How do other couples deal with this miscommunication problem?

My lady friend and I have encountered one communication problem fairly often in almost two years we have been together. We have spoken about it and as far as we can figure out:
She: gets an idea, begins talking about it, considers pros and cons, ruminates about it, imagines pusuing the idea, considers alternatives, reconsiders costs/benefits/schedules, ruminates some more, decides on whether to go ahead with the idea; if the decision is to go ahead: ranks its priority with competing goals, makes detailed plans.

I: get an idea, consider pros and cons, ruminate about it, imagine pusuing the idea, consider alternatives, reconsider costs/benefits/schedules, ruminate some more, decide on whether to go ahead with the idea; if the decision is to go ahead: rank its priority with competing goals, begin talking about it, make detailed plans.
So, when she first suggests e.g. a destination for our next vacation, it’s a mere idea to her, but I take it as what it’d be if I suggested it: a considered decision, and, being the first thing out of her mouth, also her first priority. So, if I like the idea too, I agree and think we have an agreement when she thinks we have just exchanged vague views. (I regret to say I have sometimes waxed all moralistic about her ‘going back on her word’ after having long been looking forward to what I thought were our plans for vacations etc., and being bitterly disappointed.). She’s a very moral and responsible person BTW but this has made her mistake her for a liar on occasion.

When it’s me suggesting something, what I suggest first is something I have considered for long, and my first priority, i.e. in important matters it’s my heart’s desire - and she treats it like what it’d be with her, just an idea, and casually shoots it down. Or, if she agrees, takes my not mentioning it further as my having abandoned the idea, when I think we have agreed so nothing further needs be said.
I wonder if it’s a Venus/Mars issue and the la donna è mobile stereotype of the fickle female has been partly caused by such miscommunication.

Our personalites will not change much anymore (we are 104 years old between us), so we’ll have to use our ability to communicate about communicating to deal with this.
Have you encountered this issue, and how do you deal with it?

I am just like your partner!

It used to drive my ex-wife crazy. She’d say “You change your mind ALL the time! About EVERYTHING!”

Fact is I hadn’t made up my mind at all; I was thinking out loud. I tend to do this with quite a few things: dinner, vacation, getting a new car, seeking a degree, career change.

To her, I was flighty and couldn’t stick with a decision. To me, I was sharing with her my thought process.

My husband and I are exactly the same as you and your lady friend.

For the situation you describe - I make sure to use lots of words about research still to do in my discussions to remind him that I’m not at the decision phase yet.

For the situation which also must occur which you do not describe, when my husband brings things to me that he’s been thinking about and now wants an instant decision from me with 30 seconds of information, we have agreed that I get a timeout to go through all the steps he already has. Complexity of the situation drives the timeperiod. ie, couple of days for a vacation destination, at least a week for a new house. :wink:

It’s nice that you know that about each other. When she has an idea, you have to realize that it’s just an idea.

When you have a considered decision… that’s a little harder. Can you bring it up while you’re still in the ruminating phase?

I love that. I, for one, tend to be a little prone to sticker shock. I’m pretty quick to say no to new ideas, so usually what I need is time to try on the idea and see if it fits, kind of like a new pair of shoes.

Here’s your problem. Time to say what you mean. Sounds like she means what she says. When she says, “I’m considering something…”, she’s actually undecided and still considering. When you ‘suggest’ something, it’s apparently not a ‘suggestion’ but a decision made.

Were I your partner, I would be stopping you, every time you used the word ‘suggest’, to say, “By ‘suggest’ do you actually mean suggest, or do you mean, ‘Here’s as I’ve decided’. If it’s the latter, it would really help our communication if you could find a way to actually say ‘decision’ when you mean it, and not ‘suggestion’. Thanks, that’s going to help a lot.”

Life gets easier when you can actually express what you mean, instead of expecting your partners to understand that you said ‘suggest’, but, ‘to you’, that means you’ve already ‘decided’. It’s all on you, as you’ve described it. I’m your partner, you needn’t pussy foot around. Say what you mean, not code for what that means, ‘to you’.

I had two thoughts on this, but they sort of ran together. If you’re both aware of the potential for this sort of communication mishap, when the conversation comes up, couldn’t you just ask? “Um, so are you just floating the idea or do you consider this conversation to be the first step in nailing down firm plans?” And there’s the other side of it, “I’m still in the thinking it over phase; this conversation is not to be construed as firm plans.” If it causes conflict, then why don’t you both use sufficient words to convey what you actually mean to avoid confusion and conflict later?

Sort of like when a woman has a problem and she goes to her man and he jumps in all mansplainy to fix it for her. And then she gets mad because she was just verbalizing and didn’t really want him to fix it for her. And he gets mad because she shoots down all his helpful suggestions. Once you realize you’re in that situation, can’t you just head that off at the pass with a simple, “I need you to just listen. I do not need help problem solving. If I do, I will ask.” Or “I need help with problem solving. How do you suggest I handle this?”

So yeah, what elbows said. Use more words. Clarify expectations.

What’s killing me is why do you have to start a thread and ask when you’ve already identified the problem? Is the solution really that not-obvious and elusive?

some people think out loud, other people might interpret this as communication. hilarity and catastrophe ensue.

Yes, I have this issue. My partner and I are very happy together, but I am a “think out loud” person, and he tends to express only his final wish/opinion after quiet deliberation.

First, I think every good relationship requires you to be with a partner who has a communication style you understand, can tolerate, and work to accommodate–and your partner needs to feel the same way. It sounds as though you two have come to an understanding of what your styles are. The question is, are you both willing to do a little work so that you can make yourselves better understood to one another?

A little compromise and effort is required on both sides, in my experience. A “think out loud” person should clarify whether they are “just kicking ideas around” or “have definitely decided that…”, or anything in between. When they make a commitment to an idea, or a promise to do something, they should use clear language to indicate that.

The more internally-oriented partner should make an effort to let their partner know when they are ruminating on something important, especially if it might affect both parties. For example, you could announce, “I’m starting to think about where we might go for summer vacation.” Since you feel strongly about whatever opinions you express, you should use language to make that clear to your partner–“I really have my heart set on doing X,” or “Y is very important to me; I’ve thought a lot about it.” Don’t say, “I think maybe…” when you really feel strongly about something.

And of course, since you are each aware of the other’s style, you should take affirmative steps to make sure you are understanding your partner clearly. For example, if she doesn’t say how strongly she feels about something, you should make the effort to ask, rather than just assuming she has made a decision and/or a promise. On her part, she should try to treat your expressions of decision with an attitude of respect for how seriously you feel about them. When you are making decisions together, don’t just assume you have a firm agreement–verbally confirm this.

However, being an internally-oriented decision-maker does NOT excuse you from being a good communicator with your partner. You still need to have conversations and reach compromises with your partner on important issues. Just because you have made a decision or have a strong opinion on an issue, does not mean your partner is not entitled to feel differently from you. She obviously has a right to a (possibly differing) opinion about any issue that might affect her.

I also think it is very destructive to the relationship to treat your partner’s differing style with negativity and/or contempt. Calling her a “liar” over what was clearly a misunderstanding is not productive, and that kind of overreaction can damage the relationship. If you find that you can’t help feeling resentful and angry over your different styles of thinking or communicating, or that one or both of you isn’t willing to try to do the work it takes to better understand one another, you may find the relationship just won’t last.

My boyfriend is a very internal thinker. I don’t get upset with him over it; instead, I try to draw him out with questions, and we end up having friendly and productive conversations. On the other hand, when I am thinking aloud, I make an effort to signal my level of commitment to any idea/thought. My boyfriend makes it a point to ask me if he feels I’m not clear enough. I try to treat his expressions with more respect than I would if he were a “think out loud” person, because I know he is probably more serious about any given statement than I am. But if I forget, he doesn’t get upset and pouty about it–he reminds me that he feels strongly about (whatever) and that he’s thought a lot about it.

I really think the key is, can you approach this difference with a positive and respectful attitude to your partner?

I was kind of thinking this, too - you know what the difficulties are already; the solutions kind of logically follow (as well as understanding what each of you are doing). You need to share your decision-making process with her more, and she needs to be very clear that she’s thinking about things, not making a firm decision.

Check the thread title again. He’s solved the problem for him. He’s wondering how you deal with it.

:smiley: Up next: Don’t you listen to anything I say? Why do you try to solve things I’ve already dealt with?

I am like your wife an external thinker, it is in our nature. It’s not a male female thing, I am a bloke and lots of blokes think this way.

My wife and I do this, except I’m the out-loud thinker. Mostly I’ve tried to just stop thinking out loud so much since it has gotten me in some big trouble in the past, but I still do it more than I’d like to.

As for the other direction, when she tells me something she’s been thinking about I try to figure out what my next action should be about it (if there is one for me) and get on it ASAP. It’s mostly a matter of realizing that when she brings something up she’s quite a bit further along in the process of thinking about it than I would have been.

I haven’t encountered this with a partner, but I have encountered it with coworkers, relatives and friends. The Bros and I tend to be late-talkers; those italics are important. IME something that complicates the issue is that you don’t know whether the first time we hear an early-talker talk about something it’s early (the just thinking out loud phase) or late, as they may have gone through the first phase with someone else; solution? We ask, “is that a plan or are you tossing ideas?”, they answer.

And sometimes us late-talkers will think out loud: those early-talkers who know us, know that if we say “oh we can do this, or maybe that”, it’s not a plan, it’s an embryo of a plan, but still and same as we do, they ask: “is that just tossing ideas or are you actually changing plans?”

I think it’s important to listen not just to what is being said, but how. Someone thinking out loud will mention other possibilities quite soon - if they’re not interrumpted by someone who grabs the first one and runs away with it, or distracted by something shiny. Someone who has a Plan will describe it linearly.

Just be grateful you don’t have me to plan with. I don’t make linear plans, mine have so many branches I never bother explain them fully, and if I do there’s so many “if thens” it can sound like I’m thinking out loud. Nope, it’s a plan, but I always plan for every possible case I can think of and that’s a lot of cases. I’ve learned to explain only the most probable path and bring out the branches if and when they come up.

Because of an ex who was always saying he was going to **do **something (open a ski resort bar, become a world-class motorcycle champ, move back to Japan, commit to me for the rest of his life, etc) that was merely a hope he had but hadn’t considered the steps toward, I became an explicit explainer. When I say I’m considering something I’m clear that it’s only in consideration; when I’ve decided something I’m clear that what I’m saying is a decision. This can lead to over-communication but rarely misunderstanding (I hope).

You need to change. You are making decisions internally before having the chance to consider things you didn’t know or think of yourself. Decisions come last, open discussion and gathering all information possible come first. According to the description of yourself you’ve already decided what to do about this and we’re wasting our time talking to you.

He needs to change about as much as you do. Having a different decision-making process from yours doesn’t mean his is wrong; also, talking directly about something isn’t the only possible way to “gather all information possible”. I know what kind of clothes do my relatives like, yet most of us never talk about clothes. I know which women do my brothers find attractive yet we never talk about that - it’s hard to miss.

I seem not to have made clear what decision I referred to. Of course (but apparently not of course) I meant either party’s decision about what input they wanted to make…

Her decision about what she wants + my decision about what I want + discussion/bargaining = our decision about what we do. I.e. there are three separate decisions involved.

In my mind the problem is (by now) pretty obvious but the solution is not - that’s why I asked how others deal with it.

Or at least there is no simple solution that does not require keeping two separate things in mind at the same time: the problem at hand, and ascertaining at what stage the other’s decision making process is.