In talking with some of my male friends, I asked them what they dreaded hearing most from their wives or girlfriends. Without question, the, “We need to talk” statement was at the top of the list. Months ago, I called a friend to have lunch. As I got into his car, I said, “We need to talk. You might as well just roll your eyes and get it over with.” We are good friends and I wanted to talk with him about some sensitive things in his life, things that only a good friend would discuss. But rather than discuss, I started to lecture, telling him my thoughts on the subject. He didn’t say much. He didn’t disagree, but he didn’t agree either. In retrospect, it wasn’t an open and honest communication at all between two people who really care for each other. It was more of a soliloquy of my thoughts, delivered almost as if he weren’t sitting there. His silence started to anger me, like he hadn’t heard me, or didn’t understand.
Feeling frustrated, I recanted the story to another male friend of mine and just as the phrase, “We need to talk”, fell from my lips, his demeanor began to change. “Seriously”, I asked, what is with you men? Every time I bring up that phrase your imaginary wall goes up?” I inquired.
One friend made this observation. “Agatha, let me let you in how we men think. Whenever a guy hears those words, something we don’t want to talk about is about to get talked about. It’s either an “I need to know what your intentions are and how you feel about me” or other bad news is only a few sentences away. Come to think of it, the last time I remember that phrase being used was when my ex-wife asked me for a divorce. I think the time before that was when she wanted to know if I intended to marry her. Regardless, I didn’t want to talk about either at the time. It feels like I am being called to the principal’s office for doing something wrong, that I’m about to get a lecture,” he confessed.
After our Thanksgiving meal last week, I had a living room group discussion and asked the men, “What happens when you hear, “We need to talk”? Once again, I got a similar response. “Ooh…immediate shut down. Barriers go up, protective gear is on. Why would I look forward to a “discussion” knowing that I am about to be lectured or compelled to go in a direction I would prefer not to at the time?” The men said that it is all about the relationship between the two people. If the woman is a peer rather than a disciplinarian, a helpmate who isn’t judgmental but really wants to listen, that is what makes all the difference. “If I feel that I am about to go to the verbal woodshed, I’m just going to tune her out and hope she gets it out of her system as soon as possible, and I hope that I don’t ever hear about it again. But if she sincerely respects me and wants a two-way conversation, then of course I want to talk. I really want to listen to her; I crave to know her better.”
In Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married, Gary Chapman analyzes the encounter. When women have conflicts, we feel the need to talk. But talking without listening leads to arguments. The real need that we have is the need to listen. Gary suggests a different approach, “At your convenience, I would like to request a time that I can listen to you.” Not an urgent, in-your-face event, but a calm discussion, with him getting to talk first. They agree on a time when they both aren’t distracted. He goes first and gives his ideas and reasons behind them. She acknowledges them and then adds her thoughts. Gary says that one of three things occurs. The conversation ends by “meeting in the middle”, meeting on your side”, or “meeting later”, which is postponing the conversation to a later time when the answer is clearer. Both people have their thoughts heard. Sometimes compromise occurs and other times one person’s position wins out. Most importantly, an angry shouting match, or angry silence, doesn’t break out between the two.
As women, we have a need to express ourselves, to resolve conflict as soon as possible and verbally. But we need to act out of respect for the men in our lives, not accusatory and confrontational.
Ladies—how often do we attack in a relationship, verbally filling up the quiet space rather than taking a deep breath and listening to his thoughts and views?
To both Men and Women--Let me know your experience with “We need to talk”. How can we better communicate in our relationships?