Last week, I realized I’ve been feeling disconnected from my husband. I haven’t been sleeping well due to sinus problems, so I found myself too tired to push for conversations and genuine time together. He had a couple super early appointments and was tired himself. Most of last week, we spent every evening as couch potatoes. Big Guy is a big TV watcher, so he would have the TV on while I sat and knitted pot-holders. (What can I say? It’s an exciting life I lead here. 🙂 )
Late in the week, I told him I was feeling disconnected from him and said that I would like us to work on it. I asked him if I could have just fifteen minutes with him each evening. So this past weekend, I figured we’d get caught up on sleep and would have some quality time together. The day got away from us Saturday, so Sunday afternoon and evening, I had high hopes.
Instead, there we sat, couch potatoes again but in separate chairs, laptops on both our laps, and the TV on. Our interactions consisted primarily of showing each other funny memes our friends were posting on Facebook. We were next to each other and occasionally interacted, but I ended the weekend feeling as disconnected as I had started it.
When we went to bed Sunday night, I said, as gently as I could, “Honey, have you thought about whether you can find time for us to connect more? I’m still feeling disconnected from you, and I don’t like the way that feels.”
His face fell. “What do you mean? I thought we’d had such a good day! I thought we were connecting for hours. That’s way more than the fifteen minutes you asked for!”
How could he possibly think that we had been connecting? We’d interacted a little, but that wasn’t really connection.
This morning, I read the Love and Respect blog and had an a-ha! moment. The post describes the process of bonding by looking at how women and men develop friendships:
“She shares her heart face-to-face.”
“He shares activities shoulder-to-shoulder.”
So that explains it! My husband and I were sitting side by side (shoulder to shoulder), sharing an activity without much talking. (Okay, watching TV and cruising the internet aren’t exactly activity, but you know what I mean.) As a guy, this is how he bonds. No wonder he thought we were connecting. For him, that’s exactly what we were doing. No wonder he was confused when I told him I was feeling disconnected.
“Connect” means something different to me than it does to my husband. To him, it means being physically present with each other, side by side, and interacting in some way. Doing this for a lot of hours means that we’ve connected a lot. For me, though, connection is about being away from distractions and talking in paragraphs rather than one-sentence “check this one out” lines.
Now I understand why I wasn’t feeling connected. We didn’t have much face-to-face time at all last week or over the weekend. I need to see my man’s eyes and know that he is seeing me to feel we’re connecting.
What else have we missed?
I got wondering, though, how many other times he and I have understood something in completely different ways. What have we missed out on by not thinking about how the other one sees things and by not being clear?
Problems The age-old “she wants to share her problems and be understood” versus “he needs to fix it for her” is a prime example of how we talk about problems. (Check out this video for an illustration.) When I need to talk through my feelings as a way of processing something and helping me feel closer to my husband, I really just want him to listen and then hold me. Meanwhile, he wants to tell me what to do in order to resolve the problem. We both end up frustrated. By the same token, when he tells me about a problem he is facing, he wants me to either listen to him tell me the solution he has already identified and applied or, at times, suggest solutions. So when I respond by asking questions that will help me fully understand the nuances of the situation, that conversation doesn’t accomplish what he needs.
Romance When I tell my husband I’d like romance, his usual response is to bring me flowers and chocolate. To me, romance is spending time thinking and planning something based on what I enjoy. I don’t see flowers and chocolate as an investment of Big Guy’s time—so while I like it when he does this, it doesn’t feel romantic at all. For my husband, though, romance is about providing something visible to show his love. Friday night, he brought me a single red rose. It is sitting in a vase near my desk, reminding me throughout the day that he loves me.
Sexual initiation During my refusing and gate-keeping years, there were times I tried to initiate. For me, this meant subtle and indirect signals, trying to lead up to making out and sex. I would let my foot caress his leg in bed. I would hold his glance a moment longer than usual. I was trying to signal that I had let some of my usual barriers down. My husband didn’t pick up on this at all—so I would be confused, hurt, and sexually frustrated. Meanwhile, his initiation usually consisted of blatant offers of sexual activity. This didn’t help me build up to a point of interest at all—so he would be confused, hurt, and sexually frustrated. We both initiated in a way that we would respond to instead of trying to match what would appeal to the other person
As much as it would be nice if we could automatically know how the other person understands something, that isn’t realistic. So what can we do?
- Ask. When my husband is telling me about a problem, I can ask what kind of response he will want from me (solutions? admiration? sympathy?) so I can listen in the right frame of mind.
- Tell. Likewise, when I am talking about a problem, I can say at the beginning that I’d like to talk for about ten minutes about my feelings and what happened—and then, out of respect for his male inclinations, offer that after I’m done, he can offer me suggestions.
- Be specific. Instead of telling my husband I’d like romance, I can tell him that I would like him to do something for me that isn’t visible to anyone else. I can suggest that I would like something besides flowers and chocolate every now and then. I used to have grandiose expectations of what Mother’s Day should be like, and I was always disappointed—until the year when I made a very detailed list of what I would like everyone to do. My whole family was relieved to actually know what I wanted, and I got the perfect day. My husband doesn’t like to have to guess what I mean.
- Define. When I told my husband I wanted to feel more connected, that was all I said. I assumed he would know what I meant. Instead, I should have clarified that I wanted us to have more face-to-face time away from the television or laptops. I wanted us to talk about something about ourselves and our marriage and not about bills or plans for the weekend.
I am sitting here right now thinking about times when I’ve allowed myself to feel hurt because my husband didn’t do what I had asked. I realize now that he actually did do those things—as he understood them. Because I understood them so differently, it turns out that I missed out on seeing and experiencing his love for me quite a bit.
Are you missing out on anything because you and your husband define something differently?