By Steve McIlwain
Depending on your style of thinking, your brain has between 12,000 – 50,000 thoughts per day. That’s 8-34 per minute; more than one different thought every two seconds!! Men have different ways of expressing these thoughts. Some are loud and outspoken. Some are quiet and muted. Some are entirely unfiltered. Some only speak when prompted. Regardless of how you express your thoughts, you’ve got lots of stuff buzzin’ through your dome.
I come from a long line of “less is more” kinda guys. My dad and both granddads are/were quiet, reserved men. Not to say that they don’t have personalities; quite the opposite. They are all kind, loving, fun, spirited dudes that are easy to talk with and demonstrate genuine interest in every conversation. But in general McIlwain men are on the reserved/chill side of the spectrum. With us, oftentimes a glance speaks decibels louder than words.
I have this same tendency. Ash typically knows how I’m feeling based on my look rather than what I verbally communicate to her. I have a hard time expressing my feelings because sometimes I feel like they’re not valid, don’t matter, or simply shouldn’t be said. So when I have an issue or problem I tend to live by the “less is more” credo. My general approach is to ignore the situation and let the natural balance restore itself.
In some ways this is a good thing. Every thought that runs through my head doesn’t need to be verbalized. But I err on the opposite side: not saying things when I should. There are times when stuff bothers me that should be discussed. Oftentimes I refrain from bringing these issues up because I don’t want to hurt Ash’s feelings, am not really sure if it’s worth discussing, or would rather avoid spending an afternoon arguing.
The fact of the matter is that husbands and wives need to discuss issues — pleasant, un-pleasant, and otherwise. It is in these situations that I’m still learning when and how to bring them up. Not only is it a rarified art form to know when is the right time, but it’s also a refined skill to do it the right way. I tend to struggle with both. In fact, one of these conversations literally happened as I was writing this; it didn’t go well.
I’m not sure that there’s ever a good time to bring up issues and frustrations. Perhaps the right time to bring them up is exactly when they occur. If you can identify issues in the moment, you can work through them right away. However, I tend to take some time to process information, so I need a while to think things through. In that situation, maybe carving out some quiet time to talk or taking a walk provides the right forum for difficult conversations.
Part two of this doozy is expressing your thoughts and feelings in the right way. I am getting better about expressing the things I’m frustrated with but still struggle doing it the right way. During difficult conversations with Ash, I find myself coming across all wrong and saying a lot of, “Well, you asked me to open up, and I’m just trying to convey my true feelings with you.” Clearly I’m struggling to communicate without being offensive. The key is to be honest but not necessarily entirely unfiltered. Raw, unfiltered thoughts can be flat out hurtful. The thoughts buzzing through your brain may seem innocent enough, but when verbalized, come across flat out horrible. It is a fine line between watering it down and being a jerk. You don’t want to package your thoughts so carefully and neatly as to change your message, but you do want to present them in a way that can be received.
While, in my opinion, you should try to convey your feelings as politely as possible, the reality is that a lot of these conversations will hurt your spouse’s feelings and be very frustrating. This is the main reason I shy away from these types of dialogues. But that doesn’t change the fact that these conversations need to happen. While in the short run some of these talks may be hurtful, in the long run they set your marriage up for success. They create an atmosphere of openness and allow candid, honest communication to occur that help nip issues in the bud. Oftentimes skipping relatively small, difficult conversations leads to large and potentially explosive blow-outs down the road. Just like a vaccine, a small prick ahead of time saves you from developing a marriage-threatening disease.
If you’re the type of guy that has an “it’s easier not to say anything” mentality, you may want to re-consider. While at first that may seem easier, in the long run that may end in disaster. Learn to identify issues that need to be addressed, and then have honest conversations before they morph into monsters. For me on opening up – getting better. On expressing my feelings in the right way – kinda shaky. It’s a work-in-progress; a type of “sharpening the sword” practice to maintain sanity and allow for growth. This will lead you head-on into some super frustrating conversations. But developing this practice just may be the thing that saves your marriage in the long run.