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I need some suggestions on how to constructively discuss mundane relationship issues with my wife.

And example to illustrate this: I asked "Sweetheart could you do the dishes more often?" Her response surprised me. She broke into tears and said "You think I'm lazy!"

She got really upset and I don't even remember exactly how I responded after that. I thought that I was making a simple request for her to help more with housework but she seemed to think that I was making a personal attack.

How can we discuss subjects like this in a more constructive and non-threatening manner?

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    We've tried a counselor. She says that they are too expensive. (they do strain the budget). And she says she just gets mad when talking with a counselor and nothing gets fixed. So at least for now, if I wan't things to get better I have to speak up. But with her either misunderstanding the conversation, or not remembering it entirely. I don't know how to talk to her about subjects that could make her uncomfortable.
    – Anon
    Jan 26 '18 at 18:52
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    And after the "I just want some extra help.", what happened? Jan 26 '18 at 19:04
  • @Tycho'sNose She cried quietly and I went somewhere else.
    – Anon
    Jan 26 '18 at 19:34
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    I think your question is still lacking vital information. How long have you guys been married for? Is this something you have an issue with currently or has it always been this way? Does your wife change her behavior at all after you talk to her regardless of how she responds at the time? How old is she about? If this is indeed a serious concern of yours, please do elaborate more. Jan 27 '18 at 11:33
  • Do you tell her to help or do you ask for help? (Note: wording matters- could you do them more vs can you help me with these?) Are there other duties she does more than you? As in how do you actually split chores or other household matters? A reaction such as that is indicative of something deeper. Jan 27 '18 at 15:23
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This kind of communication break down can be pretty detrimental to a relationship, so you're 100% right to look for help with it.

My ex and I had a similar style of communication breakdown. Half the time, using phrasings from the area we live in currently, he would be off in the completely wrong direction with what I said.

This, of course, was incredibly frustrating. Here's what we did to work on it:

  1. Write things out.

    When we had issues with very important discussions, we would step away and he would write out what he was trying to say. After he read over it to make sure it made sense, he would bring me this "letter" and let me read it with him in the room. This had two benefits, to my mind: First, I could not mishear him and he could not butcher his speech. What he was saying was clear and accurate. Second, if he still used phrasings that made no sense to me, I could ask him about it while he was sitting there without it getting in the way of my trying to read his core message. I feel like this facilitated more open and understandable communication, for both of us.

  2. Explain what you hear when someone says "x."

    Much like Rainbacon's answer, we went back after the incident and clarified things. For example, there were several occasions where my ex would go off on a completely different topic without giving me any indication he was discussing something different. Meanwhile, I was still discussing the original topic. Frustration ensued, and arguements were had. Until I started pointing out, after realizing he was on a different topic, that he hadn't transitioned the conversation in any way. Likewise, if I did or said something that threw him off or made me difficult to understand, he explained what it was and how it came across. Unlike Rainbacon's answer, we tried to do this as soon as it happened so long as we were not in a heated argument yet.

  3. Walk away, return when you're both calmer.

    It sounds like you're already trying this to an extent, but I include it for completion. Whenever we had any sort of misunderstanding or disagreement that came to an argument, one of us walked away and separated ourselves from the heat and anger. This allows us both to take a breath, cool off, and analyze what just happened. However, I had to make this strategy clear when I first started dating him. The first time we argued, I explained that I was going to step away and calm down, then we could discuss things rationally when we were both calmer and tensions weren't so high. Half the time, the follow up started with an apology from one of us. The other half of the time, we just brought a better willingness to listen and understand.

Naturally, these won't work for everyone or every situation. However, they are a good starting point to rebuilding your communication.

Personally, in your case, I would start with a conversation about communication. Sit down with your wife, and start similar to this:

Sweetheart, I've noticed in the past that when I say something, my meaning isn't always as clear to you as it was to me. My lack of clarity has caused at least a couple arguments or hurt feelings, and the last thing I want to do is hurt you with something I say. Can you help me understand where I went wrong with a few things?

This has a few benefits. It starts off by not blaming her, instead placing the fault on yourself. This will show a willingness to negotiate and not just blame her for the problems, which might also help a bit with communication between you. At the same time, you lay out the problem clearly and request her help to understand what she understood and how to avoid these kinds of misunderstandings in the future. Depending on if you keep the "last thing I want to do" part or not, you also reinforce that you care about her and how she feels, which never hurts in a relationship. (Well, as long as you mean it. I think you do, or you wouldn't be asking this!)

However you decide to work on this, include your wife. Make sure she's part of the solution. Communication is a two way street, and if you suddenly start communicating differently without bringing her in on things... It may worry or upset her more than just not getting your point/thought across.

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Different people taking different understandings from the same words is a very common problem. I had a great deal of difficulty with it myself when I first started my current job. One of my coworkers would give me feedback and then ask what I thought about it. In his mind, he was asking if I understood, but in my mind he wanted to know if I agreed with his assessment of my work.

So what do we do about that?

The only way to work through differences in communication is to talk about how you communicate. My coworker and I resolved our issue by going through each part of our conversation and talking about our thought process behind the words.

Our conversation followed this general pattern:

Him: When I said 'what do you think' I was asking if you understood where I was coming from

Me: When you said 'what do you think', my first thought was that you were starting a dialog so that we could talk about whether or not that feedback was correct

We repeated this for a number of conversations that we'd had over the previous few months where there was a misunderstanding. Overall, we spent a few hours dissecting our conversations and coming to an understanding of how each of us interpreted the words that were said.

Since your wife doesn't always remember your conversations, I would recommend having this conversation within a day or two after a miscommunication happens. For example:

Yesterday, when I asked if you could do the dishes more often I meant that I felt swamped and needed help balancing all of my responsibilities. It was never my intention to imply that I think you are lazy, and I'm sorry that I did so. Could you explain to me what part of what I said gave you the wrong impression?

One very important thing to keep in mind during this conversation is the tone of how you ask about her interpretation. It's very easy to take the wrong tone and sound condescending about how she interpreted what you said.

At the very least, taking the time to try and understand how each other interprets the conversations you have will make your misunderstandings less likely to blow out of proportion. If all goes well you may begin to understand each other better and fewer misunderstandings arise. In the case with my coworker, we have learned enough about how each other communicates from these discussions that over the last few years our communication has gotten better and we've had fewer misunderstandings.

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    This answer assumes that both parties understand their own feelings. This may seem silly to state (who wouldn't understand their own feelings?) but very often women (even 30 year-old me!) feel strong feelings that they need to process and often can't put into words. I could have the knee-jerk reaction of "you think I'm lazy" but have not personally gone to the depth to figure out why myself, let alone explain it in words to other people. This has lead to some really frustrating conversations where my husband has asked "why are you crying?!?" and I've replied "I don't know!!".
    – user6818
    Jan 28 '18 at 12:02
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    I am very well aware that understanding one's feelings is difficult. As an autistic person, emotions are very difficult (sometimes nearly impossible) for me to process. In my case the discussions were had days, weeks, or months after the original issue. I only suggested that the OP have the conversation soon after the initial issue because they mentioned that their wife sometimes forgets what the issue was.
    – Rainbacon
    Jan 28 '18 at 17:42
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    There's a massive difference between "very soon or immediately" (what you suggest) and "days, weeks, or months after the original issue". This is a false dichotomy. A few hours, or the next day, is probably enough time to process and is not "immediately". My point is that forcing the discussion immediately is counter productive and may make things worse. Not better.
    – user6818
    Jan 29 '18 at 20:46
  • @Stacey I've edited the post to show a hypothetical conversation after both parties have had time to think things through.
    – Rainbacon
    Jan 30 '18 at 18:26
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Your question covers a lot of ground. This answer addresses just one aspect.

When you ask your wife to do “more” but leave the quantum unspecified, you invite the question, “How much ‘more’ would satisfy you?” Depending on personality and other stresses in life etc, it can be a short hop from there to “Nothing I do will satisfy you.”

Instead, bring the focus back to something concrete, such as:

Honey, would you mind doing the dishes tonight?

Or even

Honey, would you mind doing the dishes on Saturdays? I’m finding that I really need a break after doing the gardens, cleaning the toilets and washing the cars.

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