“Just tell me what you want!” he says, exasperated by all her hinting and expectations and … well, manipulation. Because that must be what it is, right? Why else would she play games?
This question, more or less, came up in a series of posts written by Paul Byerly of The Generous Husband and The XY Code. You can go read those posts here:
First You Have to Know – The Generous Husband
Why He Thinks It’s a Game – The XY Code
He’s Not As Careful with His Words – The XY Code
I took issue with the word “game” as a description of what’s happening for most women. In addition to commenting, I had a great online conversation with Paul, at the end of which I volunteered to write a post about why women often aren’t as direct in their communication.
Generally speaking, she’s not trying to manipulate him or make it difficult. Most women who haven’t learned a lot about men’s brains and communication style don’t understand they’re being unclear to him. We honestly believe you should be able to see what we’re saying!
Especially because … sometimes he does.
Case in point: My husband, whom I fondly call Spock because he is super-logical and not instinctively romantic, does not pick up on hints. When he tries, he often guesses wrong. However, we stepped into a local furniture/knick-knack store one time, and I commented on how much I loved a particular painting. I thought nothing of it, because I was simply admiring a product at the store.
Lo and behold, at my next birthday my husband presented me with the painting! It now hangs next to my desk:
I don’t know why that one time he paid attention to my interest and followed through with the gift. But had I not already known the way his mind generally works, I might have concluded that his willingness to meet my understated desires was selective. Some women might figure: Because he did it this one time, why can’t he do it all the time?
But it’s not fair to take a one-off and try to force that into a pattern. That would be like thinking that one time I made a perfect meal means I could deliver chef-worthy food every single night. (Not.)
It’s easy to misread one another if we don’t make an effort to understand the inherent differences in our communication styles, which come from our backgrounds, our personalities, and our gender. Not all of the stereotypes will apply to your spouse, but it’s worth asking whether such things are true.
And give one another the benefit of the doubt when your spouse says you misunderstood their intentions. Yes, if you said X, it would mean Y. But for your spouse, saying X might mean Z. Because we think and communicate differently.
Again, I believe God made it this way because, to have a good marriage, we’re then forced to let go of our selfishness, aim to understand our spouse, and stretch ourselves in loving them. The way Christ modeled.
But let me back to the original question: Do women try to manipulate men? Sure, some do. But most of the time, if a wife’s dropping hints and thinks her husband should pick up on them, she’s not trying to manipulate him. She’s lived her life learning how to pick up on subtlety, and her brain is even hardwired better for this task, so it’s difficult to understand why he can’t. Especially when, as I pointed out, now and then something does stick for him.
Meanwhile, ladies, take those moments as a treat, but try to be more direct with the men in your life. I hear from a lot of husbands who feel frustrated because they want to give their wives what they want, but their wives won’t tell them and the guys cannot figure out the hints. Because men are hardwired that way and learned that communication style.
Look, a lot comes down to verses like these: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). What would it look like to devote yourselves to one another in communication? Would it be one of you getting his or her own way? And what about honoring? Can we honor one another’s way of looking at things and work together to reach understanding?
Let’s not accuse each other of intentions that aren’t there, but rather work through our differences to reach unity.
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
Now please go read my guest post at The Generous Husband: Why She Communicates the Way She Does (and It May Not Be What You Think)
Also check out a great podcast episode I just listened to: The Art of Manliness – The Male Brain
And a great one for wives to read: You’re Not Allowed to Complain About Not Getting What You Didn’t Ask For (It’s more balanced than the title conveys.)
Plus one more: Is It Manipulation? Motive Matters from The Forgiven Wife
24 thoughts on “Q&A with J: Do Women Try to Manipulate Men?”
Very good post J. I also found that last link you posted as an extremely good read. I don’t know how women would react to it, but as a man I feel the advice on how to ask for what you want while also describing why you want it to be very helpful. A lot of times in these posts when a man says that he wants a woman to be direct, invariably a woman will say something along the lines of “but I want him to know me”. Well, I think that article you posted accomplishes both.
When you ask for something, whatever it might be, don’t just ask for it outright. If you ask for your husband to take you out to a new place to eat, tell your husband why. Tell him you would like to go to that new restaurant because you love French food, and getting to experience new cuisine, especially when the kids are away. Tell him also that it really makes you feel loved because you get to experience it together. Why is this better? Because it tells him both what and why. If you want your husband to know you, he needs to know why you want things, not just that you do. That information will help him to eventually be able to anticipate your desires and do with without asking. That’s probably why Spock was able to anticipate that J wanted that painting. At some point, or probably many times, he pieced together that she liked art and that she liked that type of art. He got this by learning her by her actions and words from the past. If you want to improve and speed up the process, tell him explicitly the what and the why every time you can. You will train him to know you.
That’s a great suggestion: giving both the what and the why! Thanks, Brian.
Oh I’ve heard that.
I asked my ex-wife to describe what she pictures when she says she wants more romance.
Answer: “If you loved me, you would know what to do…”
And, nope. This Mr Spock can’t do that. Because I loved you, I asked you what it looks like, so I can make it happen. So if you can’t describe it, the best I can do is work with you to develop that picture. But it has to be a joint effort. It can’t be, “you keep trying things and I’ll tell you (maybe) if you are getting closer.
You know, sometimes crying IS manipulation.
Just saying 😉
(Please note, I didn’t say ALL crying is manipulation. We all know that one person who can turn on the water works to get his or her way.)
Where did I mention crying? And yeah, of course it can. Anger can also be a form of manipulation that some men use. Just sayin’.
Yep, been at the receiving end of that one too
J, I suspect that the answer to, “Just tell me what you want!” would be this:
“I want you to hear me.”
I suspect that for women the path to a decision is part of the decision, whereas for men, the path is just a task that has to be ‘accomplished’ first.
Maybe a special meal is a good analogy; for a man, cooking and cleanup are secondary; the consumption of the meal itself is the whole purpose.
But for a woman, preparation and cleanup are parts of the whole, and the male attitude somehow takes away from the joy, by making something that was meant to be a three-dimensional experience into a single-dimensioned ‘point’.
Thus, for a woman, it’s much more about context and consensus, placing life into a social, emotional and spiritual landscape, whereas or men life is more a series of discrete ‘events’; analog versus digital, if you like.
Does this make sense?
I can think of at least one area that most men care more about the path to the event than the event itself: sex. If my wife decided to have sex with me just because I asked for it, that would be great and much appreciated. However, to me it is far more meaningful and fulfilling if my wife makes love to me because she wants to make love to me, not because I asked for it. In fact I would rather never have to ask for it at all. So, maybe that is one way I can relate.
I think manipulation is pretty apparent when it’s happening. It might take a while to get hip to it at first, but eventually it becomes easy to recognize. However, I think the best reaction to it is just the same as if it weren’t manipulation. That reaction is to be wise as serpents & innocent as doves.
My wife & I still have our times of hurting each other with fights & misunderstandings. Yet, we have gotten better about it. The golden rule saved us a lot of heartache, & maybe even divorce.
Typical life misunderstandings aren’t manipulation. It’s kind of selfish to think that it is. Obviously if a person is a brat &/or want something we manipulate. But, we can’t mistake two different people trying to be one as manipulation. But, then again manipulation can be subconsciously done. We become defensive, we take things personal, & we get angry when we aren’t understood. A lot of times we just expect too much. We think marriage should be easier. But, no solution will ever happen unless we quit the fighting & understand that the other is just the same as you, but in a different way. If this weren’t true we wouldn’t have the golden rule.
So, the solution, that works for us, is I realize my wife needs space & time to be her, just as I want that for me. Also, I expect only what the evidence shows I can. She is different from me, but wants to be heard like me. Yes, I still mess up & forget myself, but not half as much as I used to. Not every statement has to be matched with a solution. That was a hard lesson. To just allow the statement to be. I learned that finally, now my wife is starting to see it too. We don’t have to be each other’s critic.
Eph 5:21 “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Rom 12:18 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”
Act like we meant our marriage vows & act like God’s got this. We’ve got the time & the purpose. Why muck it up with panic & fretting. Don’t be out to get each other. Be out to be with each other. At first it felt like I was losing. Losing the fight. Losing me. But then things changed & we were on the same team. Not enemies.
C. S. Lewis pointed out in one of his novels (writing when he was still a bachelor) that men and women communicate differently and thus are often in each other’s way when something needs to be done. That may be true in some practical matters, but in the marriage relationship, both need to learn from the other and together be a complete, one flesh, couple.
So when it comes to my relationship with my wife, I’ve learned over the years to, as I expressed it to our sons, listen to her heart more than her words. It’s still not easy, since I mainly talk to exchange information, to remember that for her, talk is relationship.
There is one area, though, where I think many women go way wrong in this, and that is sex. Sexual intimacy is down the list in how my wife expects to relate to me, but it is at the top for me. So much so, that when she was gatekeeping and then refusing, I was cut off from her, not just sexually but emotionally.
I think that sometimes the marriage communication discussions seem one sided. The husband has to work real hard to understand his wife, but I don’t often hear much about the other direction. That’s why the sexual gatekeeping and refusal is so devastating. If she wants to challenge my mind to understand her, fine. But don’t play with my heart that way.
I’m speaking for myself, but I think most men would agree that we can learn to read our wives so much better if the sexual relationship is solid. Then I know that my marriage is fine and I can really relate to my wife with understanding so much more easily.
“I think that sometimes the marriage communication discussions seem one sided. The husband has to work real hard to understand his wife, but I don’t often hear much about the other direction.”
Sexual expression is a form of communication that seems to come easily to most men. They enjoy the sexual path.
A good many women have to work pretty hard to learn how to express themselves sexually and to try to understand what sexual expression means to their husbands. Some of us enter marriage not having a clue. My opinion is sex is just as hard for some women to grasp as it is for some men to understand their wife’s verbal form of expression. For some women, the sexual path seems foreign, scary, and an unnatural form of communication. It’s something they have to work at.
I’m not sure the marriage communication discussions are one sided at all.
Point taken, although I do see one difference. When my wife was withholding sex from me, it was because “that’s just the way I am.” If I had withheld conversation from her because “that’s the way I am,” we would have gotten nowhere.
Men generally don’t communicate verbally well with their wives NOT because they are afraid to do so, or because they don’t or won’t try. It’s because we poor schlubbs truly can’t figure it out without a lot of help.
Having studied other languages, I know how hard it is to communicate when your grasp is limited. But most people will try to help you communicate. The problem arises when a man feels he has to figure it out on his own with no help at all.
When my wife began to realize how vital sexual intimacy is for me, my very marriage lifeblood, I helped her along. And, to her everlasting credit, she helped to understand her better and communicate her way better. And I give God all the praise for this, because I know many couples never get past the deadlock. He changed both of us.
I agree completely with this. It’s the reason sex is usually so one sided with men having to do the majority of the work to connect with our wives.
Could we maybe get away from “who has to do the most work” and just focus on loving and honoring one another? Because a lot of wives who would argue that point, Brian, but in the end it doesn’t matter if we can get both spouses to work on issues together.
Forgive me J, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve been arguing that it doesn’t matter who does more work and what’s fair. That’s the point of all this and the point of my comment about sex. What does it matter as long as the marriage is stronger overall and both parties are happy. Sometimes the husband will have to exert more effort or bend more and sometimes it will be the wife.
One doesn’t show love and honor by watching the other struggle while having the information needed for success.
If one continues in a pattern that frustrates her husbands efforts to understand and connect, knowing he is struggling, i fail to see how that is showing love and honoring him.
It seems more like training a pet to respond. It can be a master/subordinate relationship from the perspective of the hapless trainee.
But do you see that, likewise, a wife could argue “if he continues in a pattern that frustrates her efforts to feel understood and connected, knowing she is struggling,” is he honoring her? That’s why I’m simply trying to point out that it’s not intentional; there are expectation and communication differences we need to address. And yeah, I agree entirely that she needs to learn to speak up more clearly. (I’ve said that so many times, I don’t even know why I’d have to say it again…but there you go.) What I object to is characterizing erroneous expectations, on either side, as being intended to create a “master/subordinate” or “trainer/pet” relationship. We just have to learn to respect each other’s differences and negotiate that effectively in marriage.
In my experience, communication between a man and a woman in marriage is difficult. I have been married almost 4 decades and my wife and I still miscommunicate at least once a day. We are still committed to each other and have learned to roll with the ups and downs of marriage. Playing the blame game just makes everyone miserable.
My experience also. Since my husband and I have reached our 60’s, we’ve found our communication and understanding of each other becoming less effective. Age related? Almost daily, one of us ends up asking the other, “Are we not communicating?” It’s become quite humorous really.
I have to remember your statement about it being humorous, laughter makes MANY things less painful.
I found that when 25 years on and loose that intimacy, plus lost connection with mother 2-5 and father not there due military service and mother was severe and extremely ill mentally – that in my life and marriage when loose connection as grow older, it feels like a RED light and spells danger. I get all the fear from that 2 year old experience and have lived this way to terminology it with a complex psychological trauma dysfunction. I have become my own survivor but cannot communicate to this to my wife. So for me intimacy is extremely vip thus spent most of my life studying at University, Nurse Psychiatric training, Counselling and wonder if should be a writer now on the subject.
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