A married couple was in a car when the wife turned to her husband and asked, “Would you like to stop for a coffee?” “No, thanks.” he answered truthfully. So they didn’t stop. The result? The wife, who had indeed wanted to stop, became annoyed, because she felt her preference had not been considered. The husband, seeing that his wife was angry, became frustrated. Why didn’t she just say what she wanted?
Unfortunately, he failed to see that his wife was asking the question, not in order to get an instant decision, but rather to begin a negotiation. And the woman didn’t realize that when her husband said no, he was just expressing his preference, not making a ruling. When a man and a woman interpret the same interchange in such conflicting ways, it’s no wonder they can find themselves 1)leveling angry charges of selfishness and obstinacy at each other.
We cannot 2)lump all men or all women into fixed categories. But the seemingly senseless misunderstandings that haunt our relationships can in part be explained by the different conversational rules by which men and women play. Here are some of the most common areas of conflict:
Independence vs. Intimacy “独立”对“亲密”
Since women often think in terms of closeness and support, they struggle to preserve intimacy. Men, concerned with status, tend to focus more on independence.
When Josh’s old high-school friend called him at work to say he’d be in town, Josh invited him to stay for the weekend. That evening he told Linda they were having a 3)houseguest. Linda was upset. How could Josh make these plans, without discussing them with her beforehand? She would never do that to him. “Why don’t you tell your friend you have to check with your wife?” she asked. Josh replied, “I can’t tell my friend, ‘I have to ask my wife for permission’!”
To Josh, checking with his wife would have meant that he was not free to act on his own. It would make him feel like a child or an 4)underling. But Linda actually enjoys telling someone, “I have to check with Josh.” It makes her feel good to show that her life is intertwined with her husband’s.
Advice vs. Understanding “建议”对“理解”
Eve had a 5)benign lump removed from her breast. When she confided to her husband, Mark, that she was distressed because the stitches changed the 6)contour of her breast, he answered, “You can always have plastic surgery.” This comment bothered her. “I’m sorry you don’t like the way it looks,” she protested. “But I’m not having any more surgery!” Mark was hurt and puzzled. “I don’t care about a scar,” he replied. “It doesn’t bother me at all.” “Then why are you telling me to have plastic surgery?” she asked. “Because you were upset about the way it looks.” Eve felt like a 7)heel. Mark had been wonderfully supportive throughout her surgery. How could she 8)snap at him now?
The problem stemmed from a difference in approach. To many men a complaint is a challenge to come up with a solution. Mark thought he was reassuring Eve by telling her there was something she could do about her scar. But often women are looking for emotional support, not solutions.
When my mother tells my father she doesn’t feel well, he invariably offers to take her to the doctor. Invariably, she is disappointed with his reaction. Like many men, he is focused on what he can do, whereas she wants sympathy.
Conflict vs. Compromise “冲突”对“妥协”
In trying to prevent fights, some women refuse to oppose the will of others openly. But sometimes, it’s far more effective for a woman to assert herself, even at the risk of conflict.
Dora was frustrated by a series of used cars she drove. It was she who 9)commuted to work, but her husband, Hank, who chose the cars. Hank always went for cars that were “interesting” but in continual need of repair. After one incident, in which Dora was nearly killed when her brakes failed, they were in the market looking for yet another used car. Dora wanted to buy a 10)late-model sedan from a friend. Hank fixed his sights on a 15-year-old sports car. She tried to persuade Hank that it made more sense to buy the boring but dependable car; but he would not be swayed. Previously she would have acceded to his wishes. This time Dora bought the “boring-but-dependable” car, and steeled herself for Hank’s anger. To her amazement, he spoke not a word of 11)remonstrance. When she later told him what she had expected, he scoffed at her fears, and said she should have done what she wanted from the start if she felt that strongly about it. As Dora discovered, a little conflict won’t kill you. At the same time, men who habitually oppose others can adjust their style to opt for less confrontation.
When we don’t see style diffe-rences for what they are, we sometimes draw unfair conclusions: “You’re illogical,” “You’re self-centered,” “You don’t care about me.” But once we grasp the two characteristic approaches, we stand a better chance of preventing disagreements from 12)spiraling out of control.