Like verbal and body language, what we do conveys messages to others. Unlike verbal and body language, the language of our actions is not universal. We attach meaning to behavior based on our life experiences.
Misunderstanding over behavior is the basis of most relationship problems. Books have made studies of this (“Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”.) Men, as a whole, do share common perspectives as do women. But to better understand your own marriage, you must consider the meaning behind your spouse’s behavior that comes from his life experiences.
For example, a friend of mine couldn’t understand why her husband flipped out whenever she wore a negligee. She had a nice body, and the clothing was tasteful. But he banished negligees from her wardrobe. Finally, he explained that his mother, with whom he had a resentful relationship, wore negligees in front of the family throughout his childhood. What should have elicited romantic feelings did the exact opposite.
One of the issues that caused great upset in my own home was what I perceived was lack of security and caring. What made me feel this way? Every night before we went to bed, my husband would flop into bed without checking the house (i.e. locking the doors, flipping of lights, etc.) The children’s bedroom windows might be left wide open and all the doors unlocked. This disturbed me to no end. No amount of pleading or nagging would change his behavior. He’d make some half-hearted attempts at checking the house before bed on occasion, but he just didn’t think it was a big deal so eventually he stopped. I took this to mean that he didn’t care about our safety and that he was selfish, merely caring about himself.
And every time, I’d go around checking windows and doors, with a heavy heart. Finally, after feeling hurt for too long, I came out with it. “Don’t you care about our safety?” I lashed out. “There are news reports of missing children abducted through open windows. Someone could sneak into our bedroom and murder me as you lay there snoring away right next to my bloodied corpse!”
He was offended. Of course he loved us and wanted us to be safe. But he was raised in the late 60s in a tranquil Dallas suburb. People went to bed with their doors unlocked and keys in the car ignition. To this day, he just doesn’t feel threatened by the worries of today.
For my father, on the other hand, family security was a top concern even though he lived in rural Hawaii during an even safer time. It was his nightly ritual to go from room to room, checking the locks and turning out the lights. He wasn’t a demonstrative man so this action conveyed the love and concern he had for us. Fathers are supposed to be protective, in my understanding.
When I finally explained all this to my husband, he understood why I made such a big deal out of this. He makes more of an attempt to check the house, but I usually just do it myself because it is my way of showing my love and concern. I understand and accept that he has other ways.
Do you have similar misunderstandings in your marriage? Get to the root of the behavior. Often, we’re surprised to learn the meaning behind it. Here are other examples from real marriage situations:
“She doesn’t want to visit my mother.”
One man complained that his wife didn’t want to accompany him on visits. While it seems like a common complaint, in some cases, it just isn’t true. The real reason was that she encouraged him to spend some time alone with his mother. She herself wanted time to visit with her family by herself. “The visits are different,” she said. “I’d want time alone with my grown son.”
“He’d rather be at work than at home.”
Some men may use work as an escape from unpleasant home situations, but most men have out-of-balance schedules for different reasons. Especially when men are the sole breadwinners, they feel tremendous responsibility for providing for the family, and they attempt to alleviate that stress by working harder. My friend’s husband works 6 days a week for 14 hours a day. But he recently came out of a period of unemployment. His overworking is his way to insure his place on the employee roster.
“He doesn’t buy me gifts.”
Believe it or not, when a man fails to give gifts to his wife it doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t love her. It does mean he takes her for granted, however. Ask yourself, “Does he give gifts to anyone else?” Probably, he thinks gifts are trivial and superficial. He doesn’t wrap up his love in a store-bought item. They don’t equate. As far as he is concerned, he shows his love in everyday acts, like coming home after work. Really.
Once you discover the meaning behind your spouse’s behavior, you’ll be able to move forward in coming to a workable solution to your differences without hurt and faulty assumptions.