Key Ingredient to Communication— A Couple’s Dictionary
By: Tess Worrell
My husband calls it the book that saved our marriage.
We were headed to Florida with our, then, six children in tow. Mike was driving while I settled down to read The Way They Learn, by Cynthia Tobias. I was looking for guidance on how to better teach our children. I got a life-changing lesson on how to love the people in my life.
Tobias’ book details different learning styles. As I read the descriptions, I began seeing how different styles fit the people in our family. I had read the section on my husband’s style and had begun the section on mine—abstract random. Tobias noted a person with an abstract-random style focuses on being with people. For tasks they prefer inviting a bunch of people to join together and seldom want to do a task alone. Then came the sentence that changed everything.
“Abstract-randoms always prefer to work in a group. They will turn down help only if it seems it will inconvenience another—then, they will they choose to work alone. ‘No’ really means ‘I don’t want to bother you.’” I turned back to the section on concrete-sequentials—husband’s style. “Concrete sequentials prefer to work alone. They mean what they say and say what they mean. For them—‘No’ means no.”
I turned to my husband and blurted, “So, when I offer to help, and you say ‘No’—you really mean you don’t want help?” As I explained what I’d been reading, relief flowed across my husband’s face. I finally got him.
I mentally replayed all those times I forced “help” onto my poor husband. When I asked if he needed help and he said “No,” I heard “I don’t want to bother you.” I never wanted him to feel he was bother, so I would join him to participate however I could. Why did that seem to frustrate him? I was going out of my way to prove he was important. To keep him from having work alone. He just seemed angry.
Tobias changed all that. While I can’t picture preferring to work alone, I now understand Mike does. I keep his glass of tea filled and check to see if he needs a new tool—otherwise, I leave him alone. Instead of feeling abandoned, he feels heard.
To succeed in relationships we have to understand that the simplest words can mean very different things to different people. As we develop a dictionary for each other’s meanings, we create bonds rather than confusion.
If you find yourself at odds with the people in your life—maybe you need to ask, “What does ________ mean to you?” As you better define the meanings, communication flows—building stronger relationships.