There's a reason why honest communication is lauded as a necessity to a healthy relationship. Without clear exchanges of information and mutual understanding between two people, gaps are created. These gaps will then be filled by our own internal monologue. Your inner voice will eventually (often due to accumulated frustration) clash with her inner voice - and an argument is born.
These arguments are fraught with such infamous phrases as:
"I never said that."
"That's not what I meant."
"That's not what I'm saying."
and the ever-popular: "Don't put words in my mouth."
For men, the cliché example of this dynamic is the argument between a husband and wife which ensues after he doesn't ask for directions despite being a driver clearly lost. Why won't he just stop at a gas station? This discussion has been largely left on the side of the road since the advent of GPS. Our gadgets have saved our relationship from our own stubbornness.
The why-not-ask-for-help argument, however, is easily mapped onto other aspects of our relationships. Certainly as it pertains to Do-It-Yourself projects.
Last week, my wife discovered a small leak in the hose which carries water to our fridge's ice-maker. After tackling such projects as toilet and sink replacement, as well as the installation of slate floors and decorative mouldings, surely I could replace a fridge hose.
I disconnected the fridge end of the hose, went to the basement and found the other end which connects to the water supply, and pulled. With some resistance, the hose threaded down through the ceiling from the kitchen and landed at my feet in the basement.
Now, all that was left was to replace the whole thing with the kit I had purchased at the hardware store.
Except, I never paid attention to which path the old hose took to get from the main-floor kitchen to the basement-level pipe room. Nor could I understand how to thread a flexible pipe through a dozen feet of floor beams and ceiling tiles.
It wasn't for lack of trying, though. After causing some major damage to my kitchen floor while sliding the fridge in and out of its spot, and poking a hole in the basement ceiling looking for the hose (which is now dangling into the kids' playroom), my wife finally spoke that infamous phrase: "Why not ask for help from our contractor?" (He has been living at our house since Christmas while we have other work done).
I became agitated and irritated. I felt dejected and angry.
I was obviously outclassed by the fridge hose. I admitted out loud that I could not complete the repair. What other choice was there?
I realized why I felt so despondent.
She said: "Why not ask for help?"
I heard: "Why not give up on yourself?"
This is a recurring theme between us. I often attach my own insecurities to her suggestions.
She says: "We should do some housework while you're home tomorrow."
I hear: "You don't do enough housework."
She says: "We should try to get this done before the long weekend."
I hear: "You're not working fast enough."
I attach hidden meaning and insinuations to dialogue when none was intended.
Apparently I am not alone.
At a dinner party last week, I was sitting between my neighbors (another married couple) as they discussed unresolved problems with their pool. He was taking offense at her suggestion they hire a professional to help them treat their water properly after his attempts left it cloudy. She couldn't understand why he was annoyed by her suggestion.
I whispered to him: "You're annoyed because you think she's asking you to give up on yourself."
It was an epiphany for him.
When he mentioned it to her, she thought it was ridiculous that he attached such a negative message to her logical suggestion.
Why do we listen with these ugly filters?
Because of our genetics? Because of our upbringing?
I certainly was raised in a society which taught me that part of being a grown man, husband, and father meant being able to change toilets, install floors, and replace fridge hoses.
The challenge is, as an adult, learning what your spouse's expectations are of you, and balancing those against the expectations you place on yourself.
Then, listen without a filter.
Courage does not mean hammering uselessly away at something because of a fear of failure.
Courage can also be standing up, stretching your sore back, and saying: "Hand me the phone, I give up."
P.S. My contractor will be in tomorrow to fix the fridge; so this afternoon my wife and I are going to the movies.