitter. It's probably an old pot.
There aren't many customers. Maybe they don't realize how long it's been there.

Would that be better?
posted by ctmf at 3:45 PM on May 31, 2015 [36 favorites]

What response do you expect him to make? I think it would help to clarify that. With regard to the Michael's store: do you want him to say, "Yes, it just opened last week"? Or, "Oh, that's been there forever; I can't believe you only now just noticed it!" Or, "Do you have any craft projects in mind?"

I could imagine other responses to the coffee comment, but his seems reasonable. Another might be, "The coffee here seems to be pretty bad a lot of the time. Maybe we should go somewhere else next time, or not order coffee."

If you don't expect a thoughtful response, then you're just vocalizing your own thoughts without actually intending to have a conversation. He is interpreting them, not unreasonably, as the opening of a conversation. That's not an Ask vs. Guess difference; it's orthogonal to that polarity/continuum.

You also seem to have a lot invested in the notion that if you actually want something done about a situation on which you comment, you can and should it yourself, and that therefore his offering to do something for you is an affront to your independence. Maybe that's not the case and I'm just reading it into what you wrote, but if there is even a touch of that, it might be time for some introspection.
posted by brianogilvie at 3:45 PM on May 31, 2015 [16 favorites]

Best answer: I feel the need to stick up for you as I could have written this question myself. But I think this is a way of existing that not everybody shares, and you just have to get used to it. Like, Oh yeah, there is a Michael's, let's file that away for the next time we need to hit up a Michael's. Cool! Done and done. Yep, coffee's bitter. Sorry to hear that, mine's fine. Thoughts are just passing observances on current conditions, and conversations are just voiced thoughts. For some people thoughts are commands and actions, and conversations are made of commands. Everything is a command or a request or an action. You just have to get used to that, and either phrase things as commands, requests, or actions in the first place or not be put off when you offer a passing observation and they request a command or an action instead. "Are we going to Michael's?" "No, not right now, just noticing it for the future." "Okay." "Do you want me to flag the waiter?" "No, I'm just noticing it."
posted by bleep at 3:47 PM on May 31, 2015 [13 favorites]

I'm from Ask culture and your husband's response's sound reasonable to me. You're complaining, he's asking if you want something and suggesting something he can do to help. Or you're mentioning a store being present and he's thinking "well she wouldn't have made this observation for no reason" and responding appropriately.

If you're just making pointless observations for no reason then he's likely kind of at a loss for what to do in response. Speaking from experience I would far prefer this behaviour than a noncommittal grunt as response to anything that isn't a direct question.
posted by Sternmeyer at 3:48 PM on May 31, 2015 [15 favorites]

Best answer: I get where you're coming from. I really like to be able to just shoot the breeze, too, and I would feel annoyed or penned in if I felt like everything I said had to have some sort of point behind it, which I sort of think is where your annoyance is coming from?

The thing is, I've found it's kind of tough to teach people how to have a conversation with you. Not least because other people also have preferred communications styles too!

So while I do think there are some good tips on how to handle this in this thread, you might also try actively adjusting your thoughts to focus on the love and affection behind his responses. Right now, it seems like you're kinda taking the least generous interpretation of his responses (that he's trying to manage or appease you) but would it help if you reframed it in your mind as this is one of the small ways he shows you that he loves you and wants you to be happy?
posted by lunasol at 3:49 PM on May 31, 2015 [11 favorites]

It seems like just 'stating fewer facts' would help a lot. Of course you don't have to comment on these things, particularly when they are negative and you don't want anything done about them. Announcing that you are too cold and your coffee is too bitter -- these are not polite conversation starters. They sound more whiny than anything else. Ask yourself why you want to broadcast these things?

As for the neutral "There's a Michael's there," you claim you're trying to make conversation, so why is his response a problem? "No, not now anyway, just noticing... Wow, a lot of big box stores are going up here; [blah blah blah local economy]."

I agree with Aranquis. This isn't an ask/guess thing so much as it is inability to start and keep a small-talk ball rolling. Your husband sounds quite normal. The anger at him (Ugh!) feels so over-the-top for the situations that I can't help but wonder if you are actually angry at something else entirely. "We're still relatively new to each other," three years in... Do you guys just not have great communication period, and is that why this one trivial aspect of it is such a locus of frustration?
posted by kmennie at 3:57 PM on May 31, 2015 [70 favorites]

Imagine his perspective in the first two examples: you appear to be complaining and then rejecting his offers to help. What do you think his AskMe would be like? "My wife constantly complains about things but doesn't seem to want me to do anything about it. She's getting more and more annoyed with me, and I have no idea why."

The Michael's thing is different, and your reply should be "Nah, just filing it away for future reference." Without rancor.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:03 PM on May 31, 2015 [25 favorites]

Another commenter wrote: "Thoughts are just passing observances on current conditions, and conversations are just voiced thoughts."

That's one way to think of conversations. But it's not the way most people I know think of them. They think of conversations as voiced thoughts that are intended to produce a response from the other person(s) engaged in the conversation, and that are tailored to their personalities and interests.

Remarks don't have to be requests or commands, but if they're not, and you're making them to someone, they should permit a response that goes beyond, "I acknowledge that you said something."

I have a habit of vocalizing my thoughts when I'm by myself, but I tamp it down when I'm with other people, and try to only say things that I think warrant a response.
posted by brianogilvie at 4:05 PM on May 31, 2015 [15 favorites]

Best answer: There are these maxims -- Gricean maxims -- that people who want to cooperate in having a conversation hold to. Generally they can be described as "don't lie", "give the appropriate amount of detail", "don't be obscure or ambiguous or otherwise unclear", and "be relevant". As a rule, people assume that someone they are talking to is following these rules, and if they aren't, there's a deeper reason. (It's called flouting the maxims; there are zillions of examples online.)

So when you say "There's a Michael's", he assumes -- like most people would -- that you are saying this for some relevant reason and is trying to figure it out and continue the conversation. "Why is she pointing it out? Michael's is a pretty common store. Maybe she wants to stop there, I will ask her if that's the reason." Maybe his responses aren't the most creative, but your comments aren't pearls of unique beauty either.

I don't think you're a bad person for pointing things like this out for no reason -- I do it too. And it is odd that after three years he hasn't noticed that you comment on stuff just to comment. But he is doing a really, really normal thing in his responses, it isn't ask/guess or whatever, it's the human tendency to assume someone has a reason for saying something and to try to figure out what that reason is.
posted by jeather at 4:07 PM on May 31, 2015 [109 favorites]

In Guess culture, there's nothing at all offhand about "I think the temperature has dropped a little. Do you think it's a little chilly?". That's how Guess people communicate that they want the heat turned up. It's normal for a Guess person to react in the way he does when you say something like that.

In my household, we have an additional layer of complexity in that sometimes it's a request for the heat to be turned up, but at others it isn't. I'm far more Ask than everyone else, and it's a difficult path to tread sometimes to figure out what people actually want.

I'm having difficulty coming up with a response to your Michael's example that is something other than "yes", which is sort of dismissive. It's an acknowledgement, nothing more, and doesn't really lead to a conversation. I'd be wondering why you told me there was a Michael's nearby, as opposed to every other shop nearby, if you didn't want me to do something with the information. If we're not going there, I'd be wondering why it was relevant to anything and why you'd brought it up.

What do you want his answer to be like?
posted by Solomon at 4:13 PM on May 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You are making bids for attention/connection. And the good news is that your husband is turning toward your bids.

This is all very very good!

Once you get the bidding and the turning toward accomplished, it's a small habit tweak to get really well matched bids and turns. You guys are so far ahead of so many couples, you should take a minute to pat each other on the back for having really healthy communication. Seriously, you are making my heart feel warm and fuzzy.

Here's my advice.

There are many ways to make/frame a bid.

You could adjust your bid style a bit. Instead of commenting on the bitterness of the coffee, you might mention that the mugs this restaurant uses remind you of the mugs your great grandparents had in their summer cabin. As a preface to remarking on the chill in the air, you might say, "I'm comfortable and I don't need a sweater, but I noticed that this restaurant always seems to have their thermostat set to Arctic Blast. I wonder why they do that?"

Changing your bid style is probably enough to relieve your reactions. If your husband is amenable, he might consider brainstorming different ways to turn toward your bids. But again, celebrate that he is already turning toward you. Neither of you is doing anything wrong here. You are both already awesome.

He might practice thinking up reasons (from reasonable to absurd/funny) that the situation might be the way it is. Bitter coffee? The place is run by aliens and they don't really understand flavor. Or the coffee maker is an ancient priceless relic and is never washed.

For the termperature, maybe it's so cold because the restaurant has a polar bear living in the back. Maybe it's so cold because the wait staff do a lot of hustling around and you guys are sitting still. So the people moving around are comfortable (and they're there all day).

Also, practice using guess techniques on purpose. This might help you notice how often you use them without being consciously aware, as nobody is 100% ask or guess. For him, practicing using ask techniques might be uncomfortable, but maybe set aside a few minutes each day (or even once a week) for him to do that in a totally safe space. Also, you can practice making requests using techniques where it is explicitly unambiguously clear up front that he can totally say no with absolutely no negative repercussions. Or maybe even reward him for saying no....
posted by bilabial at 4:22 PM on May 31, 2015 [45 favorites]

Best answer: My husband did this a bit and, while I appreciate that he is so kind, I like to be able to make both positive AND negative comments without having it perceived as a call to action. I agree that it can be irritating and a little stifling.
I started either prefacing things - "Just asking, I don't expect you to do anything, but do you feel cold?" I also phrase things more directly and completely - "Oh, there's a Michaels. I love going there, but not today, of course" or "Wasn't that a Petsmart last month?" or whatever.
So, I guess I have started anticipating HIS anticipation of my needs and head him off. And he has gotten a lot better about just letting me make the stray observation without trying to "figure it out."
As far as pet peeves go, we could do a lot worse, right? ;)
posted by hiker U. at 4:24 PM on May 31, 2015 [9 favorites]

Your husband's responses sound totally normal and reasonable to me, not to mention thoughtful since he's looking out for ways to make you more comfortable. (And while it's Guess Culture to fish for offers of favors instead of directly asking, it's not really Guess Culture to offer to help when someone mentions they're uncomfortable.) I can understand why you'd be annoyed and frustrated, though, especially if he does it often and you prefer to be self-sufficient.

I think it's more reasonable for you to work on being less annoyed than for him to stop responding in this way. It is possible to train yourself out of getting annoyed by things: when the annoying thing happens and you start to feel yourself getting worked up, tell yourself "I choose not to let this annoy me," and take a deep breath and count to ten. It sounds overly simplistic but I swear it works.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:27 PM on May 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Your husband is responding completely normally to your statements. Obviously, there is a lot of individual variation, but he is following the Gricean Maxim of Relation:
The maxim of relation, where one tries to be relevant, and says things that are pertinent to the discussion.
In fact, the example of someone remarking that "it's a little chilly" is one that is often used in introductory units on pragmatics to illustrate the maxims; a frequent response is to offer to close the drafty window or to raise the thermostat, because you assume that the person is bringing up the chilly window for a reason.

I think turning this into an issue of "Ask" versus "Guess" culture isn't particularly helpful; first, that's an oversimplified dichotomy that doesn't apply in every situation, and second, people falling on either end of the scales still follow the maxims.

You say "I can't not comment on things, or we'd never have another conversation again"; so you want your husband to take the opening that you've offered.

You can't expect him not to try to interpret the relevance of what you said to the current situation. That's just not how people work. So what is it that's bothering you about how he's taking that conversational opening? Do you feel like he's assuming you're not self-sufficient? What kind of response wouldn't annoy you?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:32 PM on May 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, I guess I did come off as whiny, but I honestly don't think I am. Those were just the examples that came to mind. And I don't really mind bitter coffee or chilly rooms, I just notice when the temperature drops or the coffee tastes different and I comment on it. It's not really complaining, just commenting. Which is why I'm usually puzzled that he asks if I need him to fix it, because I'm not complaining.

Ideal conversations starters: weather/chilly

Me: I think the temperature has dropped in the last few hours. Do you feel a little chilly?

Him: Yeah, it does feel a little chilly. That's kinda weird.
Alternatively: I feel fine. But you're weirder about these things that I am.

Me: I know, it's a little late in the year for it to be this cold.
Alternatively: Yeah, I know. But that's what makes us a great couple. :P

blah blah blah

Coffee conversation opener:

Me: Hmm the coffee's bitter. Must be an old pot.

Him. Huh. that sucks. Did it taste that bad last time we were here?

Me: No, this place usually has better coffee. Maybe they're too busy to notice. I'll get the server.

blah blah blah


Me: Oh, hey look, there's a Micheal's over there.

Him: Yeah, I noticed that last week when I drove by.
Alternatively: Huh, I never noticed that. Now you know where it is in case you need it.

Me: I can't believe I've driven by here all this time and missed it.

blah blah blah
posted by patheral at 5:00 PM on May 31, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I am not sure about this guess vs. ask thing, as it's a new thing that has cropped up and it seems like a huge fad to me (sorry).

But... I have been through these sorts of dialogues with my husband. We'll be shopping together, and I can't find "A" and I am grousing about it, while trying to scan the shelves, and knowing in my heart that the store doesn't carry "A" but I just want to be left alone to look. And he will run off and ask a clerk or cashier, which is really not what I want. I don't want to do that. I want to look at things and browse. I most definitely do not want to be left standing in an aisle by myself, waiting upon him and a store clerk, who has never even heard of "A", let alone can find it in the store (the last case was chickpea flour).

I think what it comes down to is, I prefer to shop by myself. His goal is to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible, while my goal is to shop and create menus in my head while I shop, and I often stop and ponder and create in my head and he just keeps interrupting me. Or he'll go off ahead of me while I am still wondering about lemons and then I forget that I wanted to buy asparagus because it's on sale so I have to go back.

Same in a big box store. Oh, look at this feel it. He just stands there. I'm like, "feel it! It's so soft!" He still stands there. "Feel it!" Okay, he finally feels it. But he still wants to get through the store and find the solution.

I guess my take on it is that (some) guys are not great shopping partners, they don't react the way your girlfriends will react, and my husband is a great guy, he is super sensitive to some things and a total dolt at others. I have to sort of pre-empt him on some things. If I am looking for an odd ingredient, I will say, please don't ask a clerk, it might be in this area of the store and if they don't have it, oh well.

What I want when I say things like that is validation. "Yeah, it's bitter." "Oh cool, Michael's, we'll have to go sometime!" So maybe you could tell him that's what you want. Not to fix things, but validation. It seems so simple when you're with a girlfriend, but people who are raised differently (I don't want to say all men, but maybe men of a certain generation or who haven't been indoctrinated into women culture) might just be clueless.

The best you can do is say, "If I want you to do something, I will ask, otherwise, I want you to say, yeah, I understand." And have a good sense of humor, because I know I do things that annoy my husband too and he's a nice guy who never holds grudges and let's things roll off his back. And his heart is in the right place: he wants to help and to please me and who could go wrong with that? If I am irritated, it's up to me to manage my irritation and not take out his niceness on him. My two cents, FWIW, you just have to say, "love you honey, but it's fine," and appreciate him for the things he does. But yeah, shopping together sets my teeth on edge sometimes. He sits in the car a lot so that avoids some of it. YMMV.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:01 PM on May 31, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: He is being a total Guess. And it is totally possible for him to stop relating to you in this way-- everyone saying "what do you expect him to say!" Is missing the point, imo.

Just keep redirecting. "No, I'm just glad to know there's a Michaels." "No, I was wondering if it was just me." Etc. And talk about it-- tell him you know he means well but it leaves you feeling hemmed in.

If I say "does it feel cold in here?" It doesn't matter if I want the thermostat turned up or not, I'm asking a question for a purpose (I want to know if I have a chill, and I want to know if the other person is cold). Being offered the thermostat right away would bug me too, because I asked a question to get and answer, and now I have to ask it twice-- every time. I totally get why that's frustrating and if he listens to you you guys can work it out so you're both feeling heard and appreciated.
posted by easter queen at 5:02 PM on May 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think you really need to figure out the point of why you're saying those things. They're shitty conversation starters. And it's weird of you to insist here that you don't really mind being cold or drinking coffee that tastes bad.

Is it that you just want to be free to bitch a little? If so tell him that.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:07 PM on May 31, 2015 [34 favorites]

I'm like the poster child for guess culture. Grew up in Connecticut, even. And I'm feeling deeply uncomfortable just reading your conversations! So you guys might want to work this out because I couldn't handle it, myself.

For example, the temperature thing. If my SO said she thought it was a bit chilly I would assume it was a passive aggressive way of getting me to turn up the heat. If I then offered to turn up the heat and she said no, I would assume it was even more passive aggressive and would be annoyed as hell. I'm having the willies just thinking about it.

Take that as you will. But if your goal is simply to provoke conversation this is about as sub-optimal a way as I can possibly imagine to go about it with someone who is guess culture.
posted by Justinian at 5:08 PM on May 31, 2015 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, if you're looking for a way to just talk a little about these things it only requires a tiny adjustment on your part. For example, "It seems like the temperature dropped a bit. That's odd for this time of day/year/whatever". That makes the point of your statement the oddity or simple fact of the temperature change rather than focusing on the discomfort it is making you feel. And provides a natural path for a conversation.
posted by Justinian at 5:10 PM on May 31, 2015 [29 favorites]

You may already be doing this, but pay attention to your tone of voice when you're making these observations, too. Even better, ask your husband about your tone of voice when you're making these observations. You may be sounding annoyed, even if you're not feeling annoyed, and he may be picking up on the tone more than the words.
posted by jaguar at 5:23 PM on May 31, 2015 [5 favorites]

Ideal conversations starters - it's not conversation if you're doing both parts. There's a clear theme of the sort of feedback you're looking for when you bring this stuff up; you need to figure out how to ask for it and stop being mad when he guesses wrong. Lots of great advice above!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:40 PM on May 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I confess to not having read all the responses. But besides your interpretation in terms of how you take it emotionally being possibly less than reasonable (as I have seen some people note), I think it may also be the case that you're just factually wrong in what HE'S saying. I think you're also attributing to him things that HE hasn't said.

In this example:

For example, if I make an offhanded comment like, "I think the temperature has dropped a little. Do you think it's a little chilly?" His immediate response is often, "Do you want me to turn up the heat?"

You think that he is thinking that you secretly mean "please turn up the heat" and just didn't want to say that. I don't think that's necessarily true. I think he heard "I'm cold" and thought "She's cold! I have an idea, I'll turn up the heat and then she won't be cold anymore! Hubs to the rescue!" and then he suggests it. So maybe when he does this you could insert "I have an idea" in front of whatever he says (like you insert "in bed" after a fortune cookie), and then you won't feel like he's putting words in your mouth and won't be annoyed.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:43 PM on May 31, 2015 [22 favorites]

I would find conversing with you to be pretty baffling. Having someone start conversations that are effectively minor grousing can feel unpleasantly negative for the receiver, especially if they are powerless, and in fact not supposed, to fix the issue.

Start conversations with him that lead to ones that you enjoy, rather than voicing mild discontent or random observations.
posted by Candleman at 5:45 PM on May 31, 2015 [26 favorites]

I'm a guess culture person and I would respond the same way to the comments about it being chilly and the coffee being bitter. But those don't strike me as having to do with guess culture or passive-aggressive anything. Those strike me as your husband wanting to do something for you because you're saying something that indicates you're unhappy. The noticing that you're near [store x] and getting a question about whether you want to go also strikes me as very normal.

I agree with the person upthread who says that it's good that your husband notices your bids for attention and responds to them positively (with questions/offers of help designed to answer what he perceives as the needs that drive your question). The bad news is that your emotions in response suggest you're somehow unhappy, because your response to his bid to help you is to get angry at him. Anger and contempt about your partner are well-known predictors for marital troubles.

It sounds to me like you feel like he's patronizing you and he feels like he's trying to be nice. Normally I wouldn't suggest counseling, but this is the sort of thing where a neutral third party might be able to help you sort out some ways to communicate that leave you less frustrated. (And possibly him, too.) Or perhaps other subjects for small talk ("how about that major local sports team?" is a classic of the genre).
posted by immlass at 5:47 PM on May 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

His responses seem very male to me--he thinks he should take action in response to your comments, while you seem to just want to be heard. Personally, I like action and I think he's showing you that he cares about comfort. Languages of love and all that.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:55 PM on May 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm saying this not as criticism, but just as fact (heh): the examples of conversation you posted are boring as hell to me, and I always get frustrated by people who talk that way. It just feels like I keep having to come up with creative ways to say "yes, dear." If the temperature is slightly different than normal, is there some reason that's interesting? It feels like the speaker is talking without taking into consideration my experience as a listener at all. I also very much get annoyed by constant comments on the negative side.

I guess the point is that it might help you to think of this not as him being wrong and you being right, and to consider, when making comments about your experience of the world, phrasing them in ways that make them interesting or amusing or at least more likely to generate interesting conversation. And for negative comments, to recognize that for some people they really can be kind of oppressive if they're a frequent thing.

Examples of less boring (to me!) remarks:
Me: I think the temperature has dropped in the last few hours. It feels almost chilly! I wonder if fall is finally starting.

Me: Hmm the coffee's bitter. [I can't think of a way to make this interesting-yet-not-complainy or not basically pointing to the obvious (to me) conclusion that someone should ask the waiter for a new cup; maybe you can! If your intention is to hail the server, then say or do that in conjunction with your comment.]

Me: Oh, hey look, there's a Michael's over there.
- I never noticed that before! [makes it clear why you're making the comment]
- I wonder when they opened! [gives him a conversational hook]
- Me: I can't believe I've driven by here all this time and missed it! [shows excitement, which is inherently not-boring. Might be conveyed by the original statement if said in an exciting tone!]

To be honest, that last Michael's example is actually fine by me if the speaker's tone gives a hint as to why they're saying it (like excitement). In that case, the question is how your husband is asking you if you want to go, i.e. joining in on your excitement and making an exciting offer (wanna go??) or making a reply that feels more like he's humoring you (which, as someone said above, might be you reading into his not-considering-the-hearers-experience remark .

Basically, I think it would help both to talk about this a bit with your husband (and definitely not in a you're-wrong kind of way!) and also to adjust your own style, at least a little.
posted by trig at 5:56 PM on May 31, 2015 [21 favorites]

Yes, what if I only had a penguin... said. I imagine the Michael's suggestion, in his head, went,
"Are we going to Michaels?"
You: !! Today? Do we have time?
Him: Hell yes, let's go to Michael's, it'll be fun!
You and him: Yay!

Instead you were displeased, leaving him puzzled how it happened that he's a bad person for suggesting something you indicated you might like. I mean, you could just say no. That kind of puts the ask/guess shoe on the other foot - he didn't guess well enough to not ask.
posted by ctmf at 6:00 PM on May 31, 2015 [10 favorites]

When I read your question it reminded me of the book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus", because in it the author asserted (as paraphrased by Wikipedia):

"One example is men's complaint that if they offer solutions to problems that women bring up in conversation, the women are not necessarily interested in solving those problems, but mainly want to talk about them."

Disclaimer: I am a husband but not your husband, and am making an observation not trying to solve your problem. (:->)
posted by forthright at 6:06 PM on May 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

By the way, since I think maybe my comment about "people who talk this way" was a little harsh: it wouldn't bother me if this was a non-frequent thing. I only start to feel frustrated if it's really characteristic of their conversation. So it might be worth considering how often these kinds of conversations happen in the first place.
posted by trig at 6:13 PM on May 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: OK, people are being mean. I just want to say it's TOTALLY FINE for you to want to check in with your partner, or point out new information that could be useful (a new store). You don't have to be fascinating every moment, and if your husband thinks it's boring for you to ask what he thinks... well, I just doubt he does. My boyfriend and I talk like this all the time... "Hey, this drink tastes sweeter than usual" "Yeah, I don't think that guy mixed them the way the usual girl does" "Oh, not cool. Anyway, when do you want to see the movie?" Etc.

Like, it's nice of him to WANT to help, but I'd be a bored of fielding "helpful" requests, myself. No, I don't want my drink remade, it's a waste of time.Sometimes you just want to be like "hey, what's up with this?" and get someone else's take. A long-term relationship is full of minor collaboration and note taking.

From trig's comment, it wouldn't be that hard for the husband to do those same things. If you say "hey, new Michael's!" He could be like "oh you're right, I wonder when that popped up?" But he'd have to trust that you're capable of saying "lets go to store" when you want to go to store, and that when you DON'T say that, you're just noting something for future reference. And so on.

From personal experience, I think it just takes time and communication to make it clear that when you want, you'll ask. In the thermostat conversation, if my partner says "do you want me to turn up the heat?" I'd be like "? I don't know? Are they cold? Will they be hot if the thermostat is turned up? I'm not actually that cold... ?" Like it drives me batty to feel like a princess being waited on. It might be part of a "female" communication style, where you want to get a consensus and act on that, or just share information cooperatively. People who are saying you're grousing or being boring are missing the practical aspect of communication I think.
posted by easter queen at 6:33 PM on May 31, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Y'all have given me food for thought. Thanks. I know that I cannot control someone else's actions, only my own actions and reactions, so I knew from the beginning this was all on me. I'm nearly 50 and have conversed with other people all my life, so I know how to start conversations. He's not my first rodeo.

Just to be clear... I don't begin every conversation with a mildly negative comment about something around me. We actually have many great and fulfilling conversations. Otherwise I would have never married him. It's only when I do that this happens and we go into this loop of him trying to solve a perceived problem that I didn't ask him to solve and me being annoyed because I didn't even state there was a problem. I just made a comment about something. I don't understand why that's so difficult to comprehend.

If I'm out with my friends and I say the coffee is bitter they'd say, "Get another one." Or "Yeah it is." or "Don't drink it." or offer to taste it, or ask which coffee I got, something like that. Same with a drop in the temperature, "Yeah it's chilly." "Put on a jacket." "I don't feel chilly" or something to that affect. Male, female, doesn't matter. I've rarely had someone... actually I've never had someone in my life who assumes that if I make a mildly negative statement about something that I need it fixed right now. It's just not something I'm used to. I supposed that's why it annoys me. And I know that's all on me. Which is why I asked what I can do about it.
posted by patheral at 6:38 PM on May 31, 2015 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I think this isn't an issue of Ask vs Guess culture, it's another thing, and while it is also about communication, this is more about the style of communication.

Direct communicators treat all conversations as calls to action - like your husband, and my own mother is the same way. Direct communicators like clear statements, clear understanding of situations, and they respond to questions with answers.

Indirect communicators, like me - and it sounds like you - instead prefer to be more playful with communicating. A question can merely exist, and the response to a statement is likely another statement (potentially only tangentially related), and the long arc of a conversation is more important than an immediate resolution.

The odd thing is, I feel like Direct communicators do not understand Indirect communicators. I've tried for years with my mother, and with friends, to get them to understand that "no, I was just being funny, that statement didn't mean anything" to no avail. My solution is temper my own annoyance at this, and realize that they are being wonderful, selfless people, we just have wildly different modes of communication and I have to accept that.

It is frustrating, though, because I know how to be Direct, and I will be Direct when I need to. But conversation is so boring that way, I'm so much happier when I can make playful observations and play off of others' observations. Maybe a (Direct) conversation you can have with him is stating that you want more playfullness, and less man-problem-solving.*

*disclaimer: I am a man and I like problem solving. I just get really tired of everyone (mostly men) always thinking they have solutions to everything
posted by special agent conrad uno at 6:39 PM on May 31, 2015 [7 favorites]

I should state that all my closest friends are Indirect communicators. We have the most fun just sitting around and telling jokes and talking about absolutely nothing. We love small talk. Small talk is the greatest opportunity to take language out for a run, give it a stretch, see how far you can take it till it actually becomes nonsense.

It's like dancing with someone: what does it mean? Hopefully it just means you are having a good time.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 6:45 PM on May 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Direct communicators treat all conversations as calls to action - like your husband, and my own mother is the same way. Direct communicators like clear statements, clear understanding of situations, and they respond to questions with answers.

Indirect communicators, like me - and it sounds like you - instead prefer to be more playful with communicating. A question can merely exist, and the response to a statement is likely another statement (potentially only tangentially related), and the long arc of a conversation is more important than an immediate resolution.

Oh god this is so me, the direct type. I can be tough to have a conversation with because I look at everything someone says with a sort of meta-look "What are they saying that FOR?" and even though someone might be saying a thing just to make a joke or have a bonding moment or explain a thing or offer information or whatever, I'm still always concerned (as someone who is frequently confused by other people but really would like to interact with them) with "why are they opening their mouth?"

And with people I am not that close with it's a lot easier to understand the social lubricating purpose of small talk and I like it and am good at it. With my partner, I really just want to convey "I love you and care about you" in most of the things I say if I am just being ... normal-like chatty. We like each other. But I am also okay being quiet. And so if I say something (like the silent four year old with the bad oatmeal who speaks for the first time in his life) there's a reason.

So as you say you want to know what you can do differently. I think it's two things

- offering more hooks to hang a reply off of so it's clear you're not just dangling a discontent in there since you now know he's mister jump-in-with-a-solution guy (and his conversation style is equally valid, so there's a back and forth needle adjustment here)
- being more direct (and not simmering annoyed) to his responses "Hey thanks mister fixit but I am good, just talking to be talking" (this would work with me I don't know what magical words would work with you)

There seems to be an undercurrent of "I CAN HANDLE MY OWN SHIT THANKS" that seems to be running through some of this. You don't seem to feel it with the exchanges you relate with your friends, but they also aren't part of Team Us so it's not that surprising that they might not be all "Oh hey I can help" whereas your partner is. Maybe asking him in a quieter moment if you talking about things that are vaguely problem sounding makes him agitated for some reason. Who knows what button it might be pushing? My guy likes to read street signs out loud. I hate it for no rational reason. I asked him to stop. He stopped (eventually) and that's been better for us. So try to find the in-between place for Team You guys, I'm sure it's there somewhere.
posted by jessamyn at 7:05 PM on May 31, 2015 [16 favorites]

I learned a long time ago that making pointlessly negative comments was bad for conversation and annoys other people.

Lots of people think "Oh, sure, I know that, but I don't so it that often, or it's just a little bit..." But I would even go so far as to say you should really NEVER be saying pointlessly negative things, especially not frequently enough to add up. It really it a lot more draining and annoying to listen to than most people realize.

Like you really need pretty much a 9/1 positive-to-negative comment ratio IMO. Definitely not 50/50 positive to negative. For whatever reason the human bias is to over-hear the negative.

I think you want to be validated. You want your husband to say "yes, I agree, you are right." Or "no, you are crazy, it is not cold." But your husbands's point, as it were, is that it really doesn't matter. The coffee will not taste less bitter to YOU if it is less bitter to him. There is no "coffee bitterness panel." Your experience is your experience.

I would start:

1. Not being as negative as often
2. Making longer statements explaining what you're looking for. "Am I crazy or is this coffee cold?" Or "Was that Michaels always there?" Or "What is your opinion of this coffee?"

I think this is mostly on you to be honest.
posted by quincunx at 7:12 PM on May 31, 2015 [15 favorites]

It has taken me decades to realize that when my dad says "Let me do THING for you!" he's not saying that I can't do the thing, he's saying "I love you." And it takes an herculean force of will to occasionally just smile and say, "Sure, dad, thanks!" instead of "I can do it myself!" Because of COURSE I can do it myself, but in his mind that is totally not the point.

And the funny thing is that as much as this drives me up the freaking wall, I do the exact same thing. I am a fixer and a caretaker. The urge to "take care of" is so strong that the words are often out of my mouth before my brain can say "Shut up and LISTEN!". So don't take it personally. We mean well. :)
posted by rakaidan at 7:13 PM on May 31, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Is there anything about his tone of voice that makes him sound especially patronizing when responding in this way? If so, I'd work on that with him.

Is there a seething undercurrent of existing discontent that has made what is a minor nuisance into a major pet peeve?

If you're not genuinely upset with him about anything else, then the solution is going to be a combination of getting him on that basis where you can *very kindly* say "you're doing that thing again" and he can go "oh yeah" without apologizing effusively. It has to be the right playful balance where neither party is patronizing or paternalistic. It will help if you do find a way to see this as a completely charitable thing; he is not trying to make you stop talking or force the conversation to a logical ending, he's genuinely programmed over many years to always interpret conversation in a "is it my turn to do something?" sort of way. And yes sometimes that personality is internally conflicted with other things (perhaps "why does she seem so hostile towards me?" can be a factor) and might bristle at small talk eventually, anticipating a negative outcome. Of course if that's the case, he can catch himself eventually and find a way to engage you in the way that you prefer. Ultimately it's bigger than this peeve, whether there's an underlying problem or a fundamental difference in personality.
posted by aydeejones at 7:13 PM on May 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have friends whose main form of small talk is making minor complaints (eg It's chilly & The coffee is bitter). In moderation that's great, but personally I find it odd and a bit frustrating when there is too much repetition of complaints with no movement towards fixing anything.

we go into this loop of him trying to solve a perceived problem that I didn't ask him to solve and me being annoyed because I didn't even state there was a problem. I just made a comment about something. I don't understand why that's so difficult to comprehend.

Again, just working from your examples, two of them were very direct problem statements: you coffee is too bitter, and you are chilly. They are simple problems with simple solutions, and offering help ("should I bring you a sweater?") is a normal, friendly thing to do. People above have given examples of how minor rewordings of those sentences change them from being problem statements into more general conversational openers, and I suspect that small changes in how you are saying these things will make a big difference in the responses he provides.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:15 PM on May 31, 2015 [6 favorites]

And yes not to be old-ist, and I'm terrible at this myself and have to catch myself, but speaking negatively as small talk or "just sayin'" can be very grating and borders on "crotchey old people" behavior, not to be ruthlessly age-ist. But there's a reason there are negative stereotypes associated with the "Debbie Downer" personality, but it's often much more mundane than Debbie Downer, not complaining about existential woe but constant minor details like variations in coffee bitterness (I am both you and the person who would want to fix your problem in that regard).
posted by aydeejones at 7:16 PM on May 31, 2015

I've never had someone in my life who assumes that if I make a mildly negative statement about something that I need it fixed right now.

Well... isn't this implying it is because you have someone in your life who cares about you enough that doing something to make you happier is the first thing they think of? That for them, it's 'no effort' because it is for you?
posted by Elysum at 7:24 PM on May 31, 2015 [5 favorites]

It might be useful to use some CBT type analysis to tease out the facts of the situation from the emotional response you are having to the situation. Your internal dialog in the first two examples, e.g., really emphasizes how you perceive his problem-solving attempt as an affront to your status as a competent, independent, capable mature adult human being. On your husband's behalf, I almost want to say, woah, lady, he's just trying to be nice!

If you look at that from a CBT perspective, you have a behavior (husband responds to offhand comment with offer to help) that results in a series of thoughts from you (husband thinks I asked for help [even this is not a "true fact" but an interpretation on your part], husband thinks I need help, husband thinks I can't get up and change the goddamn thermostat because he doesn't think I'm a grown ass adult wtf) and this leads to a feeling (irked, annoyed). But perhaps there are different thoughts you can substitute in there that will lead to a different sort of feeling outcome: thoughts such as "my husband wants me to be comfortable" or "my husband is concerned about my needs".

It may also be worth exploring your history a bit to figure out why this pattern is so irksome to you. Maybe no one in your life, ever, has shown this type of response to your off-hand comments, but is it possible there is someone who did and it did occur in a dynamic in which you felt inadequate? Or is it possible that subconscious feelings about your health problems or your financial/employment situation are coloring the thoughts that pop up when your spouse pitches these unsolicited offers for help?
posted by drlith at 7:36 PM on May 31, 2015 [6 favorites]

Hey, for what it's worth, I really wasn't trying to criticize or be mean. The reason I made my comment was because even though you say it's on you, you still say things like "I don't understand why that's so difficult to comprehend." It really is a matter of different approaches to communication. To me, again as an example, it's more like "I don't understand why it's so difficult to comprehend that conversations this indirect can feel pointless and frustratingly empty." (Also, since gender's been brought up a few times, I'm a woman. And yet to me self-sufficiency also means just getting yourself a new coffee without having a whole conversation about it first. Different styles!)

Since you say you want to change your own response, here are two suggestions:
1) Mentally translate "Do you want me to get you another cup?" into "Don't drink it!"/"Put on a jacket!", etc. (Btw, it's interesting to think about what the difference is between the two)
2) Talk with him about how you'd like him to use an intermediate step before he asks you if he can try to fix things. Like:
"This coffee tastes weird."
"Oh, yeah?"
"Yeah, I really don't like it." -> "Lemme order you another one?"
"Yeah, not enough that I'd want another cup, but I wonder what's up."

Again, I don't think it's that you're all wrong and he's all right; I just think it's there's no question of right or wrong here at all, and being frustrated at him is weird considering he could just as justifiably be frustrated at you.
posted by trig at 7:38 PM on May 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

I didn't even state there was a problem

It might help to realize that your perception of this is different from other people's. Obviously many people here do think that you were making statements about problems. In fact, I'm one of them. I'm a woman, if that makes any difference, but I honestly have trouble comprehending your statements if you say you are not stating there is a problem.

I would have heard the statements in the same way as your husband.
1. Boils down to "I'm cold."
2. Boils down to "This coffee sucks."

If those things aren't problems to you, it's definitely not going to be clear by the words you used. You need to explain yourself further, if you pride yourself on your direct communicating style, so that people like me can understand.

"I'm cold. But I kind of like being cold because if the house is too warm, I'll feel like we're wasting too much money on heating oil. When I was a kid, my parents were so cheap about keeping the thermostat low - now if I'm wearing my shorts and it's winter out all I can see in my mind is my mom wagging her finger at me."
"This coffee sucks, but there's just something about it that makes me want to keep drinking it. It's like a McDonald's cheeseburger. Disgusting but delicious."

Maybe you don't need to explain quite THAT much, but throw us a bone here...
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:40 PM on May 31, 2015 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I would have heard your comment on the temperature as "I think it might be cold. How do you feel about it? Do you agree with me?"

Is that how you wanted him to hear you?
posted by oceanjesse at 7:43 PM on May 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: This is what y'all have given me to think about.

If I say, "It's a little chilly", I'm not saying, "I'm cold." I'm saying that I find the temperature of the room to be a little more chilly than it was before. That's it. No problem, no complaints. Just that it's chilly. I can and have said when cold, "I'm cold, are you cold? Let's turn the heat up." Now I'm hearing that saying, "It's chilly in here." is a complaint and y'all hear "I'm cold. Do something about it."

If I say, "This coffee tastes bitter." That's all I mean. The coffee is bitter. I don't mind bitter coffee. I just put a little salt in it and I'm good to go. I'm not complaining about the coffee. It just tastes different than the time before. If it was awful coffee I would say, "This coffee sucks. I'm not drinking it." But now I know that if I say, "This coffee is bitter" some people hear, "This coffee sucks. I'm not happy. Do something about it."

It's just too... weird... to have words not mean what I say. Food for thought.
posted by patheral at 7:56 PM on May 31, 2015 [5 favorites]

I don't really mind bitter coffee or chilly rooms, I just notice when the temperature drops or the coffee tastes different and I comment on it. It's not really complaining, just commenting. Which is why I'm usually puzzled that he asks if I need him to fix it, because I'm not complaining.

on further reflection, I want to address this statement too.

noun: complaint; plural noun: complaints
1. a statement that a situation is unsatisfactory or unacceptable.
- reason for dissatisfaction.
- the expression of dissatisfaction.

The reason why I suggested above that you need to elaborate on your thoughts further is that at least some of your statements are objectively "reasons for dissatisfaction". That means they are by definition complaints, unless you qualify them by explaining that although you are expressing something negative about a situation (which to most if not many people is the same thing as expressing that a situation is unsatisfactory), you are satisfied with the situation as is.

That's why I think framing this as "Ask vs. Guess" doesn't make sense - because you are actually expecting him to guess how you feel or to guess your meaning (that you don't want offers of help, that your statement about Michael's has no relevance to the preceding part of the conversation, that you don't want anything to change about a situation you just criticized). Now, if you said "it seems to be getting chilly in here - but I wouldn't want it any other way!" And he still thought you were implying something less straightforward, then I'd say you have a cultural issue. If you say something that has an illogical subtext or is objectively illogical (i.e. "I'm not complaining, but this coffee sucks") then it's not a cultural issue, it's an issue of general clarity.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:00 PM on May 31, 2015 [16 favorites]

If it helps, I don't even hear the "Do something about it" part of it, I just hear "This situation is suboptimal" and I'm a pleaser and so I'd aim for optimization just to be helpful/friendly. Others may be different but that's how I'd be rolling with those examples.
posted by jessamyn at 8:05 PM on May 31, 2015 [27 favorites]

I should have previewed as I see you're following up about the point I was elaborating on.

Consider your word choice, then. "It's chilly in here" isn't actually the same as noticing that the room's temperature has dropped, because that's just an observation in relation to the room. Chilly is an adjective referring to how the room's temperature dropping makes you feel. Chilly is a bad feeling.

"This coffee is bitter" isn't the same as.... well, I'm not exactly sure what you actually mean because I can't imagine any way coffee could taste that would be better if you added salt. Yikes! But if you're just saying this coffee is strong or this coffee is bold, that's a statement about the coffee in relation to other types of coffee. Saying it's bitter is referring to your subjective experience tasting it and implying it's a negative experience. Bitter is a bad taste.

In summary, you say the words aren't meaning what you say, but I think the words aren't saying what you mean.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:07 PM on May 31, 2015 [23 favorites]

OK apparently salt is a known cure for bitterness in coffee. That's totally interesting as I'm an avid coffee drinker and never heard of it! So you must really mean bitter. But as this article evidences, the general public would probably agree that bitter coffee = bad coffee, so your view that bitter coffee is fine and not a problem is definitely a minority view that would deserve a further explanation...
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:11 PM on May 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm examining my own reactions to what your words are here, and I would interpret those statements exactly as many people here are -- like, why would you be telling me that it's chilly? why would you be telling me your coffee is bitter? OK, a Michael's exists, and? I think you might have better luck getting your husband to hear your statements the same way you intend them if you add a tiny postscript; I'd suggest "That's interesting." Like "Oh, the temperature really dropped, it's almost chilly now. That's interesting." or "Oh, hey, there's a Michael's there! That's interesting." Because then you've supplied your own context for why you're saying these things, and your husband won't have to grope for one.
posted by KathrynT at 8:12 PM on May 31, 2015 [27 favorites]

Words don't have any inherent meaning. The meaning comes from social consensus and the contexts they are used in. If 90% of the people around you use "chilly" to mean "slightly unpleasantly cold," then it's more natural than not to associate chilliness with some unpleasantness. If most people don't like bitterness, then it's normal to associate it with some amount of negativity. To be surprised that he interprets it that way is to say "why is he not reading my mind instead of going by the definitions and context he's picked up from the world in the course of his life?"

Just ask him to use a clarifying step, and slowly he might also start to pick up on these non-negative uses of words that many people typically do use in negative contexts. And if I wanted someone to learn that I don't mind bitter coffee without coming right out and saying it, I'd remark on the bitterness with a smile and while adding salt. Or just say it tastes different than usual, which is what you're actually trying to convey.
posted by trig at 8:14 PM on May 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I have to concur, "chilly" and "bitter" literally are negative feelings and 90% of people will read them that way. You admit this in your earlier example when you say friends might tell you to "go get a jacket."

adjective: chilly; comparative adjective: chillier; superlative adjective: chilliest

uncomfortably cool or cold.

adjective: bitter; comparative adjective: bitterer; superlative adjective: bitterest

having a sharp, pungent taste or smell; not sweet.

I think in these situations, "less hot" or "cooler" would be a neutral way to state your feelings. "Chilly" is definitely negative.

"Strong" or "different" or "unsweetened" might be better in the coffee example. With a positive or neutral tone of voice.
posted by quincunx at 8:16 PM on May 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have a different explanation. I think that it's likely that his mom or a prior girlfriend was a very very hinty person. And now he has his ears cranked wide open and he's listening hard to catch any hint you might utter. It's possible he's been slammed before for missing hints that "he should have picked up." Yeah, I can understand you would like him to realize that you aren't like that other person, but I think his instinct to placate you is not all bad.
posted by puddledork at 9:07 PM on May 31, 2015 [5 favorites]

Is it possible that your husband is a fixer? I am a fixer (female, which apparently is rare?). When someone says something even remotely negative or something I can help with, I want to fix it!

You noticed a new store? You must want to go there! I will fix this!
You find the coffee bitter? Fix!
Its chilly? I can make that better!

What one of my good friends had done was say "I don't need you to fix this, I'm just making a statement" and that really helped me. I started saying 'Am I fixing?" to him and he would say "yes, but I don't need you to, but thank you" or "yes, and please continue! good thoughts!" while I started to think about the situation and if I needed to fix or it was just complaining/noticing.

Would it be okay for you to say "thanks babe, but I was just noticing. Top of my head thoughts" or something like that? If husband persists, then say "I don't need you to fix this, but thank you for trying."

That why the Fixer feels validated and can think about clues when things really need to be fixed, and maybe it will help your conversation flow?

As a fixer, I want to fix this! :)
posted by right_then at 10:01 PM on May 31, 2015 [6 favorites]

If I say, "This coffee tastes bitter." That's all I mean. The coffee is bitter. I don't mind bitter coffee. I just put a little salt in it and I'm good to go. I'm not complaining about the coffee. It just tastes different than the time before. If it was awful coffee I would say, "This coffee sucks. I'm not drinking it." But now I know that if I say, "This coffee is bitter" some people hear, "This coffee sucks. I'm not happy. Do something about it."

Imagine how the coffee thing would play out as a story rather than your conversation starter. "Today I had some coffee. The coffee was bitter, so I put some salt in it. Then the coffee was tolerable." Is this a story that would interest you to hear? If I were your husband, I'd be going batty that we are having a conversation about coffee that I am not drinking. I'd be near my wits end of my days were full of observation like, "there's a sale at Macy's", "our dog has fleas", or "your shirt is blue". Most people don't blurt out contemporeanous reports of their sensory input.

Many times when people comment about the state of things, the ultimate purpose is to discuss what should be done about it. When I go into my son's room in the morning and say, "it's almost 8", I am not just being informational - I am telling him that the needs to get moving. If my wife were to say, "I feel like eating Italian food for dinner", I would take that to mean, "let's find an Italian restaurant and then eat dinner there tonight" (I think most people would react the same). Same for if you tell me I have spinach in my teeth - you aren't relaying a "fun fact" but telling me information so I can do something about it.

The ultimate point is, since language is a mean of communication, we should be mindful of how people will react to those words and what we achieve by using those words. What do you hope to achieve by telling your husband (or anyone) that the coffee is bitter or the room is chilly? If it is "just making conversation", you may wish to think twice.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:11 PM on May 31, 2015 [29 favorites]

I think that it's likely that his mom or a prior girlfriend was a very very hinty person. And now he has his ears cranked wide open and he's listening hard to catch any hint you might utter. It's possible he's been slammed before for missing hints that "he should have picked up."

I'm thinking the exact same thing. Is his mother like this? Is there anyone in his life that he has to cater to at every possible opportunity/read their mind? Because he sounds well trained to do mind reading at this point.

I think your only way to "solve" the problem is just to keep reiterating that no, you don't want more coffee/a sweater/a Michael's/whatever. Hopefully he eventually learns not to try anticipating with you the way he does with his family or whoever.

I feel his pain: I come from Guess Culture and it's hard to believe that people are just honestly saying what they mean without secret agendas attached that I have to figure out or else I am in trouble. He's just trying to not get in trouble!
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:26 PM on May 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

patheral: "If I say, "It's a little chilly", I'm not saying, "I'm cold." I'm saying that I find the temperature of the room to be a little more chilly than it was before. That's it. No problem, no complaints. Just that it's chilly."

That's not what you mean, though, you mean it's chillier. However, I raise points like that with my girlfriend and she says I'm accusing her of "using the wrong words," so I don't really have a perfect solution. I do think that you could use your annoyance to motivate more precise word usage, though.
posted by rhizome at 10:27 PM on May 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Bitter is a bad taste.
posted by treehorn+bunny

Ok, as an avowed drinker of Fernets, amaros, espresso, and occasional wormwood tea, I could NOT disagree more :)

Bitter is merely bitter. Bitter can be wonderful. A nice dark cacao, single origin, at 87% is going to be bitter. AND GORGEOUS.

Adjectives are merely adjectives. Chilly is positive when applied to beer. Obviously chilly is generally perceived as negative when applied to room temps... but this thread is all about perception. Her husband is mis-perceiving her intentions, and applying context which does not exist. Sometimes, for some people, adjectives are merely adjectives.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 11:28 PM on May 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm straight out of guess culture. Most of your examples would definitely inspire an "are you saying you want...?" reaction from me. In fact, when I read the Chilly example, I thought "how healthy - he's asking if you'd like help." There are people who would just say "oh here!" and reach to turn up the thermostat.

This is a real thing in Guess culture. You'd never say "can I have the last piece of pie?" because you wouldn't want to deprive someone who really wanted it. So you'd say "who wants the last piece of pie!? How about you, Bill? No? Marjorie?" Along the way, you find out who could maybe help with the last piece if nobody else wanted some, and more importantly, if someone hadn't gotten any pie at all yet -- and settle on the best outcome for the group.

Likewise, you'd never say "can we turn up the heat?" because you wouldn't want the heat turned up if doing so would cause discomfort to others. So you'd poll the group: "I'm chilly, is anyone else?" You'd only say "can we turn up the heat?" if you knew your need was so acute that it was a trump card (i.e., so important that others' feelings were basically irrelevant).

So, "I'm chilly, how about you?" translates directly to "I would like to turn up the heat if that would not cause you discomfort," and could be efficiently answered by just agreeing and reaching for the heater knob.

For me, a couple things would help:

(1) A direct request that he not try to help -- "hey hon, can we talk about something? I've noticed a pattern, where I mean to state a fact, but it comes out like me expressing a need, and you offer to help meet that need. I know you're just being your friendly, helpful self. But for some reason, I hear it as though you're implying I'm not capable of fixing the problem myself or directly asking for help. I know you mean well, but could you please not offer to help? Even if it sounds like I'm saying I'm not comfortable? If I'd like help, I'll ask, I promise. By not jumping in to help, you make me feel more free to say whatever random thing I'm thinking."

(2) Gentle reminders, like the suggestion above to come up with a catch phrase that you repeat. (I like jessamyn's "thanks, mr. fixit, but I'm good.")

(3) Just being aware that if your conversational opener could be heard as "I'm uncomfortable," that he is really likely to try to fix that.

(4) Making it clear how he can help, e.g., "how long has that Michael's been there?" "would you taste this coffee? I'm curious if you think it's more bitter than normal."

(5) Making clear how help isn't needed, e.g., "interesting! this coffee is more bitter than usual here. It's not bad, just very different." "I just got chilly. How about you? I actually kind of like it."
posted by salvia at 12:00 AM on June 1, 2015 [8 favorites]

Heh. I read your question a while ago, and the first ten or so answers, and I'm a little late to this now but I couldn't stop thinking about this, and I had to come back and say: Yeah, I understand you, but your first several answerers and their favoriters sure didn't. I recognize that reflexive "what are you really saying" pattern, but it's hard to convey, with a few examples about cold and coffee, impossible probably, to someone who hasn't experienced it to the point that they're oversensitized to it. It really can be exasperating. I believe you, and trust your ability to judge what's going on besides "just" trying to be helpful, as some would put it.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 12:51 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am apparently like you, and I was really surprised by a lot of the responses to your question. In your situation I might feel: frustrated that conversations were going at skew planes; sort of invisible/not heard; as if my partner didn't respect me enough to take what I said at face value and was instead putting words in my mouth or attributing intents/motivations to me that aren't there... The 'fixer' response also sometimes makes me feel shut down - like the goal of the 'fixer' response is to make the conversation/interaction end as quickly as possible.

I am also a fixer and have been the person with the inappropriate responses. In a past relationship, a partner and I had a lot of success using a safe word to stop conversational train wrecks and navigate a bit before going forward. Like if he's bitching about his day and how shitty everything was, and I'm doing what I feel is helpful/appropriate by asking why he did/didn't do x or y, or making suggestions for how the shit might have been avoided/might be avoided in future, he goes '(safeword) - I just need you to be on my side, here'.

Thinking about it, I suspect that in current relationships with people I'm closest to, conversations are negotiated/consciously navigated maybe more frequently than I'm aware of - I think that there's a fair amount of 'not looking for solutions, just having a moan' and 'are you venting or troubleshooting?' and 'have I done something wrong?/ NO, I AM TELLING YOU A THING THAT I APPRECIATE ABOUT YOU, NOT TELLING YOU OFF FOR NOT HAVING DONE IT BEFORE' and 'what are you looking for/here's what I'm looking for in this conversation/when I say something like x' sorts of things - it's just part of the process. I think maybe for me, meta-conversation is sometimes a part of conversation in a relationship and I don't give it much conscious thought anymore.

When my feeling in response to someone's small talk (or their response to mine) is irritation and 'well, where did you expect the conversation to go from such a pointless comment?'/'why the hell are you responding like that?' - it means I don't like the person, not that they suck at small talk. Almost any conversational ball can be volleyed back with interest when the conversational partners like and respect each other (and feel liked and respected). When it's the conversational equivalent of someone letting a ball you threw hit them in the chest while their arms hang by their sides and they stare at you/the ball with a puzzled expression on their face, or they catch the ball and then try to make it into a hat or a brooch or a pterodactyl instead of tossing it back, and this is a problem that continues into a relationship past the first few months without a workaround, I feel like this is maybe a mismatch in some way.
posted by you must supply a verb at 2:25 AM on June 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

Maybe you guys could agree on a codeword that means "this is just an observation and I am sharing it because I want to know your opinion"?
Like: "look, there's a Michael's. Just an observation."
And then he'd know what kind of response you're looking for.

My husband and I have recently begun tacking "and I am NOT blaming you" to every complaint where we grouse about the state of our apartment. Because both of us wouldimmediately get defensive. It's a silly rule but it has made both of us much happier.
posted by Omnomnom at 4:12 AM on June 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

If I were your husband, I'd be going batty that we are having a conversation about coffee that I am not drinking. I'd be near my wits end of my days were full of observation like, "there's a sale at Macy's", "our dog has fleas", or "your shirt is blue". Most people don't blurt out contemporaneous reports of their sensory input.

Yes, unless there is some reason you used those examples and not others it's not your husband who has a somewhat odd conversational style. Maybe you can think about whether or not something needs to be said rather than expect your husband not to respond to statements that seem tailor-made to evoke the response you're getting.
posted by winna at 4:24 AM on June 1, 2015 [9 favorites]

I just want to comment that your negative responses to him might actually be reinforcing the behavior you wish he'd stop.

Um, no...

I know how...

I'm also perfectly capable... mydamnedself, because, you know...

Gods! No!

...it still irks me.

No! Ugh!

...inwardly seething

I would bet good money that he can tell you're irritated with him, however much you might think you're suppressing it, and his response to your irritation (with him; it's no longer about the coffee or the weather) might be to try even harder to come up with something else to do for you in hopes of finding a way back to a happy, loving way of relating to each other. Because not only is it now clear that you're unhappy (whereas before it was only a guess), but addressing that unhappiness has become much more important because now the relationship itself is at stake.
posted by jon1270 at 5:01 AM on June 1, 2015 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I also don't think there's an aspect of 'I can do it MYSELF!' here - I don't get the impression that you think he's implying that you can't do stuff yourself - I think it's that he's trying to anticipate you when there is no need for that (since what you have said is very clear) and in some cases he's ignoring what you have actually said in favour of his interpretation of what you really mean, and he's getting it wrong.

'It seems like it's gotten colder - are you cold?'
'Do you want me to turn up the heat?'


'This coffee is bitter, must be an old pot.'
'Do you want me to have them get you another coffee?'

are irritating because he is ignoring what you are actually saying (and not answering a direct question) while he's attempting to meet his interpretation of your needs when you have not expressed a need. He's not responding to you, he's responding to an (inaccurate) idea of you. It would be one thing if after getting to know you, he'd learned that this is how you express your needs, but that's not the case here. Like if these questions were being asked for the purpose of clarifying your meaning, they make sense, but after three years, unless you're being really inconsistent, that should not be happening anymore.

'Huh, there's a Michael's there.'
*smiles* 'Are we going to Michael's?'

is irritating because he's mind-reading wrong instead of believing that the words that come out of your face are accurate and functionally complete representations of what you think/feel/want.

I don't quite get the direct/indirect distinction as it's being applied in this case because it seems like you're being direct but your husband is interpreting you as being indirect. I don't understand how a direct communicator would spend time/mindspace attempting to interpret other peoples' words at other than face value rather than assuming that other people are also direct and that unless there was a request for action, there is no need for action. I feel like in your examples, you're saying something like 'this is what I am experiencing or observing' and you expect a response along the lines of 'this is what I am experiencing or observing/here is what I think or feel about your experience or observation'. (In the case of 'Huh, there's a Michael's there', a lack of any verbal response would be totally acceptable to me.) I don't see a difference between the examples you've given and stuff like 'OMG this pizza is amazing', 'The weather is gorgeous today', or 'I smell lilacs. Do you smell lilacs?' other than the fact that the statements are positive or neutral and not something that could be interpreted as needing 'fixing' or expecting anyone to do anything about it, and no one would think that something was wrong with you for saying stuff like that.

If he'd been in a previous long-term relationship with someone who did drop hints and expect action/mind-reading from other people, possibly he's just having a hard time shedding the habitual response, but I think it's valid to ask him to try.

Then again, I recently read a Carolyn Hax letter/comment where a couple has been married for 40 years, the husband does not like ice in his drinks, the wife does, and after 40 years she still asks him if he wants ice in his drink every time because she thinks it would be rude not to offer. So maybe just get used to saying 'no, thanks'. Or possibly he is having just as difficult a time adjusting to your conversational style, but then he needs to raise that issue with you and he can start saying 'interior dialogue needs to remain interior' or 'please don't make noises at me with your mouth unless a) you require me to take action, b) it is information I require, c) it is part of or will lead to an intellectually stimulating discussion or d) it is trivia about which I take an interest'.
posted by you must supply a verb at 5:10 AM on June 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

Something that really stuck out to me from your question and your follow-ups: you're getting really angry at your husband for asking you if he should turn up the heat in response to you saying, "It's chilly," but you think it's totally okay for another adult to tell you to put on a jacket in response to the same statement.

From my perspective anyway, a response like, "Put on a jacket," to, "It's getting chilly," is really obnoxious and patronizing, while asking if they should turn up the heat is just a normal sort of response to the same statement. Your husband is posing a question and the second one is a command. I think one adult giving another adult commands is rude when it's not a life or death situation, or a teaching situation. So why does your husband's response bother you so much more than the friend's response? Alternately, if you imagine your husband (and not a friend) saying to you, "Put on a jacket" when you say, "It's getting chilly," does that make you mad too? I sort of have a feeling it would.

Because of your wildly different reactions to those two situations, it seems to me like you're pissed at him for another reason that you haven't acknowledged to yourself yet, and until you sort that other bigger problem out, then his responses are going to keep pissing you off, no matter how much he changes his tone, etc.
posted by colfax at 5:49 AM on June 1, 2015 [34 favorites]

I sort of wonder if you grew up with someone very patronizing? Your anger seems to hinge on "I can do it myself!!" and seems a little hot, given the low stakes.

I suggest you teach yourself to cushion your complaint/observations with clues for him that they are not calls to action, as others have suggested - you're kind of doing this to yourself (and him.)
posted by tomboko at 5:50 AM on June 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think this whole thing about ask culture vs. guess culture can trip you up when you're trying to solve a problem like this. It is a useful concept in the sense that it helps you recognize there is no blame or ill intent between people and it's just a question of communication styles. When you have guests come to stay and they communicate differently, thinking about things this way helps to prevent ill will or resentment. But this is a situation where you need to move on past the point of recognizing that you communicate differently, and change something. That is, I think you do. This is driving you crazy and telling yourself to stop being annoyed by something-- well, that is the kind of thing that recognizing the ask/guess dichotomy is supposed to accomplish, and it's not working for you. I happen to think the ask/guess thing brings its own baggage in the form of an implication that we are who we are and that limits the amount of compromise we can achieve. Never mind the possibility that we think our way, ask or guess, is inherently superior, which I think does go on.

So anyway, in this kind of dynamic, the only one you can change is yourself. I really believe this. Getting all up in your partner's head ("The questions come out before he even thinks about them") just hard-wires your dissatisfaction. He's doing this in response to certain kinds of statements from you, and you know what they are. Is there a reason why you are attached to those statements? Could you try giving them up cold turkey? Could you switch something else to see if these encounters come out differently? There have been some good suggestions above of ways that you could keep engaging in small talk without eliciting the sort of response you don't like. Maybe ask your partner, too, what you could do differently.
posted by BibiRose at 6:24 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just wanted to chime in and say that I've gone through the exact same thing with my husband. He comes from a family of indirect communicators. They are also all very nice people, so are constantly trying to parse each other's words to see if there is any way they can help each other.

It. Drives. Me. Crazy.

I mean, it doesn't consume all of my thoughts, and often doesn't come up for months on end, but when it does, it's nails on a chalkboard annoying.

I too have thought long and hard [we have been together for 15 years] about what to do about it, and also about why it annoys me so much. And I think that for me, anyway, it's that I read into it way more than is intended. In fact, I get *offended* with the followup offers of assistance, because I read it as a criticism of a perceived inability to communicate properly. Like, I have the reaction, like you, that "if I wanted it I would ask for it!" and I also feel like they are subtly commenting on the fact that I'm not communicating clearly. (they are not.)

It's also the feeling that he should understand by now how I communicate and should *know* that I'm not doing it as a request for help. So it makes me feel a little like he doesn't pay attention to me.

Now, just bc I feel that way doesn't mean it's true -- for my husband, he's coming from a lifetime of his family's perfectly average dynamics, and it just stuck with him. He's very close with his family, and talks to them often so it's often reinforced. He's caring for me in the way that he knows best. But I just wondered if any of that resonated with you.

My only answer is that I have to acknowledge that he's showing his love in his own way and just move on. I do point it out, and he has toned down, but it's not a hill I'm going to die on.
posted by gaspode at 6:45 AM on June 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

In my experience (and talking it over with my male friends gives confirmation) this is not an Ask vs Guess thing, but a Venus and Mars conflict. The OP is expressing complaints in a small-talkish way. But guys (especially perhaps, nerdy engineers) find complaints distressing -- if there's a problem, we want to fix it. As I often say to my partner, when you're happy, I'm happy; and when you're not happy, I'm unhappy. A previous GF would often engage me in conversations like these examples, and eventually leveled with me that when she did, she wasn't looking for solutions -- like the OP seems to be saying, this was just her idea of acceptable conversation.
posted by Rash at 6:59 AM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

In case it helps reframe the behavior: At least from my Midwestern upbringing, the "Guess"/indirect tendency to offer help when none is requested actually, I think, comes from a desire to respect the other person's independence and competence by helping them avoid having to ask for help, because directly asking for something in an indirect system generally means a gigantic relationship failure has occurred. The well-run indirect system means that no one ever has to directly ask for help and admit that they have any needs they can't fulfill themselves; forcing someone to directly admit they need help would be considered cruel.

(I'm not saying this is the best system, just that some of the condescension or lack of respect people are reading into it is likely the opposite of the reason for the behavior.)
posted by jaguar at 7:30 AM on June 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Direct communicators like clear statements, clear understanding of situations, and they respond to questions with answers.

He is absolutely not doing this, though! She asks a question, he responds with another question. She makes a clear statement, he jumps to a conclusion. He may be doing something kind and even common but I have no idea why you'd call that direct.

My boyfriend and I have this pretty much worked out to a science, so if I say "hey, there's a new flavor of this sparkling water we like," he'll be like "oh, do you want to get it?" and I'll say "nah, let's get it next time, I crave grapefruit this time." Because that is a minor thing and it's reasonable to think I want it. If I say "whoa, there's a new Shake Shack downtown? What?" he'll say, "cool, next time we're looking for a place to eat downtown, let's do it!" Because obviously I'm not saying LET'S DROP EVERYTHING AND EAT HAMBURGERS if we have other plans. That is a perfectly acceptable level of nuance in a conversation with your SO, I think.

"there's a sale at Macy's", "our dog has fleas"

Uh, these are things that I'd TOTALLY want to be apprised of. Yes, I want to know if my dog has fleas! (And if I am a known Macy's shopper, I'd like to know about the sale, too.) "Your shirt is blue" is not interesting, but no one would say that without some reason, so that one doesn't count.

I agree that a code word would really help (it sounds dorky but it could be like an inside joke). My bf and I have a code word for this, actually. It's based on a story my friend told me from when he was a little kid. He was in a store with his neighbor's mom and pointed out a snack he wanted. The mom said they coudn't get it this time, and he replied with "just sayin'." So any time I'm like "WHAT, raspberry paczki!!" if he seems like he's going to Guess Culture it up and assume (in my view) that I'm like an 7-year-old girl hinting about a snack, I'll be like "just sayin."* It works.

*See, it's not always something negative. Often it's something positive! "Oh cool, new thing" is useful info. "This coffee is bitter" is in fact perfectly neutral-- some coffees are bitter, and I add a bit of sugar or salt as well. If it's chilly, my boyfriend knows that I like it a bit chilly (and he likes it warm). I use intonation to reflect this oftentimes (if I'm like "it's chilly" it's more like "it's chilly :) :)"). Anyway, I wouldn't expect a random stranger to get all this, but I've been with my bf for five years, so we communicate easily.

Not everything is a request for action. Some people are "ludic" or strategic communicators.
posted by easter queen at 8:23 AM on June 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I should also add that my boyfriend totally had a mom who liked to "hint," and so for him, he's really trying to guess what he should do all the time. (He was also relied upon a lot for emotional support as a child so he's a pleaser.)

I can also totally second the fact that the condescending tone is often what pushes me over the edge-- no one wants to feel like a woman in a diamond commercial. If I say, "cool, a new [insert female thing]," the response of, "oh, are we going to [female thing] this afternoon? ;)" is pretty tough to swallow, regardless of how nice it is. That's just an unfortunately result of ambient sexism.
posted by easter queen at 8:30 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wow, I don't understand why some people are being so judgemental and harsh towards you. I think it's clear that you feel uncomfortable mostly because the dynamic you have with your husband sometimes makes it seem like your husband perceives you as someone with an ulterior motive. It bothers you because that's not how you communicate, but your husband doesn't seem to get that. I doubt that this is about control or needing to feel independent, as some posters above have suggested. It's just a matter of wanting your words to be taken at face value. This feeling you are experiencing probably does not come from these interactions alone, but from the general dynamic that you two have cultivated over the years, which is probably why it's harder for some here to grasp the situation? In any case, I wanted to give you my support, and also suggest talking directly with your husband about this. Frame it so it's about your wish to be accepted as who you are, for your way of communicating. After all, you've mentioned that you recognise his tendencies of not being able to say no, and you try to work with it right? He should acknowledge this difference in communication style and work with you. I don't think you sound ungrateful at all, but it is good to keep in mind that his considerations are actually also a great trait.
posted by snufkin5 at 9:13 AM on June 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: You know, this kept me up most of the night last night, because y'all have read a lot into what I didn't say and that bothers me. I do have a few things to say, especially after reading some of the new responses.

I don't understand the rancor against my conversation style either shitty conversation starters and I'd be going batty that we are having a conversation about coffee that I am not drinking. Do you not take an interest in you partner's meals? When you go to a restaurant, don't you ask them how the food tastes? I do. My husband does. That's how we communicate all of the time. "Hey, this steak tastes great. How's yours?" is also something that comes out of my mouth. Same principle. The only difference is that one can be considered as slightly negative and one is positive. But both are conveying a shared experience and opening the conversation. I honestly don't get the difference. Though I'm starting to... It's just weird.

I'm pretty sure he learned this early on as some of y'all have suggested. His stepfather (we'll call him David) is/was a real piece of work -- David has mellowed over the years (I'm told) but I can barely stand to be in the same room with him for more than an hour without wanting to punch him in the face. Contrary to these posts, I'm not an angry or violent person. I have buttons. They get pushed. Anyway, the Hubs has told me through various conversations that David made his childhood/teenage years a living hell with the emotional crap his put the Hubs through, and that yeah, he did have to pretty much try to read David's moods and mind most of the time. So that's probably where this came from. But where with his stepdad it arose from fear and trying to keep out of trouble, with me it's (as jessamyn put it) "Team Us"

As for the "wildly different" responses between my friends and my husband... it's because there's a wildly different response between the way my friends respond to the way I talk to them. My friends acknowledge that I said something and move on. They don't jump to action. They're listening to what I said, not trying to find the meaning behind what I said. So there's no frustration involved. It's really as simple as that.

Look, I'm not angry with my husband every time we talk. I don't know where some of y'all got that over the three bits of conversation that I offered. I said I sometimes seethe -- for moments -- when we have conversations, and I don't like that. I love my husband, and I don't like feeling resentful towards him over this trivial thing because he is a wonderful person and he is trying to help. I don't like feeling this irksome-ness over his way of communication. Which why I asked the question. I don't even get full blown angry or even "really angry". Just irked, and annoyed. It's not like we fight over it or anything. We have talked about it before. But his call to arms is pretty ingrained, as is my way of commenting on the world around me. Which is why I asked for coping strategies.

I'll take some of your suggestions and put them to work. We'll see what comes of it. Thanks y'all.
posted by patheral at 10:42 AM on June 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

You said:

"I want to have conversations with my husband that don't involve me inwardly seething"

That signals more than mild irritation.

For whatever it's worth, I am also married to a "guesser" and I can get irritated at times. However, I have come to realize that I am the cause of my irritation. It's unfair to ask my wife to change, and probably bewildering and unpleasant for her when I act like an asshole for no apparent reason.

So I have to change, not her. Maybe it's the same for you.
posted by Nevin at 11:11 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's unfair to ask my wife to change

No, it's really not, if someone is making you feel invalidated and unheard. If you communicate and ask gently and with kindness, it's entirely appropriate (and when the other person is trying it's much easier to forgive/not care about missteps).

I used to get annoyed when my boyfriend would do this; now that I know he gets where I'm coming from, we meet in the middle. But why not try?

It might work for you to just change yourself and move on, maybe you want to be more like your wife. But some people really crave this kind of interaction, so there's no reason they need to suppress that desire. For instance. (Not that your husband is like this song, OP.)
posted by easter queen at 11:14 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine has long-term life history where he was held accountable for things that he wasn't given responsibility for, things that weren't in his control, things that he was never given a chance to get right before being blamed for getting them wrong. As a result, he's headshy about anything that sounds like a complaint, and he responds as though any non-positive statements in his presence mean that he has let someone down and/or he is being blamed and there will be unpleasant consequences. It sounds maybe similar to your husband's experience. If so, in this case maybe in terms of Team Us, his history gives him a pass for this because it would be harder for him to adapt than for you to adapt? Is he ok with talking about emotional stuff? Would it be possible to talk to him about how he feels in the sorts of examples you gave, or how he interprets what you're saying and the subtext in those scenarios? Maybe you could ask him if there's a way you could do or say things differently in those cases that would defuse things for him and/or not set off his 'unspoken expectations' alert, or maybe encourage him to expand his response to something that reflects what he's thinking when you say a negative thing (like 'Are you asking me to fix this for you', or 'Are you saying you're upset about (situation)' and over time he can recalibrate and feel safer and more confident about that sort of conversation. Or maybe when he does 'Do you want me to...?' you can see this reflexive response as a prompt to say 'I love you, you're not about to be kicked, nothing unpleasant is lurking, there is nothing here that you could be expected to have done differently or to do to fix anything, I have no expectations of you at all in the context of what I just said, I am honest-to-God just making an observation and sharing the contents of my head with you in the same way that I would if I just saw a cool-looking bird' or something?
posted by you must supply a verb at 11:32 AM on June 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

So that's probably where this came from. But where with his stepdad it arose from fear and trying to keep out of trouble, with me it's (as jessamyn put it) "Team Us"

Behavioral adaptations designed to allow someone to survive an abusive childhood don't just go away because someone's reached adulthood. Maybe thinking of this less as "Guess Culture" and more as "teenage-husband's survival mode" would help you both figure out a compassionate alternative to the current behaviors.
posted by jaguar at 12:08 PM on June 1, 2015 [16 favorites]

because y'all have read a lot into what I didn't say and that bothers me

Honestly, you shouldn't be concerned with anyone here; you really don't have to defend your actions to The Internet. But perhaps your husband is reading similar things into what you're not saying. You said you don't like feeling irked because of his responses. Have you considered that maybe he's irked because of yours?

If my wife gave me the "chilly" opener, I'd probably respond the same way, and then be irritated with her irritation at me. Seriously, I'm usually pretty good at knowing when I need to put on a sweater. So if I were to reconfigure that conversation, I'd suggest, "I think the temperature has dropped a little. Do you know what the weather's supposed to be like today?" For coffee, maybe, "Hmm, this coffee tastes a little bitter. Would you mind tasting it to see what you think?" and then maybe bring up some previous cups of coffee that you've had, ask him where his favorite/worst cup was from, etc.

I mean, this assumes you actually want to have a conversation. If not, maybe a good response to "Do you want me to turn up the heat" would be, "No, I guess I just needed a little bit of your attention, so thanks for giving it to me, love you!"

What does he do when you give a "positive" observation? E.g. "Wow, this coffee's really tasty today," or "You know, I was feeling kind of chilly earlier, but I just realized I'm really comfortable now. How about you?"

See, there's value and merit to both your sides, and the important thing is to be able to make sure that both sides are getting their needs met. It sounds like you both care about each other, so the base is there. You just need to get the specifics worked out.
posted by disconnect at 1:40 PM on June 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm reminded of a Mitch Hedburg joke: "I mumble a lot off-stage, I'm a mumbler. If I'm walking with a friend and I say something, he won't hear me, he'll say 'What?'. So I'll say it again, but once again he doesn't hear me, so he says 'What?'. But really it's just some insignificant shit that I'm saying, but now I'm yelling, 'That tree is far away!'

Some of these things (Michael's) just don't have good responses. As to the others, Hubs is picking up on something that's making you uncomfortable and offering to fix it. That seems laudable to me.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:44 PM on June 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

Please forgive me for commenting again, but since OP asked questions directed to my first answer, just a brief follow-up:

Do you not take an interest in you partner's meals? When you go to a restaurant, don't you ask them how the food tastes?

Generally, no and no. If I see my wife apparently enjoying her meal, I don't feel the need to ask. I'm not Sherlock Holmes but I think it is usually obvious whether someone is enjoying a meal. As Yogi Berra wrote, you can observe a lot by watching. That's why discussions about immediately present occurrences feel like low effort conversation, like one might strike up with a stranger at a bus stop if silences make one uncomfortable. Also, the "how does the food taste?" conversation last about fifteen seconds, so we need to find a new topic pretty quick.

I am confused by all of the analysis of your husband's childhood. I think the issue may just be that everyone has their own preferences and ideas about how much information gets conveyed and for what purpose. I am very "need to know/just the facts", but if I ask my wife what time it is, she will spend ten minutes to tell me how the watch was made. I have the impression that your husband thinks that if someone is telling him information, it is for some purpose e.g. the room is chilly, so we should raise the heat. So, when you make one of your observations, maybe you could flesh it out a bit by dropping the other shoe. For example, instead of, "these pretzels are making me thirsty", you could say, "these pretzels are making me thirsty, so I will get myself some water. Be right back." That way, it is a lot more clear than you are just making declaratory statements rather than expressing your expectations. I think salvia gave some good suggestions in this regard.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:56 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wow, I don't understand why some people are being so judgmental and harsh towards you.

I agree 100%!

I communicate with people for a living and I totally sympathize with you. These conversations would make me tear my hair out! I think these comments are helpful to the extent that they show the responses of people from other communications cultures, but I wouldn't let them make you more self-conscious.

I actually don't think that this precisely is about ask vs guess culture. Rather, I feel like you're frustrated by your husband's desire to instantly transactionalize your emotional reactions to the world. My sense is that other people may want you to communicate with absolute legibility, but you're really looking for a partner to help you process shared experiences. (What would be his response to the beautiful, pointless lists in Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book!?) Your husband's transaction approach to conversation ends up feeling like a refusal.

I love The Michael's dialogue!--that's such a perfect specimen of small talk, it's like the kind of thing you'd throw into a '90s indie flick to add realism. Someone said almost this exact line at my (creative nonprofit) office the other day and it was met with the response: "WHAT? That is awesome!" This catalyzed a flood of spiraling chitchat about imaginative projects to try out, different crafts to make, old memories, etc.--precisely because no one stopped to convert the conversation into an action item.

Almost all conversation strikes me as being a lot like your Michaels line--some random observation that can't be instantly assimilated into a subroutine. Sometimes you sound totally random and it fizzles, but not always. You're frustrated because your husband's reaction cuts the adventure short and eliminates the possibility of connecting with him. You throw him the paper airplane and he unfolds it and puts it into its preassigned manila folder of action items. You're frustrated not because you're insatiable, complainy or weird, but because his ACTION ITEM auto-response to the world means he can't reveal himself to you spontaneously or develop himself as a person together with you inside the conversational dynamics you're creating.

Also--it sounds to me that you're making amoral statements--statements that characterize rather than judge, which end up difficult to interpret if the listener wants a judgment. I don't think you think chilliness is automatically bad or that coffee shouldn't be bitter. You're just noting, doodling around and, perhaps, reveling in these states. You're looking for a conversation that's less over-determined. He can't compute. He can't send you an amoral statement back.

Another thing at play: I think you and your husband have different relationships with ambiguity. All your statements are statements of ambiguity. Looks to me like--rather than stating facts or negative intentions, like a lot of people say you are--that you're entering the conversation in a state of unknowing and hoping that he'll join you on your journey. But he doesn't know how to give himself permission to wade into ambiguity's hazy shores. It's more comfortable for him to resolve your random remarks into something clear-cut, so he doesn't have to feel the discomfort of being in a situation without obvious multiple choice responses. This has the effect of isolating you into a position, when you were flying around in motion, asking a question. This can be infuriating.

You say your friends shoot back their quick responses and they don't piss you off. They're also cutting things short, but at least they're participating. The hypothetical friend retorts that it is chilly! You're getting a real response! So far in the thread, we don't event know if your husband also thinks the room is chilly or the coffee is bitter. He hasn't opened himself up enough for us to know.
posted by johnasdf at 7:29 AM on June 2, 2015 [10 favorites]

Best answer: This is totally Ask-vs-Guess. (I'm a guesser)

In Guess culture the ultimate evil is Being A Pain In The Ass. You do NOT inconvenience someone else without floating the idea first.

In my world, "Hey, there's a Michael's" means "would it inconvenience you if I spent 20 minutes looking at beading supplies now?"

There are two possible answers: "Yep, there's a Michael's" means "Oh, god, no don't drag me in there." "Are we going to Michael's?" means "It is ok with me if we go to Michael's."

Every instance you mention involves the faint possibility of inconveniencing someone else by taking a side trip, asking the waiter to brew another pot of coffee, etc. To me, his responses read like the totally normal next thing to say. To me, they all mean "I grant you permission to do the potentially inconvenient thing."

You don't need his permission to flag down the waiter, I know. That's because you are an asker. You are not keeping a constant running tally in your head of how many inconvenient things you have done to other people this week. Truly, being a guesser is a lot of work. But we think it's just basic politeness.

I've been married 15 years to an asker. It will be a huge benefit to your marriage to get this difference in communication styles out in the open. I guarantee you there are things he's been asking for that you haven't even noticed.

You'll be thinking, "If you wanted to see that particular movie why didn't you just SAY so?" And he'll be thinking "Because I wasn't raised in a fucking BARN." When he says "Oh, X is playing" and you respond "Yah, and so are Y and Z" he reads that as you shooting down his idea. Neither of you are likely to change so it's best to get to the point where you're both conscious of it and can joke about it, then maybe you can see a movie you both like.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:00 AM on June 2, 2015 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: You'll be thinking, "If you wanted to see that particular movie why didn't you just SAY so?" And he'll be thinking "Because I wasn't raised in a fucking BARN."

Ha! You are so right. We've had this conversation almost word for word. I'm sure it's been frustrating for both of us.

When he says "Oh, X is playing" and you respond "Yah, and so are Y and Z" he reads that as you shooting down his idea. Neither of you are likely to change so it's best to get to the point where you're both conscious of it and can joke about it, then maybe you can see a movie you both like.

Navigating the conversational water with an ask/guess or direct/indirect couple is rocky at best. But it's something to work on. He's actually learned to say, "X movie is coming out. I think I'll go see it this weekend." to let me know that he's making plans. Because you're right, just him saying, "X movie is coming out this weekend" would not cement in my mind that he wants to see it. I'd just say, "That's nice." and move on with the conversation, especially if it's not one I'm interested in seeing. I've gotten a bit better at noticing that he's "asking" a question when he's making statements though. I don't always catch them, but it's something I'm working on.

But he still reads me commenting that "X store is having a sale" as me saying "Oh this store is having a sale, I want to go." instead of a passing comment.

I wonder if adding, "that's interesting" would do the trick? "This store is having a sale, that's interesting." Because it seems to me that he'd still read that as "This store is having a sale, that's interesting. We should go."
posted by patheral at 11:08 AM on June 2, 2015

I wonder if adding, "that's interesting" would do the trick? "This store is having a sale, that's interesting." Because it seems to me that he'd still read that as "This store is having a sale, that's interesting. We should go."

Not if you tell him "that's interesting" is a codeword for "Given the opportunity to do something related to the thing I just said, I would not accept that opportunity. I would rather you didn't ask me if I would like to do something related to that thing I just said." If you expect him to guess that it's a codeword, then yes, he may still mistakenly think that it might be nice to suggest something he thinks might make you happy.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:54 PM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wonder if adding, "that's interesting" would do the trick? "This store is having a sale, that's interesting."

I suspect even better would be explaining why you think it's interesting. "That store is having a sale. It seems like they're always having sales lately; I wonder if they're going out of business." Or, "That store is having a sale. That reminds me that I should look to see if the store where I found those great pants is also having a sale." Throw him a bone of context and see if it helps.
posted by jaguar at 1:13 PM on June 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

I think the reasons why he assumes you're asking for something are because he's a Guesser, but I don't think the reason you make these definitive statements apropos of nothing are because you're an Asker. You just seem to like small talk. Does he?

I cannot imagine another reason why anyone would say "look, this store is having a sale" other than to imply that they wanted to go. That's veering into "the sky is blue" territory. Maybe you could include why you think that's interesting.
posted by lyssabee at 1:17 PM on June 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I feel like I should write a travel guide for Askers going into Guess territory. Here are my observations:

Saying "no"
Saying no in Guessville is a big deal. Saying no is rude, putting someone else in a position where they have to say no is rude. The original Ask-vs-Guess thread was about an asker who wanted to crash at a NY City guesser's apartment. The correct way to ask would be "Hey I'm coming to NY. It would be great to see you." If no invite to sleep over is forthcoming, you can assume the answer is no.

"Maybe" means either yes or no, depending on what the guesser doesn't want to say. "Maybe you should add some more cumin next time" is a request to add more cumin next time. However, if you ask "Should I add more cumin next time?" and the answer is "Maybe," then the real answer is "No."

Offering to do a favor
Guessers hate to inconvenience anyone so their default is to refuse a favor. To get them to accept it, frame it as something that would be a win for you also, or at least neutral. "I'm going to be driving to the dump anyway, hauling that mattress there is totally no big thing." Many guessers come from the "no problem" belt of the upper midwest. "No problem" is a better response than "You're welcome" because it reassures the recipient that the favor was not an inconvenience.

Asking for a favor
Remember, putting someone in a position where they have to say no is very, very bad. If you must ask, build a back door escape hatch into the question. "Can I sleep in your apartment for 3 nights" is WRONG. Much better to say "I heard the hotel on Elm street is good, or if you have room I could stay with you guys for maybe one night." If they start talking about the great brunch the Elm Street Hotel does, then you have your answer. If they want you to stay they will then ask you. And probably follow up by saying how great it would be for you to stay because then you will help them remember to water the plants, so it is a win for everybody and totally "no problem."

If you think of it as some kind of cross-cultural exchange, the whole thing will be a lot less frustrating for both of you. Right now you are ascribing motives to him that seem obvious to you (and enraging) -- but he is operating according to the guess set of rules, and probably has completely different motives than what you imagine.

Guessers can require a little figuring out, but we are the glue that holds society together. That person who notices you have your blinker on and slows down to let you merge? That's a guesser.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:22 PM on June 2, 2015 [17 favorites]

Response by poster: So, in case anyone is still following this, I showed this to the hubs last night because we had a growling contest over a miscommunication this weekend (something completely different, but still miscommunication...). Anyway, I asked him if he'd ever heard of "ask v guess" culture and he said he hadn't so I showed him this question and we chatted about it.

He thinks that he's not a complete guesser, but that he leans that way most of the time. He's definitely a direct communicator, and very much a "fix it" person, so he thinks the comments I've marked as "best answer" pretty much nailed it (go me!).

We do have very different communication styles and we both have to recognize that in the other and kinda meet halfway to avoid miscommunications and irritating the other. So, thanks everyone, for your input and helpful suggestions. I think that navigating the communication waters won't be quite so rocky with both of us aware of how the other one thinks (hopefully).
posted by patheral at 12:56 PM on June 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

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