In the classic film The Princess Bride, the constantly frustrated villain Vizzini repeatedly exclaims, “Inconceivable!”—even when things happen that are quite plausible. So his swashbuckling companion Inigo Montoya says, “You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.” This happens in marriage, too, when you have a hard time understanding your wife or husband. I hope to help both spouses communicate more clearly by looking at some things women often say to men and what she usually means.
Sometimes, I’ve felt like Inigo when my wife, Susan, uses phrases that to me mean one thing, but to her, mean something else. I’ve described this before as a “Wife Code” that needs to be decoded. But before we look at some examples, there are two assumptions that need to be challenged.
Wives, please don’t assume your husband is too dumb to understand what you’re saying.
Generally, wives have a gift for multitasking that affects how they think and communicate, with layers of nuance, context, and substance behind simple statements. While men can be nuanced and complex, too, we generally do better with clear, specific messages.
Men, please don’t assume your wife is trying to trick, demean, or disrespect you.
Your wife’s frustration doesn’t always mean she’s out to get you. You have to show a willingness to invest in understanding your wife as if we each are students of our spouses. Here are some common phrases Susan and I have struggled with, and what we’ve learned together about the meaning and importance of what she’s communicating to me.
“You should know!”
This statement often stems from frustrations with a recurring pattern of behavior or miscommunication. And it has been the hardest for me to hear. It sounds like a personal attack. But it means the problem (or solution) seems obvious to her. For example, earlier in our marriage, Susan would tell me I wasn’t meeting her emotional needs. When I asked what I should do, she’d reply, “You should know!” As we worked through this, I discovered a blind spot. She needed me to treat her with more consistent kindness. When I understood what she needed, we could work on what that looked like.
“You just don’t get me!”
This statement is often misunderstood as an insult, but it’s really a cry of the heart that means, “I want you to understand me better, no matter how hard that is sometimes.” Being understood is one of the main “chambers of the heart” that my wife desires to have filled. Instead of being offended, I need to take it as a challenge to learn more about her so I can love her better. Understanding your wife is part of that.
“Can’t you see how I feel?”
All of us feel emotions, sometimes intensely, that we successfully hide from everyone else. But unseen emotions can still deeply impact us, shaping what we do and how we think. This statement often means, “I want you to understand how what you do impacts me emotionally.” It’s important to respond with patience, to take a posture of a listener and learner, and to ask good questions to help you understand her heart better. Don’t respond defensively or sarcastically.
“I need to be emotionally connected to you.”
Husbands often misunderstand this statement in one of two ways: Either she wants sexual intimacy (which may be connected but is certainly not the focal point of this statement), or this is about listening to her talk about her feelings. While those assumptions may play a role, what a wife often wants is to understand your heart and feelings, too. She’s expressing a desire for your honesty and transparency, which means she wants you to be vulnerable with her. Sometimes, we need to let our guard down and help her understand what we’re wrestling with. It sounds risky, but ultimately, it builds trust and intimacy.
One final key here: Both wives and husbands need to be willing to use words carefully and keep working at better communication. Don’t let these phrases become ruts because ruts lead to roots of bitterness. When your spouse says something you don’t understand, keep asking: “What does that mean to you?”
What has helped you in understanding your wife or husband better? Share in a comment below.