Don’t get caught digging a miscommunication hole too deep to escape from by preparing yourself for common communication pitfalls.
Communication is the key to a happy marriage, or so I’ve been told. For the married among us, we have all been misinterpreted by a spouse and we have all misinterpreted what has been ‘clearly’ communicated to us by a spouse. Below is a brief guide to help navigate through three common but potentially dangerous communication encounters.
Go Ask Your Dad/Mom
We’ll start with the most common way of not making a decision. ‘Go ask your Dad’ can be interpreted in many ways, but is most commonly used to get out of having to say no to your kid. Common usages include the response to the following questions?
Can I watch TV?
Will you play with me?
Can I have money for the field trip?
What’s for supper?
Oddly, it can also be used as a response from a tired parent to other communications from your child, including but not limited to:
Sister just hit me.
I don’t want to go to bed.
Being the second parent to be approached following the ‘go ask your dad’ response can put you into a challenging situation. Accordingly, it is important to respond carefully with attention paid to the consequences of your reply. The easiest way to handle such a situation is to reply with ‘go ask your mom.’ Generally, this process can ping-pong back-and-forth a few times, after which point your child will either give up or realize that nobody is going to call them out if they just do whatever it was that they were asking to do.
Unfortunately, the immediate ‘go ask your mom’ response can also have more negative consequences, particularly if the initial ‘go ask your dad’ answer was meant as a way of truly diverting the responsibility to the other parent. When that is more clearly the case, the only acceptable answer is ‘no’ to whatever the child requests. It can be assumed that ‘no’ is the appropriate answer if the child has already asked the question several times earlier in the hour and received the ‘no’ response, or if your spouse has a moral objection to whatever the question entails (excess screen time, dietary choices, etc.), or if you personally have a strong moral objection to whatever the question entails (SpongeBob, excess noise, etc.).
The last-resort response that requires the most effort but is ultimately the most appropriate answer is to actually engage the child with patience and sincerity. This is undoubtedly more difficult on certain days or at certain parts of the day, but is the only response that scores you both Dad and Partner Points. This response also requires that you ‘parent,’ which brings with it a whole new set of challenges, but that’s something we should have probably considered before having kids in the first place.
Which do you like more?
Anytime you are asked to make a choice for your partner, the answer is straight-forward. You must give a convincing reply that demonstrates that you seriously contemplated the best course-of-action, weighed out all options, and made a practical decision that takes into consideration physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual consequences. Only when this has happened will you realize that your answer has no actually impact on the ultimate decision that is made. This is because the decision was already made before you were asked, and your role was to reinforce the choice by offering the counterpoint.
The thoughtful response, however, is not appropriate for any question that is asked with the intent of seeking reassurance. The cliched ‘do these pants make me look fat’ or ‘is that person more attractive than me’ questions require an immediate response sans any inkling that the answer could be affirmative.
There is no in-between. Either a fully contemplative response or a reflexive one.
Are you going to…?
Any question that starts out with ‘are you going to’ or ‘are you really going to’ is not at all intended as a question. The phrasing as a question should not distract you from identifying this as a command to either do something or to undo something that you’ve already done.
Any ‘are you going to’ question that has a task that you have not yet done at its conclusion is a command to complete the said task. Are you going to paint this weekend? Are you going to clear the table? Are you going to put the kids to bed? Are you going to shower? Are you going to wear the blue shirt to the event? Are you going to mow the lawn? The list is as exhaustive as your partner’s imagination, but the answer is always expected to be ‘yes.’ Any answer other than ‘yes’ will require a thorough justification as to why the task is not already being worked on and a full explanation of what more important task is taking its place.
Any ‘are you going to’ or are you really going to’ question that concludes with a task that you’ve already done is a command to undo the said task. Are you going to wear that shirt? Are you really going to drive/shovel/ workout/sleep/eat like that? Any ‘are you going to’ question related to a choice you made regarding your own appearance…these are all clear indicators that you are in the wrong and that whatever has been done should now be undone. Any answer other than ‘no’ followed with a more suitable choice will be accompanied by disgusted sighs and disapproving comments until the task is undone.
Like when traveling to a foreign country, knowing the language won’t always prevent you from getting lost, but it does make navigation easier. If communication really is the key to a happy marriage, then any efforts to clear the course will undoubtedly be appreciated.
If you have common interpretations that are missing, please let us know in the comments so that we can update our list.