What did you mean by that? Understanding your partner.

“Why can’t relationship communication just be easy? Why can’t people just be honest?!” I hear this from people in dating and marriage. “Why can’t people just express their honest feelings or say what they think without hiding and covering up?”

Is it lying? What else might account for less than fully honest communication? Sometimes there is insecurity about oneself or the future; sometimes there is manipulation and game playing; but sometimes there is a genuine effort to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.

Both men and women do this, but do they (we) do it differently.

Google “What do women mean when they say …” Most of the articles, including ones written by women, claim that women don’t say what they mean.

Now Google “What do men mean when they say …” This list of articles also claims that men don’t say what they mean.

The following examples may provide insight into our male/female communications, hopefully, with a dash of humor:

Conflict Avoidance

When SHE says “Do whatever you want”, what she means is “This is a test of your judgment. You should know enough by now to know if I’m OK with it.”

When HE says “Can we talk about this later”, what he means is “Can we drop the subject, permanently, please?” He’s not interested in discussing it. He’s hoping she will forget about it and let it go.

When SHE says “We’ll talk about this later”, what she means is “I’m so angry with you that I can’t think straight now. I need more time to gather my thoughts, remember all the other times you hurt me, and think about why I’m still with you.”

When HE says “I was just kidding”, what he means is “I want you to think I was just kidding because I think I just insulted you or said something rude, and I don’t want you to be angry.”

When SHE says “Whatever”, what she means is “Go to hell. I have no more words for you. It’s just not worth it.”

When HE says “Look, I’m sorry”, what he means is “I’m sick of arguing, can we move on or forget about it?”

When SHE says “I forgive you”, what she means is “I’ve decided I can live with what you’ve done. But know that it might come up in another argument later.”

When HE says “I don’t know”, what he means is “I can’t answer truthfully as you might not like my answer”, or “You might not like anything I say”, or “I really don’t know what you want or what you are feeling”.

When SHE says “It’s pretty”, what she means is “Thank you for the gift. It’s the thought that counts. But I’m going to exchange this for something I actually like.”

When HE says “It’s a guy thing”, what he means is I can’t explain it in a way you would understand, and it’s not a big deal. Can we drop it, please?”

Feelings, Especially Anger

When SHE says “We need to talk”, what she means is “I need to talk; you need to listen.”

When HE says “What’s wrong”, what he means is “Tell me the quickest way to put things right so we can have sex or so I don’t have to listen to your complaining. I don’t need to know the reasons.” He is NOT asking for two hours of emotional sharing, especially if it does not lead to a resolution of “what is wrong”.

When SHE says “Nothing”, what she means is “Did you seriously ask me ‘What’s wrong?’ as if you don’t know? Everything is wrong. Everything!”

When HE says “Nothing’s wrong”, what he means is either “There really is nothing wrong so please stop trying to use this as an excuse to share feelings”, or “I can’t explain what’s wrong because I don’t understand my feelings myself.”

When SHE says “What did you say?” or “Seriously?” what she means is “I just gave you a get-out-of-jail-free card to rethink and rephrase that stupid thing you just said.”

When HE says nothing, just silence, what he means is He does not have the courage to be honest about his feelings, or he is so tired of her pursuing or their arguing and knows it will go nowhere.

When SHE says “I’m fine”, what she means is “I am most certainly not fine. I am upset but I’m not going to tell you why because by now you should now.”

When HE says “I’m not angry”, he either means it, or what he means is “I’m annoyed, but I’ll get over it, so let’s drop it.”

When SHE says “I’m sorry”, what she means is “I’m empathizing with you for something bad you went through. This does not mean I’m at fault or willing to help you feel better.”

Romance

When HE says “I’m not really looking for a relationship right now”, what he means is “I’m really only looking for sex. Let’s see where this goes, but I’m not thinking about the future. Is that OK?”

When SHE says “I’m not looking to date anyone right now” or “I think we should just be friends”, what she means is “I’m not looking to date you” or “I’m not attracted to you.”

When HE says “I’ve been busy”, what he means is “I’m not interested enough to make time to see you now.”

When SHE says “I’m really busy right now”, what she means is “I don’t want to date you. Please stop calling me.”

When HE says “I don’t like putting relationship stuff on Facebook,” what he means is “I don’t want the other women I know to think I’m in a relationship.”

When SHE says “So why did you and your ex-girlfriend (or ex-wife) break up?” what she means is “I’m trying to figure out if you’re a cheater of if there is any other thing really wrong with you.”

When HE says “Can I give you a massage?” what he means is “Can we have sex?”

When SHE says “I don’t want to ruin our friendship”, what she means is “You’re never going to see me naked.”

When HE says “Why don’t you come over to my place tonight so I can cook dinner for you?” what he means is “Come over to my place so we can have sex.”

When SHE says “I’m tired”, what she means is “I don’t want you near me tonight. I’m going to bed soon. After that, feel free to take care of yourself, just leave me out of it.”

When HE says “How do you know this guy?” what he means is “Have you had sex with him?”

When SHE says “Are you seeing anyone?” what she means is “I’m interested, but I don’t want to waste any more energy on you if you’ve already got someone in your life. If you do, be honest right now.”

When HE says “I love you”, what he means is “You’re amazing, I’m crazy about you, and I don’t want to be with anyone else.” However, during sex it means “That was fantastic. When can we do it again?”

When SHE says “Let’s get a dog”, what she means is “I want to have babies, but I don’t want to scare you off. However, based on your answer, I’ll know your level of commitment.”

When SHE says “Do you remember what day it is today?” what she means is “Today is my birthday or our anniversary and you forgot.”

But there is growing convergence in the way men and women communicate in romance. For example:

When EITHER says: “I’m confused about this relationship”, what it meant is “I don’t think you’re the right partner for me and I’m thinking of breaking up with you.”

When EITHER says “So where do you see this relationship going?” what is meant is “I want to take our relationship to the next level, I’m nervous about asking you, I want to know what you want, and I want a commitment.”

When EITHER says “We’re just in different places right now” what is meant is “I don’t want to continue our relationship.”

When EITHER says “I like your friends, but …” what is meant is “I don’t like your friends” or “some of your friends” or a particular close friend.

When EITHER says: “We need to take a break” or “I need space”, what is meant is “I’ve met someone else, but I’d like you to still ‘be there’ in case it does not work out” or “This is your last chance to leave me before I leave you.”

When EITHER says: “We need to learn to communicate better”, what is meant is “You need to listen better and be more responsive to my needs.”

Getting Ready for an Event

When SHE says “I’m almost ready”, what she means is “I’ll be ready when I’m ready. It could be 10 minutes, or an hour. Find something to do.”

When SHE says “Does I look fat in this?”, what she means is “I’m testing you again. I want to know if you find me attractive and prettier than the other girls, not whether I actually look fat.”

When HE says “You look incredible in that dress”, what he means is “Please, can we go now?”

When SHE says “Are you really going to wear that?” what she means is “You are not wearing that. Go change. Period.”

When HE says “I don’t think you should wear that tonight”, what he means is “I don’t want other men looking at you while we’re out tonight.”

Fitness and Health

When HE says “Maybe we should think about exercising”, what he means is “You’re putting on weight.”

When SHE says “Would you like to come to the gym with me” or “Should we consider buying a treadmill”, what she means is “you’re putting on weight.”

The Trap

Be aware of this question that can ruin a relationship whether dating or married: “How many lovers did you have before me?” What the person means is “How do I compare to your past relationships?” and “Am I important to you?” The trap is to answer with a number: Too high and you’re promiscuous, too low and you’re a prude and inexperienced. There is a correct answer, though: “Just enough to learn exactly how to best take care of you because I love you.”

Last point, when someone says “No”, it means “No”. This one is not open to interpretation. Always assume that the person means it even if s/he tells you s/he is not sure and/or has been drinking. Always.

Use CaseKeepers to record expressions you hear from others and what you think they mean, especially if you feel the expression was not direct or honest. Then also record what you believe were the person’s intentions: to avoid conflict, avoid hurting your feelings, game playing, or something else.

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