“And can you please take out the garbage?”: Better Conversations with Men

If you’re a parent, or a wife, or a girlfriend, or someone else who cares when people focus on what comes out of your mouth, you may have uttered these words before: “Did you *hear* me?” Inevitably, the answer is yes. What we really want to know, however, is if the recipient is listening. Even if my husband can repeat back what I’ve said, I know he’s just stored it in his short-term memory and his brain power has the ability to regurgitate whatever the last thing it was that entered in. What we really want to know is if our listeners are paying attention and giving as much thought to our words as we want them to.

He's probably thinking about what he wants for a snack, while she's stewing.

This can be a major battle for my husband and me because I talk, a lot. I’m sure he feels like every single word that escapes my mouth doesn’t need attention. I talk to myself, does he have to listen to that too? I try to preface the important things with these words: I need to talk to you about something important.

Problem solved right? Um, that depends. Is there a soccer game on? Is he looking at Facebook? Is there an animal in the room? Those three things will generally inhibit his ability to focus on what I need him to hear. My first mistake is catching him at a time when he is unprepared to listen. After all, just because I’m in the mood to talk, make a major decision, complain about that witch at the gym, etc., doesn’t mean he’s ready or in the mind frame to be the supportive husband. And to be fair, what husband drops everything to hear your story about the fantastically in-shape snot at the gym who stole your parking spot and who may or may not have had her car keyed (I did key it, but only in my fantasies. It made me run harder on the treadmill and feel better in my soul). So what I’m getting at is that if we can’t control our words entering into their deeper psyche without yelling and screaming at them about how they never listen, we absolutely have control about creating a situation in which their ears are all ours.

Practice your self-restraint and patience.

First you must choose a good time, which isn’t always necessary because disasters which merit his immediate attention do happen. It’s important to keep disasters at a minimum or he’ll start to believe you just use disaster as a way to get his attention when really you’re just out of orange juice. Even if it’s really important (your son misbehaved at school, your check engine light is on, he forgot to empty the garbage), if it’s the last few minutes of the playoffs, go ahead and put a stopper on that thought. You’ll get nowhere with it. You’ll get a half excuse or promise that probably won’t be fulfilled because his auto-pilot made it.

Remove Distractions

Once you’ve got his attention because you’ve waited until he has finished his activity of choice, be it sports, wood-working, or boxing the weight bag, find a place where distractions are minimal. I cannot have a conversation in a room where his laptop is. He will inevitably stare at it. There might not be anything on it, but it gives me the impression that he’d rather be surfing Facebook, or playing one of his weird computer games than listening to me. It hurts my feelings and irritates me. He doesn’t understand that he’s just staring off into space. Problem here? I (and most other women) interpret things as we see fit. Men just kind of are. I doubt he’s thinking about what his friend’s status says; he’s just looking in a comfortable position. I want him to look at me because I feel his chances of really hearing what I’m saying are increased when our eyes meet. For your husband, boyfriend, or friend, it might be a football he can toss in the air, laundry to fold, cards to play with, etc. For my husband, it’s the pets. He simply cannot resist burying his face into their incredibly soft fur and interrupting me with questions about how cute they are (as if I don’t know; I picked out both cats against his will).

Talk in a place you both feel comfortable

Going on a walk or going to sit at a café, or even drink coffee outside in our yard helps us have a real and successful conversation. I find I get his full attention in those matters. It can be really frustrating when you feel like your partner isn’t listening to you. It will only get worse if you expect him to conform to your expectations when he probably wasn’t listening to what they were in the first place.

Once I have his complete and utter attention, I can have that talk, whatever it may be, and find success in it. If I do it any other way, it will lead to a fight when it doesn’t have to. Even though it seems like they should be able to do all these things themselves, isn’t it just as easy for us to wait for a good time and remove all distractions before we talk? One great difference between most men and most women is that women multitask, and then we conveniently forget that they don’t multitask. They want to finish what they are doing and then  move on to whatever is next. Instead of trying to change who they are at the core (single-task-oriented), change your approach.

I want to grow older with him and be as happy as they look.

Bless our men. They do wonderful things for us, but they can’t be expected to do everything. And after I’ve worked that hard at getting his attention, getting him to listen to me and having a real conversation about whatever problem it was we needed worked out, I reward myself by asking him to take out the garbage.

It always makes me feel better.


2 thoughts on ““And can you please take out the garbage?”: Better Conversations with Men

  1. Sometimes I am guilty of the same thing and have to remember to put down my phone or close my laptop when he starts talking–it isn’t that I don’t want to hear what he has to say, I just go on autopilot and continue what I was doing while I (attempt to) listen. It’s not very effective! I think it’s good to keep in mind that your man isn’t necessarily half-listening because he doesn’t want to hear what you have to say, before feeling hurt about it. Love what you mentioned about waiting for the right context to bring up important issues!

    • I had a lot of experience with this before I met my husband and I always try to act the way I want him to act, as though if I model good behavior, he’ll follow along. But, if he isn’t going to change, all I can do is adjust what I do when I want him to listen and trying not to jump to the “hurt” place before I’ve made a real effort to get him to listen…more than just, “Hey! I’m talkin’ here!”

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