You don't have to be a fly on the wall in the homes of millions of Americans to see this common phenomenon. You know, that phenomenon where one spouse says “I didn't say that” only for the other spouse to respond with the predictable “Yes, you did.” You don't have to be a fly on the wall because you've probably seen it in your own home enough times. Heck, you've probably seen this kind of conversation in the grocery store, at the park, or at the restaurant you went to last weekend.
Despite the many arguments this kind of conversation has caused, maybe there's a legitimate reason behind it. We've all heard that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. And from my own experience as a parent I've come to realize that we, men, really don't understand a lot of the things our wives say. In fact, there are some very fundamental misunderstandings we have when you say certain things. Here are just a couple:
What mom says: “What do you think, honey?”
What dad hears: “Our child just asked me a question, and you better back me up on my answer — even if you just walked in the room.”
We realize that we, parents, have to be on the same page with each other. But give us a chance. If we just walked into the room, you can't honestly expect us to know what's going on and be able to have an informed discussion with you and our angry teenager right now. Having a discussion with an angry teenager is hard enough when we do have all the facts.
What mom says: “You're about to get in trouble.”
What Dad hears “You better behave yourself or your dad is going to take care of this.”
Even if we're outside mowing the lawn, we, dads, know when you're threatening the kids with some kind of discipline — call it a sixth sense. We know because it's our role as fathers to be the disciplinarians. So when you tell the kids there's a punishment on the horizon, we think you're telling us to follow through with it.
What mom says: “The kids have been giving me a headache today.”
What dad hears: “You better take care of the kids or I'm going to be ornery to you and everyone else who I come across today.”
Everyone's heard that “happy wife, happy life” saying. So when we hear you say something that even remotely suggests you're not going to be happy, we take it on ourselves to intervene. Maybe it's just the fixer in us but we think that's the whole reason you're saying it.
What mom says: (talking to one of the children) “If you do that one more time…”
What dad hears: “You (dad) better pre-empt any bad behavior from the children and cut it off before it happens or I'm going to lose it – and it won't be pretty.”
We don't want you to lose it. Really, we don't. So when you get mad at the kids for doing something, don't get mad at us because we didn't stop the kids from doing it in the first place. Parenting is hard. And dads aren't perfect. But if we both work together, we can usually come up with a pretty good solution.
We really do try to understand you when you say certain things. Maybe it's our gender, or maybe it's the different planets that we're from, but sometimes we just miss what you say. So let's be patient and work with each other to come up with something. I promise I'll listen, and whatever we come up with will be good.
Aaron Anderson is a therapist and owner of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert.