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Why Can't He Hear What You're Saying?


WebMD Commentary from "Redbook" Magazine

By Bryan Stipe

Redbook Magazine Logo

One man explains ... sort of:

It was a novice mistake, I admit — the kind of dumb thing you do two months into a relationship, not four years. My wife and I were having dinner with friends and I was telling a story about how her brother crashed his car. Yes, maybe I hyperbolized a little bit, played it for laughs at his expense. So when Kristen shot me her death-ray look across the table — the one that means: You have committed some gaffe, said something offensive, revealed something private, etc., and should cease and desist — I ceased and desisted. But afterward, on the car ride home, she was still mad. "I mean, at this point you shouldn't even apologize," she said. So I didn't apologize. I said I understood. I held her hand a little in the car, and when we got home I made a bowl of ice cream and watched Big Love. Later, Kristen came into the den, all dressed for bed, and stood silently watching Bill Paxton and wife number two in flagrante. "Well," she finally snapped, "you could have at least apologized!" When I protested that she'd told me I shouldn't apologize, she said, "It would have been a good place to start."

At that moment, I became a walking marriage cliché. You know the cliché I'm talking about. It goes: My wife speaks a strange alien tongue that I, no matter how hard I try, am too dumb to learn. It was one of those moments when you identify with that line from Knocked Up: "Marriage is an unfunny version of Everybody Loves Raymond."

But there's a reason the cliché exists: A lot of the time we guys do need help in the "What the heck are you talking about?" department. The Everybody Loves Raymond way of explaining this phenomenon is that we men are too thick to read between the lines. And, okay, this is kind of true. Kristen will try to tell me in every possible way about presents she'd like me to get for her. She might say, "Hey, those earrings are nice!" And nine times out of 10, I do not copy. I might think, Wow, she really likes to talk about jewelry a lot, or Wow, does she not realize that I'm not a woman and that I don't care about earrings? Maybe if I'm quiet for long enough she'll change the subject.

The less Raymond-y way of explaining why we don't understand you is to say that we simply have different ways of talking. Men have two modes of communication: saying what we mean and repressing what we mean. We either say, "What you said the other night really ticked me off" or we say, "Hey, wanna go see Knocked Up?" Women, on the other hand, use a little more nuance. You imply things more than men do; you depend more on subtext. I remember in the beginning of our marriage, Kristen kept telling me that I looked sexy in black underwear. It took me about two months to translate that into "Your old white underpants are graying and disgusting. Please get rid of them and replace them with something that ages better."

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