The most unexpected experiences - and scenes - reveal life more fully so we may move through it more freely.
Simplicity: Why Didn’t You Just Say That?
As women, we have a knack for reading nonverbal cues. It’s in our nature to pick up on all the ugly feels like sadness, tension and discomfort and then, true to our nature as nurturers, we effortlessly offer empathy and consolation. But men? Eh, not so much. Their strengths, though abundant, don’t usually lie in discerning emotional needs. As a result, when a female expresses herself nonverbally in an attempt to procure comfort or relief from her husband, there’s a good chance she’ll end up disappointed.
Let’s visit a scene real quick.
Oh, Brooke. I so get it.
In one of the final, more emotional and less comical scenes in The Breakup, Brooke sits sobbing defeatedly on her bed as she pours out her torn-up heart to her ex, Gary.
After listing off actions she habitually carried out to go above and beyond for him and their relationship, she wraps it all up with, “I don’t feel you appreciate me. And all I want is for you to just show me that you care.”
In response to Brooke’s honesty, Gary uncomfortably shuffles his feet and finally utters, “Why didn’t you just say that to me?”
“I’ve tried,” Brooke insists.
“But never like that,” Gary declares. “You might’ve said some things that you meant to imply that, but I’m not a mind-reader.”
Oh, Brooke. If only I could pounce through the screen and be your shoulder to cry on because, girl, I’ve been there and there are few girlfriends or wives who haven’t.
Why we don’t straight-up say it
It is so ridiculously common for females to feel misunderstood and unappreciated. Admittedly, Gary is a bit of a prick (as Brooke put it) but for most of us, it has less to do with our partners’ failure to cherish and support us and more to do with our indirect, unnecessarily complex expressions of what we need.
When I’m feeling unappreciated and overwhelmed, I’m more likely to yank out the vacuum and viciously shove it around as I breathe fire and illogically assume my husband might simply get the hint, take some curative action and resolve it all.
Why? Why the unnecessary complication? Why can’t I simply approach him in sincere vulnerability and confess, “I’m struggling here, babe. I really need some compassion and encouragement right now. Please.”
The answer, quite frankly, is pride. It all boils down to pride. That’s what prevents me from lovingly laying my needs before my spouse. C.S. Lewis wrote, “For pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”
Common sense tells me I ought to be able to go to my husband, of all people, be vulnerable and express my needs. But pride eradicates common sense and has me operating under the asinine assumption that he should just get it. Aren’t my cold shoulder and terse responses to him enough to indicate that I need more verbal affirmation?
It requires humility for me to trudge through the tension I’ve planted between us, approach him in my weakness and respectfully ask for what I need, which, let’s be honest, will probably entail me crying, especially if the day has totally kicked my keester.
Vulnerability is tough stuff, man. It forces us to admit our imperfections and dependency and those things clash considerably with our tendency to absolve ourselves of all flaws. How easy it is – when feeling angry and overwhelmed – to come up with accusations of others instead of lovingly looking inward to figure out what I’m in need of, and then vocalize that to the person who loves me most in the world.
You cannot say it with sass, sister.
Okay, but sometimes a gal totally does spell out what she wants and needs and she’s met with defensiveness. Guys are flawed, too. They have just as much responsibility to work on replying with love and patience, despite how they perceive our statements.
But we can make it a lot easier for them to respond with softness and understanding if we’re careful about how we express ourselves. I know, marriage is work. Like, why do I need to be strategic about how I talk to my husband? Can’t I just be authentic? Sure, but sometimes my authenticity is delivered pretty bitchily so he’s way more likely to reply with authentic defensiveness.
“Every good-willed man will soften on the heels of a communication that’s respectfully delivered,” Dr. Emmerson Eggerichs points out. “But what happens when she’s upset, there’s this default mechanism within the female that reacts in disrespectful ways…It’s extremely natural for her to be disrespectful when she feels unloved in the same way it’s very natural for men to be unloving when they feel disrespected.”
And that’s the worst thing for a man to experience: disrespect. It requires so much maturity and self-awareness to soften ourselves and simply say what we’re yearning for, without tacking on accusations and condescension. Remember, it’s you two against the issue, whatever that is, and not you two against each other.
Simplicity thrives in silent solitude
I’ve learned there are certain conversations that are better had when the kids are not around. If I’m feeling like my love bank is teetering on the shallow end, it’s definitely not a good idea to tell my husband I need more verbal affirmation right before dinner when every kid is going totally bananas.
[That’s another marriage skill we’re working on: postponing deep convos and disagreements for a more appropriate time and playing nice in the meantime. I’ll let you know when we make more progress J]
Wait for peace to put something before him if it requires contemplation and conversation, like Brooke’s bomb of, “I don’t feel you appreciate me. And all I want is for you to just show me that you care.” It can make things way less chaotic. There’s nothing quite like trying to understand your husband’s point of view as you wipe poop off an antsy toddler’s thighs.
Ultimately, no matter how hard it is to push past our pride and be vulnerable, it’s a far less distressing route than the alternative, which is full of confusion, miscommunication and often culminates with someone, like Gary, asking, “Why didn’t you just say that?”