What we say and what we mean: The dangers of indirect communication

It may have come through your mail box, a “joke” email that purports to translate “woman speak” into something comprehensible for all you clueless men out there.  Some of my favourites are:

FINE: This is the word women use to end an argument when they feel they are right and you need to shut up. Never use “fine” to describe how a woman looks. This will cause you to have one of “those” arguments.

NOTHING: This means “something” and you should be on your toes. “Nothing” is usually used to describe the feeling a woman has of wanting to turn you inside out, upside down, and backwards. “Nothing” usually signifies an argument that will last “Five Minutes” and will end with the word “Fine”.

Now before everyone goes and gets all offended, let’s remember that humour usually has a grain of truth embedded in it.  That’s why it’s funny.

Why do we laugh/get uncomfortable when we see these stereotypes laid bare?  I believe it’s because we recognize ourselves and our partners.  We know there is truth in every one of these scenarios and we know they are dangerous places.

So, how do we avoid the fight that is coming after:

Honey, what’s wrong?


You don’t seem okay.

Just drop it okay?




You don’t understand. . .

Alright, enough of that.  I’m sure I’ve triggered at least half of you.  What really wrong with that exchange?  Two words:  indirect communication.

The partner in italics is perceptive enough to know bold is upset.  Bold may be fearful of articulating what is really going on so opts to make italics figure it out, challenging italics to be the one to up the ante.  Italics finds that kind of response disconnecting and it triggers italics’ own fears of rejection so italics withdraws.  Bold becomes frustrated and communicates it with a sigh.  Italics’ frustration grows and begins to transform to anger towards bold.  Bold pretends it’s hopeless etc.

Now try this:

Honey, it seems to me that you are upset about something.  Do you want to talk about it?

Yeah, I know I’m acting grumpy, but I really don’t want to upset you with this.

Whatever it is, it’s bothering you.  I really would like to at least hear about it, even if I can’t do anything.  Then we’ll both know what’s going on.

Well, I know it’s important for us to see your family, but you know your mom and I don’t get along and. . .this is so hard to talk about.

Look, I know it’s hard for you.  You don’t have to justify that.  We’ll stay for only as long as we have to and then we’ll get out of there.  I really appreciate that you put up with her for my sake.

You know I love you right?  I just get so uncomfortable when she starts up.  I’m afraid I’ll say something I’ll regret.

I love you too.  If you feel like you are going to snap, come find me or go to the bathroom or whatever.  You do what you need to do to survive the evening and we’ll leave a united front at the first reasonable opportunity.

Thanks hon, I feel better.  I’m glad I could tell you.

Think this is a dream world?  It doesn’t have to be.  When we are clear about our intentions, honest about our emotions and gentle with ourselves and our partners, we foster a cycle of connection and reinforcement instead of disconnection and fear.

Personally, I have banned the words fine, nothing and whatever from my vocabulary when talking to a partner.  If I feel like saying one of those things (and believe me, I still do), it is my signal to check in with myself and ask, “What am I running away from here?  What do I want? Can I speak that honestly and gently to my partner?” 

Sometimes, it means I have to suck back some pride.  Sometimes, I have to admit a weakness.  Sometimes, I have to take a risk.  It’s rewarded more often than not. 

I beg you all, for the sake of hope and happiness everywhere, when you are upset, admit it.  Don’t sigh.  Don’t make your partner chase you.  Don’t assume your partner can read your mind.  Speak from your own reality.  Admit your fear and ask for love and support.  Don’t you want your partner to do the same?

No?  Okay, whatever. . . fine.

*wanders off grumbling*