Pesky little semantic differences you've figured out, saving your marriage

I’ve seen some joke emails about this sort of thing, but I want real life examples of codes you’ve figured out, and where your skills in translation (not to mention good humor) have probably saved the relationship–or at least kept you from facing homocide charges.

I could probably come up with a dozen of these, but I’ll restrict myself to two:

When my SO says “I can’t find X” it means “I’ve opened the drawer/cupboard/place where X should be, and it didn’t immediately pop out whistling dixie and tapdancing on my forehead. Ergo, you must come look for it.”

When my SO says “I’m all out of clean clothes!” he means “I’m too lazy to dig through the laundry basket full of my clean clothes that has been sitting by my side of the bed since you set it here 7 weeks ago hoping I’d put this stuff away.”


I have learned to use the phrase “I don’t have an opinion about that” in place of “I don’t care”. It seems that it’s okay for me to not have an opinion, but I damn sure better care. Go figure???

I have learned, through my husband’s persistence, that “Would you like to do…(insert chore name)” does not mean “Please do …(chore name)” to anyone else. It is apparently not polite, as I was raised to believe, but damned irritating. He’d just say “no” (meaning no, I don’t want to take the garbage out.) and go on with whatever he was doing. He was always surprised when I threw a hissy fit when I found the chore hadn’t been done.

How long did it take us to work out this little difference? Oh, 10, maybe 15 years.

When she’s past that “Abandon All Rationality, All Ye Enter Here” point, just ignore her for a while. Pretend to listen, but don’t respond. Only bad things can come out of a debate where one of the parties isn’t thiking straight.

Of course, I’m a bachelor again now, so don’t put too much value in my advise.

When those difficult questions which you know you will answer wrong) come up, I say “Hmmm… I’ll have to think about that, what’s your opinion on the matter?” Then just agree.

I learned that “At some point” means “Right now”.

Mrs. Spritle: At some point, could you take out the trash?
Me: Certainly!

I’m waiting for the next commercial, or the end of the inning :wink: and I see Mrs. Spritle with the trash on her way to the front door.

Me: I said I’d do that.
Mrs. Spritle: I know; but you’re still watching TV.

That’s it really. My wife and I work very hard at communicating effectively. Actually, she works very hard at it. I’m much tougher to train than she is.

“I’m ready to go now.” I don’t know yet what this means, but I know it doesn’t mean she’s ready to go. I usually wait until about the fifth time she says it and I still end up waiting by the door with my coat on for about five minutes.

“Don’t you want some X?” means ‘I want X and I want you to get it for me.’
One language misinterpretation that almost got me in big trouble: gf and I were in a bar district known as a major pick-up place for foreign guys. She asked if I would ever date a girl I had met there, and I answered “If I were single, I’d probably be down here trying to pick someone up.”

Well, in Japanese, “hitori” can mean “single” or “alone”, so of course she interpreted what I said to mean “If I were here on my own, I’d be trying to pick up girls.” She started crying and I started asking her “what’s wrong?” which only made things worse. It was a few tense minutes before we finally figured out what each of us had meant.


When Mr. Jarbaby, the anal retentive neatfreak with fascist tendencies says,

“I don’t want to sound like I’m nagging…”

he’s nagging, and I’d better settle in.

Last night he threatened to kill me in my sleep, and by that I knew I’d left out an empty cottage cheese container again.

We also learned very early on that we must do our laundry separately, as he believes strongly that clothes somehow do not get clean unless they’re turned right side out. He also folds underpants.

I wonder sometimes how we’ve lasted this long :slight_smile:


“I’m fine,” if it’s not said in an exceptionally perky voice, means “I’m not fine, but I want you to detect it through telepathy and inquire further to show that you care.”

My wife used to state what I considered to be suggestions, requests, and sometimes even invitations as commands, and that took a while to get used to. When requesting something I almost always say please, and wait for other parties to reply with “OK”, or “No, let’s do it this way”, and my wife’s blunt and straight forward statements (not questions!) seemed really impolite. Now that we have been together for 10 years or so, we have both adjusted. If saying please appears ineffective, I command (dealing with retail folks), and she now says please and thank you in situations where it works better (most, I think). Her family is almost all former Marines and law enforcement, so I know where she picked it up. What’s weird is that it took me a while to learn I could say no or make suggestions without offending her or her family, and that they don’t mean the statements as commands. To them it’s just effective communication.

Her family also believes that dinner is almost ready if the table is set. So if the table isn’t set, then no significant meal preparation has occured, and the meal won’t be served any time soon. At holiday gatherings this has caused a lot of confusion. Weird!

“This house is a mess! It’s driving me nuts!” means that something in some completely other portion of his life has gone wrong, and somehow straightening up the magazines on the coffee table will make it better. Go figure.

I’ll have to remember that one – my wife has a wacky habit of asking for my opinion, and then exploding if my answer doesn’t jive with hers. Which makes me wonder why she asked for my opinion in the first place…

“You can cook this again,” means “OH MY GOD! This is SOOOO good! I really appreciate the time and effort you spent in preparing this fantastic meal! You are a culinary goddess! I’m so lucky to have you!”

My husband says he can tell when I am very, very angrly because I yawn a lot. I say it just takes me all evening to get him to actually say what is bugging him so we can’t start a fight any earlier than 11 o’clock at night.

Ugh! Mr. Sunshine is even worse. If thing X is not actually currently poking him in the eye, he hollers, “Honey! Where’s thing X? I can’t find it!” We’ve only been married 2 years, but I learned quickly not to jump up and “help” him look because after 15 fruitless minutes of looking, I’d go the the place where thing X is regularly kept and, voila, there it is. Now I have just taken to hollering back, “Did you look in (place where thing X belongs)?” and a minute later hearing a completely shocked Mr. Sunshine go “Oh! Here it is!”

I don’t know what it is, but he can’t seem to learn where we keep things. And I’m not talking complicated stuff like say, his wallet or the paper towels. I’m talking things like MILK and TOWELS and such that really only have ONE place they could conceivably go.

One thing we are still working on is that when I say, “Sweetie, would you take out the trash?” I mean, “Take the trash out THIS INSTANT!” and when he answers, “Ok, hon!” he means, “I will most likely get to it in the next 24 hours but certainly not before the next commercial/inning/etc” We have a hard time with this. I am a “do it immediately” kind of person and he is a “put it off” kind of person. (This is why I pay the bills.) Anyhoo…we’re working on it. I am trying to be more patient and not ask him again until at least two commericals have gone by. I mean, I don’t want to sound like a nag or anything.

I have exactly the same problem. I say, “I don’t care what movie we see”, he says, “Fine, let’s not go” or “Are you angry?” So I now say, “I don’t have a preference.”

“Men seem to think that the uterus is a homing device.”
-Rosanne Barr as “The Domestic Goddess”

I can attest to most of these, and I can add one of my own:

  • If wife says "Can you bring me a couple of EL Fudge cookies on your way in?, that actually means “Bring me 5, now!” Apparently when snacks are involved, “a couple” does not mean two, and any time period mentioned is just for show.

aaargh! When I use that phrase it REALLY means I do not have a preference at all. (It seems) he uses it as an excuse not to come up with a preference. Especially re: meals.

Me: “What do you want for dinner?”
Him: “I don’t care”
Me: “How about X?”
Him: “naah”
Me: “How about Y?”
[repeat several more times]

Dammit - you DO SO care! I’ve taken to asking the original question in a negative… sometimes we get there faster.

I do that “How would you like to do chore X?” thing, and the other day I heard my mom use it. Both my dad and mr. genie hate it. I’m trying to change my words, but it also really bugs me that he can’t just see that I’m asking him to do chore X and not make a big song and dance about using the exact words he wants. We also have the time delay problem–I want him to do it now, and he says OK and then does nothing. This one is solved by reminding him that he needs to give me a time frame–if he says, “OK, I will in a few minutes when I finish typing this” then I will sort of relax and try to reciprocate by not telling him again (until it becomes obvious that he’s forgotten about it).

Sunshine, it will not get better anytime soon. Mr. genie used to ask me where things like the flour were kept (on the counter, in a clear container). He still can’t figure out things like where spatulas, etc. belong (on the counter, in a big vase with all the other spatulas) or where the towels live. I think part of it is that he has an undiagnosed blind spot in the middle of his vision–he can be looking for something for 10 minutes, yell for me, and I’ll find it sitting right in front of him.

My husband claims that when we are getting ready to go somewhere and I ask him “Is that what you’re wearing?” it’s not a question at all, but a plea for him to change his clothes immediately.