The other week I experienced a situation that led to learning a very strong difference between men and women. The bonus is this story also points out the best way to deal with a potential fight situation, which means this post is a 2 for 1deal. The day started like most. I brought down my three year old to the main level of the house to the bathroom while my wife brought down the little potty our daughter uses in the night if she has to go – yea for not having to get up in the night to help her. Getting downstairs, I put my daughter on the toilet and we carried on as usual – I like typical days. A half hour later, I noticed the potty on the bathroom counter. Normally, after one of us cleans it, that person brings it back upstairs, so I assumed my wife cleaned it, but then got sidetracked – nope. When I grabbed the potty, I quickly realized it was still full as I spilt it everywhere – I much prefer typical days to this. My response was pretty normal: “Oh gross! I split pee everywhere!” I think it would’ve been weird if I was like “It’s raining sterile fluids to be enjoyed!” In this case, I was normal – it’s rare, but it happens. What wasn’t normal – at least to me – was my wife’s response. Can you guess what it was? Most women seem to be able to guess it while guys struggle – she yelled at me. Can you guess what I wanted to do back? Both men and women seem to be able to guess that. In my wife’s defence, she didn’t yell at me like I was an idiot. Instead, she yelled, “How was I supposed to empty it when you had Gracie on the toilet!” She was essentially yelling at me as a way to say, “I’m defending myself!” What’s strange to me – and to most guys – is why is she defending herself? And why yell? Guys would never yell at this (at least a real man wouldn’t). The stereotypical complaint from women is that we are too quick to apologize to them. This means if my wife spilt the pee, my go-to reaction would be to say, “I’m sorry”… or hide without saying anything for fear of making it worse (I’ve definitely done that a few times). In all fairness, there are a few women who would’ve done the same as a guy. There are also a few women who would’ve laughed at me if they were my wife, which would’ve been great. If my wife had of laughed at my pee-tastrophe, it would’ve helped me laugh about it, too. This is usually surprising for women to hear because if I laughed at my wife in a situation like this… funeral flowers would’ve been purchased.
If I was given the choice, being yelled at is the second worst option my wife could’ve chosen. The very worst would’ve been a wife who was condescending: “Can’t you do anything right?” Those people are the worst. I’ll take my wife’s response over that any day. Statistically any contempt means the marriage is in serious trouble. If my wife yells, I can yell back and it’s equal – it’s not healthy, but it’s equal. If someone is condescending, that just crushes your soul while the other person is impossible to deal with as everything is your fault and they are very self righteous (aka they’re passive aggressive).
So how should I respond to my wife’s defensive attack? I’m proud to say, I handled this situation the way you’d hope a trained therapist would. Had it happened a few years ago, I would’ve likely just taken the attack without saying anything and become distant from her afraid of getting in more trouble and harbored the hurt. This would either add to a list of hurts that were slowly crushing my soul (aka I would be imploding) or it would lead to bottled up hurt that would slowly build up until I exploded and said things I would never normally say. This would lead to me feeling guilty and give my wife ammunition she’d likely use against me later: “Remember five years ago when you said…” Fortunately, I followed my own advice:
- Vent: Being in the bathroom by myself I could’ve done something like mime scream in the mirror (it’s surprisingly affirming), air punched, or did push ups. I went with a full on teeth and fists clenched moment with a light grunt – I let out my inner caveman. My forehead grew a little… or it just looked that way with the hair loss of old age.
- Ask a “to clarify” question: this is a question with two options – emphasis on two options. I share what I asked below.
- (If needed) Ask “Can I make a correction to your thinking?”: After my wife said her answer to my “to clarify” question, I asked if I could make a correction because if I just told her she was wrong, she would’ve likely continued to be defensive and yell at me again. By asking permission, she keeps her sense of power and is more open to listening. This is the same thing you should do when you want to give advice. Always ask: “Can I give a suggestion?” Otherwise, your advice will most likely anger the other person or not be heard.
Assuming the worst of our partner leads to major fights. My wife assumed the worst of me instead of asking me a “to clarify” question, but I fortunately, broke the cycle as I asked her, “To clarify, when I made my comment, did you think I was blaming you or just being upset?” (Notice the two options?) This is the question that has led to this post’s title. I’ve used this example in a lot of therapy sessions to teach how to handle conflict and here’s what I’ve found:
Women almost always assumed I was blaming my wife while men always assumed I was just upset.
Take a wild guess why women would assume I was blaming my wife… After I had cleaned up the spilled urine, I asked my wife another “to clarify” question: “To clarify, if you were the one to have spilled the pee, would you have blamed me or just been upset like I was?” And her answer… blamed me. And why did most women assume I was blaming my wife? Because they would’ve blamed me as well. The guys? Nope. If they spilled the pee, they would’ve just been upset at the situation. This experience affirms the lesson I teach:
We accuse others of doing what we are guilty of doing ourselves.
My wife assumed I was blaming her because she would’ve blamed me, and people do this all the time. People who accuse others of being judgemental are themselves judgemental. People who accuse others of being mean are themselves mean. People who accuse their partner for cheating either have guilt from cheating themselves or the partner is acting really, really strange and this becomes an explanation for it.
Fun fact, the only woman who didn’t assume I was blaming my wife wasn’t married and didn’t have kids. Her reaction was to laugh and think the situation was hilarious, which makes me wonder if that’s her or if that’s a sign that women who aren’t married are quicker to laugh. From my experience, a lot of women seem to suddenly stop being as fun when they get into a “serious” relationship, which is when they’ll likely take on more responsibilities and have less time for shenanigans.
What should be considered is why would a woman want to accuse someone else for something that was caused by a series of unfortunate choices thereby making it not anyone’s fault? And the answer is… I’m stumped. Is it because they want to feel like a victim? Is it because they believe everything has to be someone’s fault? Is it because they try to screw others over, so they’re expecting others to screw them over? Is it their over-thinking, guilt ridden brains? Is it because they think they need to be perfect and everything and everyone close to them has to be perfect? Is it because they want to make everyone happy and when someone isn’t it vexes them? Do they have a mean side because they’re so overwhelmed and something small pushes them over the edge? Is it because they feel they are superior to their partner on some level who likely has a less intense standard? From my experience, these are all possible answers and the answer changes depending on the person and the time. Regardless of the reason, however, it comes back to the most important lesson I try to teach my female clients: relax. I encourage women to not worry about perfection; to try laughing and not take things personally. My lesson to men is the opposite: get more uptight. I encourage men to care more and consider other people’s feelings. That’s the great thing about men and women – we balance each other… potentially. Men are supposed to help show women how to lighten up and women are supposed to help men care more about having a proper standard (e.g. married men live longer because their spouse makes them see a doctor). Men and women can either make each other better or we can drive each other nuts.
Because of our differences, it becomes very important to follow what I did in this moment: vent, ask a good question to prevent assuming the worst, and then, if needed, ask permission to give a correction.
Preventing fights sounds easy, but it’s amazing how emotion can make us stupid, especially when our routine is to snap back or shut down.
This week may you find ways to reduce conflict and not assume the worst of others.
Rev Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people