- Me: Why were you so upset when I said (blank)?
- Wife: Because you were referring to (a different blank).
- Me: No, I wasn’t. I said (blank) because I meant (blank). There’s no “read between the lines” with me.
- Wife: Well, take it is as a compliment that I thought you were smart enough to.
- Me: So the “credit” you give me gets me in trouble? You can give that to someone else. For the record, I’m way too lazy to be manipulative… and too dumb – you’re welcome.
Side Note: If you’re wondering, my use of “(blank)” isn’t because I’m hiding something from you – I try to be honest in my posts. I used “blank” because I actually don’t remember what was said… you know, like a guy. I don’t really remember fights (unless I write them down right way to use as example). My wife? She can remember fights… you know, like a wife. How accurately she remembers them… that’s up for debate: (wife) “But that’s how it felt.” (me) “But do you remember how it actually was?”
As a marriage therapist, the above conversation is a common problem I find with couples (at least ones who see me): Guys get accused of being these grand manipulators (this includes gas lighting, guilt trips, and underhanded comments) when the truth is… nope. We are the grand relaxers and women haaaaate that to the point they often don’t believe it: (wife) “You can’t be that relaxed. You must be hiding something and manipulating me.” (husb) “Sorry, were you talking? I was relaxed and not paying attention.” For instance, when a guy is driving on a clear highway and his wife asks, “What are you thinking about?” There’s a good chance the guy is going to answer, “Nothing.” This, of course, doesn’t make any sense to the wife who is thinking about ten things at once and is likely wanting the husband to say something like “I was thinking about what chores I can do for you when we get home to reduce your workload.” A rookie move would be to say, “I was thinking about how lucky I am to have you in my life,” because there’s a good chance she’ll think he’s being sarcastic or overcompensating to hide something: (wife) “Who’s the other woman!” (husb) “I said I was thinking of you!” (wife) “That doesn’t make any sense. What’s really going on?” Or maybe this last one is just me because sarcasm is my first language: (me) “I love you.” (wife) “You sound like Tim Curry in Home Alone 2. You really need to learn how not to sound sarcastic.” (me) “That’s a greeaaaaat idea.”
When a guy says he’s thinking about nothing it drives most wives nuts: (wife) “How can you not be thinking of something like a to-do list or something nice you can do for a friend? Don’t you care about our home? Don’t you care about me?” What’s crazy is there’s a 99% chance the guy was just driving and in a happy place of nothing. It’s a beautiful place; I highly recommend it. But now, because of this one question, the guy is brought back to reality and getting attacked – that’s not nearly as nice a place. What sucks is he’s getting in trouble when all he did was shut off his brain and drive on an open road – something guys love to do. If there was traffic and you asked, “What are you thinking about?” he’ll say something like “Traffic sucks!” because that’s what he’s thinking about; commuting in traffic is terrible because we can’t think about nothing. We have to pay attention – gross. Women typically have to work to achieve thinking about nothing through things like yoga and meditation. Not a guy. When we can put our brain on autopilot like when we drive, jog, or cut the grass, we can just tune out the world and it’s a glorious spot – sorry ladies. Because women’s brains tend to think of ten things at once, it’s harder for them to relax, and if they can’t do it, it doesn’t make sense the guy can unless he somehow doesn’t care when, in fact, it’s because our brains are wired differently – and we’re less thoughtful, so that helps.
I love the analogy that women have spaghetti brains (everything is all mashed together) while men have waffle brains (things are compartmentalized in boxes like the work box and the nothing box). This means that even if a guy is a cunning planner at work, that ends when he gets home – he’s in a different box. He can shut that part of his brain down. As a therapist, I’m thinking all day, so after work the last thing I want to do is think. When a guy works a more physical job, after work when he’s done exerting energy the last thing he wants to do is think. Thinking is not our thing unless it has to be. After work, guys want to relax and be happy. We want to be track-pants comfortable physically and emotionally. Meanwhile, women are drawn to being thoughtful and perfectionist. This naturally means women have way more emotional energy than guys (or they push themselves harder), which means after work on some level they actually like to think – weird.
Not wanting to have to think is one of the reasons guys can be so straightforward when we speak – having a filter is too much work. When we’re at home, guys like to keep things simple. We like low conflict, and low drama. We want to have as little to worry about as possible: (wife) “What do you want for dinner?” (husband) “Whoa, answering that would require thinking. I think I’ll pass on that one.” Or maybe you’ve encountered a situation like this:
- Wife: Why don’t you ever plan a date night for us?
- Husb: I can’t do that at work when I can think, so yeah, that’s not happening. My brain shuts off at 5pm, and I’m content doing absolutely nothing unless you plan it, or there’s a sport I play that I didn’t have to organize and then I’m there.
- Wife: Don’t you love me?”
- Husb: Of course. That’s why we’re married.
- Wife: Then why don’t you plan a date night?
- Husb: I put a ring on it, so I could stop putting energy into this relationship. I love you, and you love me – we’re good. Why do you think when most men get into a relationship they put on a few pounds? They’re settling in and ready to enjoy the lazy time of the relationship. The beginning part where we openly share and go out of our way to win you over, that’s exhausting. I’m so glad that’s over.
Okay, so that conversation may be a little exaggerated, but there’s truth in it. A guy who is single has a very different drive and energy level than a guy in a long term relationship, but even a single guy who has more energy isn’t using that for manipulation purposes. He uses it to win the woman over.
In order to manipulate you need things guys don’t typically want to do:
- Manipulating takes energy – no thank you. Energy is one of the reasons guys struggle to be romantic – that would also mean thinking, ugh.
- To manipulate you have to listen and remember things – no thanks.
- To manipulate, you need to be okay with drama – can I nap instead?
- To manipulate, you need to think you’re better than the other person on some level and you should have control (who has higher social standards, cleaning standards, and perfection driven? Not guys) – control sounds like work and responsibility, so no thank you
- To manipulate, you need to want power – I don’t want to pick dinner, so why would I want power?
So why do women (or people in general) assume men manipulate at home?
- We accuse others of doing what we’re used to others around us doing (e.g. mean girls).
- We accuse others of doing what we do ourselves.
- We can assume the worst of people.
- We want to feel sorry for ourselves.
- It can be hard to accept that men can think differently than women.
- Women will often twist things to be mean to themselves through self blame, guilt, and self punishment – a lot of women have perfected being mean to themselves.
All this being said, if someone feels like their partner is the exception and they are a manipulator (there are always anomalies), we should ask something like “To clarify, do you have a hidden agenda or am I misreading this?” “Just so I know, am I supposed to read between the lines or are you being straightforward?” or “Out of curiosity, is there a hidden message in here or am I looking too deeply into this?” The challenge of course is we have to believe what the other person says, which can be hard, but at least when we ask this question we are planting a seed for them to consider if they are actually manipulative without realizing it in the future. If we don’t believe the other person we also will have to reach a certain point where we need to ask ourselves, “Is this the truth or is it me not wanting to believe it?”
This week may you consider when it actually is manipulation.
Rev. Chad David,ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)