Defining things is one way of getting on the same page.
Our parents showed us a lot about many things when we were under their influence, not the least being how to manage a family. We remember how they did it, and we bring their methods to our own families. The fact is that all families are different. It comes as some surprise to find out that our spouse had a completely different home life, with different expectations as to what it means to be a spouse and parent. It is not uncommon to think that the way it was, is the way it is.
Recently in my practice, one couple was not on the same page with many family matters. As we dialogued further, it became obvious that they thought they were talking about the same thing when it was just the opposite. I realized that Mickey and Kathy were not even on the same page about the words they were using to describe their roles. One word, “helping,” came up frequently in our discussions. Kathy lamented that Mickey wasn’t helping at home. Mickey was frustrated, because he thought he’d been helping. But Kathy insisted that he hadn’t been assisting.
A counselor is part detective. Questioning their definitions of the word helping finally unraveled the mystery. For example, Kathy wondered why Mickey didn’t help her to cook dinner. But Mickey had been bathing the kids while Kathy cooked. He felt that he’d been helping, because she did not have to watch the kids while she cooked.
Mickey was emulating what his father used to do, which was to help by working apart at different things, concurrently, for efficiency. In Kathy’s family, however, her parents worked in the kitchen with each other to prepare the evening meal. It was a time for companionship and family chatter. She wanted Mickey’s company, because her mother and father had always worked together as a team. It was clear that her definition was very different from Mickey’s— but neither one of them even assumed they had different ideas of how to help.
This is just one of the ways communication gets off to a bad start. It is important to make sure that when dialoguing with your spouse, the definitions are the same.
Another couple came in with a complaint: the wife said her husband wasn’t spending time with her. Well it turned out, once again, that their definitions of “spending time” were a bit different. He thought that because he was in the same room with her, he was spending time with her (although he was on his iPad checking work emails). She was not on that page. For her, spending time meant either talking or doing an activity together. So once again, the difference wasn’t defined.
Communicating is not always easy, but with a little effort, it can be rewarding. Remember that the two of you are different. Maybe you have differences in geographic region, or religion, or culture. Just know that you surely have different family histories. So my tip for today is simple: define your terms, and you will have better communication and less misunderstandings.