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That's not what he heard

Nov 08, 2021

Men and women are different, and they use language differently. The same words don't hold the same meaning for a man that they do for a woman. We have different patterns of talking. We have different word choices, and our emotions are different.

I remember one couple in particular.

We were doing premarital counseling, and the economy was tanking back then. They actually were both entrepreneurs. Their businesses were struggling, and they decided to postpone their wedding. Now in the process of that, the struggles with his children from his first marriage - who were young adults - were also a big stress factor in their relationship.

She's talking to me she says, “You know, if I’m the problem, I’ll just walk away. I hate seeing him struggle this way. It's just so painful. If I’m the problem, I’ll just walk away.”

The man glazed over. It was so sad to see his face, and I instantly knew how he heard what she had just said. So I said, “You know what he just heard? He just heard, ‘You better get your act together buddy, or I’m out of here.’”

She looked at me with this shocked look on her face. She turned and looked at him, and I asked him, “Did I get it right?

And he says, “Yep, that's exactly how I heard.”

She's like, “How in the world could you hear it that way?”

He was listening through a different filter.

Men and women are both sensitive to one another, but they're sensitive to different things.

Men are sensitive to things that attack their identity as a man.

  1. That means failure is a huge issue for him.
  2. He was trying so hard to please his children, even to please his ex-wife, and now to please his fiancée.
  3. His business had tanked, and he was struggling.

He was having a really hard time, so he was listening through that filter. And what he heard her say was, “You better get your act together, or I’m out of here.”

Her words were filtered through his sense of personal failure as a man. He was not able to provide, to lead, or to please anybody. It was a constant struggle for him.

His business was struggling, too. A career is so important to a man. That’s another major part of his identity: to be a provider. He had said in an earlier session that he didn't want to get married until he knew he could provide for her.

That might seem old-fashioned, but I tell you I believe it's in a man's DNA to be the provider. That’s what he felt like he needed to do before he could marry her. We see that in earlier centuries of history when it was so important that a man be able to provide for a woman. Women weren't allowed to work. They weren't allowed to earn money. And if he couldn't provide, then he was not taking care of her. He was not doing what he needed to do. It’s in their DNA to have that drive to provide. So that was an issue for him.

She’s looking at it from a completely different angle.

She’s feeling like everybody hates her. Her feelings are incredibly hurt by things that his young adult children were saying about her and to her, in the way they were treating her. So her feelings are crushed because all of this is going on. She’s looking at him and filtering his reactions. She’s believing that he's getting his feelings hurt when actually he was feeling inadequate. That’s why she came up with her solution: “I don't want to see you hurting, so I’m going to (I’m willing to) leave if it will relieve you of the pain that you're going through. She totally missed the part where the postponement of their wedding was about him not being able to provide for her until he was able to rebuild the business.

Do you see how different that is?
How sad it is that it gets stuck that way?

Knowing the differences in what women are sensitive to and what men are sensitive to is crucial stuff for creating a successful marriage. So be aware that what you say is not necessarily coming across the way that you want it to when you're talking to your mate. Whether female to male or male to female.

That's why it's a really good idea to play back what you think you heard.

If he would have said to her, “I feel like you're telling me that I’ve really messed up, and if I don't figure this out, you're going to leave me.”

Then she could have said to him, “That’s not what I said at all. What I said was I hate to see you hurting, and if it would help you for me to leave, then I’m willing to give up my dream of being with you.”

Now he gets to play it back again. “So you actually said that you hate to see me hurting, and that if you going away would make my life easier, then you're willing to give up the dream of being with me. Did I get that right?”

And she could say, “Yeah, you got it right.”

Then he would say, “Did I miss anything?”

Then she'd say, “No, I think you got the main idea of all of it.”

He’s had a chance to actually play it back. In both cases

– the time where he heard it wrong and told her how he interpreted it

– and the second time one where he tried his best to use her actual words

Sometimes it feels a little awkward to do that. Buts it's the only way you can discover where those filters are.

I’ve seen couples where one of them is feeling really, really sad. It’s so incredibly obvious to me that the person is feeling sad.

I’ll say to his mate, “What do you see in his eyes?”

Sometimes it's hard for them to look at each other. But when she looks at him, she doesn't see sadness. She sees anger, and was always so puzzling to me. But it's really an indication that she's listening through a filter. She’s listening through a filter of fear.

There’s a movie called The Huntsman: Winter's War.

It’s a fairy tale about the Ice Queen, and she doesn't want any love in her kingdom. So she captures all the children and trains them not to love. Well, that doesn't work!

So two of them fall in love with one another: Eric and Sarah. The Ice Queen finds out about it. They want to leave the kingdom, and she tells them it’s fine if they go. But first they have to fight their way out.

So they're in this battle with their fellow kid-soldiers who are now all adults. They all have been raised by the Ice Queen. Eric and Sarah are defeating their friends so they can go and create a life together with one another. To a place where they can actually love.

But the Ice Queen realizes what's happening. So she shoots up a wall of ice between the two of them. The wall of ice is transparent, so they can still see each other. Yet they can't hear or touch each other. The filmmaker plays it back and forth.

  • Then as the movie goes on, you realize Eric saw one of their friends stab her and kill her. He watched her die, and he pounded on the ice till his hands were bloody trying to get through the ice to her.
  • But what Sarah saw was Eric taking the opportunity to run away. He takes off, not the least bit concerned that they're now separated. From her point of view, he just took off.

That's not what happened in either case.

  • Sarah didn't get stabbed and die. She was taken prisoner and locked away.
  • And he leaves believes she's dead.

So you can see where their respective fears were reflected in that wall of ice. Instead of them being able to see through the filter – to see the facts about what actually happened – they “saw” their worst fears come true.

  • He feared he couldn't to protect her. So he saw her die.
  • She was afraid he would abandon her. So she saw him run away.

Neither scenario was what happened.

I believe that's what happens in relationships a lot.

What we think we see through our filter is merely a reflection of our own fears. We don't see through the filter to know what the other person's experience is really like.

That's what I teach couples to do. Listen to one another in a way that each begins to understand the other person's reality. When you know the other person's hopes and their fears, you can respond to the truth instead of responding to fear.

Feel free to leave questions and comments below. I will read and respond to each one as soon as humanly possible.