Resolving Communication Problems

Resolving Communication Problems


Singles advice guru Marnie Macauley has humorous and savvy solutions for singles struggling with communication problems with friends, family and lovers.

Resolving Communication Problems

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My dear Singularians, we are gifted with the awesome power to communicate, whether by speech, writing, signing, or twisting our bodies in agony or ecstasy. Seems a snap, right? Except the gift package is often missing a vital component: understanding what the heck we and others are trying to communicate. Yes, relationship communication problems happen all the time. While this gap may provide the powers that be with some cosmic humor, the consequences are far from funny. So today we take on “communication” – how to hear it and respond so we can get it right.

The first principle? Accept the fact that not everybody sees the world the way we do!


Dear Marnie: The other night my boyfriend Joe and I went to dinner with my folks. When the check came, my parents, as usual, wouldn’t allow us to pay, so I told Joe to slip the money in my Mom’s bag when she wasn’t looking. Later, when I asked him, he said he did it. I checked with Mom and she said no. When I confronted Joe, his answer? “I told you that so you’d shut up.” Marnie, I was too furious to talk, so I’ve been playing it cold. What do you think of this little situation? —Freeze Out in Fresno.

MARNIE SAYS:  “Little” situation? Breaking your mom’s favorite antique fish fork is a “little situation.” What you’ve got here is a mini-Middle East crisis – and you’re in the middle. Pumpkin, you and your BF are having a serious fight right now. You don’t know it, because a fight takes two and you’re playing cold, which is all part of a communication problem between you that’s so massive you could drive a Hummer through it.

Getting It: Your Personal Strategy:

* Love is not the universal language, confusion is and relationship communication problems seem to flourish between the sexes. Despite your BF’s steamroller style in telling you to “shut up,” (his communication problem), he not only doesn’t get your language, he doesn’t like it and you don’t seem to get that.

Answer the following:

  1. How often in the last six months did you make him do something to which he objected?
    1. 0
    2. 1-10
    3. Can’t count that high.
  2. In five sentences, describe his reaction, e.g.: He sulked/got mad, but did it.  He refused yelling “never again.” He lied to you.
    • Defrost little Freezer! Calmly sit Joe down and say, “This recent mess started when I asked you to slip mom the bucks. What ticked you off the most about that?” Do not ask how he “felt.” Men speak in action verbs.
    • LISTEN. Give him five uninterrupted minutes. I believe you’ll find the word “manipulation” somewhere in there.
    • I.D. your communication style: Forgive me, but yours sounds like doublespeak, a common lingo learned at mama’s knee. Listen:

THE FOLKS SAY: “Don’t be silly! We won’t allow you to pay.”

THEY MEAN: “But would it kill you to reach into your pocket once in a while?”

Doublespeak makes Spidey’s webs look like silly string. It tangles up the truth in such a quagmire that it would take five Sherlocks (or one reality show writer) to understand your signals.

* Look at the fears and beliefs lurking beneath those sneaky syllables, for example, “I believe it’s my job to fix things for my family and read between their lines.” How is this language serving you? More important, how is it mis-serving your relationship?

* Onto your BF. He must learn to “shut you up” (express himself) civilly and effectively. Blowing up is for bubbles, not big boys. You both need counseling as this “little situation” involves more than word choices.

* QUICKFIX: Quit the Doublespeak. Next time, get the deal down with your mate first, then mom. Say, “Mom, this is our treat!” If she clutches her chest, let her. If you feel bad, send her an Omaha Steak 6-pack before your relationship winds up on a meat hook.


Dear Marnie: I’m a male lawyer, divorced for five years. I’ve known this former female associate for over 10 years. There’s a lot of personal history between us. However, lately I’ve found any communication with her very trying. She phones and unloads her tragedies or triumphs. Before I can talk about me and my life, she says she has to go, then doesn’t call until another event in her life occurs. At great trouble and expense I went to her daughter’s wedding last fall. The entire time I felt she wanted to use me as an excuse to get away from some of the obligatory functions and execute her own agenda.  However, I feel obligated because of our long history. — Weary

MARNIE SAYS: Let’s clear up the language in this relationship communication problem. Guilt over losing this self-absorbed woman isn’t at issue. Unexpressed fury is what’s getting to you. That’s what’s keeping you up too many nights making mad lists, checking them twice, and visualizing how you’re going to blast her with the truth. This, my weary friend, is what you’re feeling guilty about, because you are a nice guy who’s mired in unexpressed rage.

Getting It!  Your Personal Strategy:

* Mad-off: Tell yourself it’s your anger that’s holding you hostage, justified as it is and decide to handle it. Here’s why. X-treme mad is bad. It saps your energy and rips at your stomach lining.

* You’re shadow boxing — with yourself. Ask yourself why? Imagine telling her how you feel. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You’ll explode? She’ll blow and stop stealing your time and attention? (We can only hope.)

* Communicate! Honey, you’re going to have to do something the next time she zooms in, besides seethe. Express yourself in a way that puts you in control of the confrontation but offers the lady a way to respond, and perhaps, apologize. Practice being specific, clear, calm, and then sit for coffee. Use the word “I” as in, “I feel used and hurt when you call only when you need someone to dump on.”

Once you stop spinning on “mad” and take action, you’ll feel 15 pounds lighter. If she acts like a jackal, you can depart free and fair; if she owns up, you won’t have to give her up, entirely. So, go forth my man and fix it so you can fixate on far lovelier thoughts.


Marnie: A couple of months ago, I started reading a book on dating that says the man has to take the lead or you’ll lose him.  About the same time I started the book, I was contacted by a divorced guy who lives 15 minutes away. We have a lot of fun online and on the phone just about every night (just talking about everyday stuff/single parenting issues, etc.) He’s made overtures about meeting and I have not turned them down; however, I feel he should request the first actual face-to-face meeting. Tonight, I called him because I thought he might have misinterpreted my last line in an e-mail. He told me that he would see me soon and I said “In your dreams.” I didn’t mean that negatively. He wrote “Later” and I wrote, “Much Later.” Was I wrong to call him? I plan to sit back and let the chips fall. —KL in L.A

MARNIE SAYS: Between the “in your dreams” and the “much later” this poor guy needs a secret decoder ring to decipher “hello” from you. It took me 10 readings to figure out you meant he’d see you in his dreams. Your communication’s a clunker, kiddo. My Rule No. 1 when it comes to relationship communication problems with men, is to be clear and direct so they can understand.

Getting It!  Your Personal Strategy

* Get personal. The man is not a case study. Stop treating him like one. You said he’s made “overtures.” What? The William Tell? No. He probably added…  “We should meet sometime for latte.” Where were you? Go into your email file and find out, because, as I see it, he was making the first move for a date. But you didn’t get it, because you were too busy reading that dumb book on how to get a date, weren’t you?

* Assuming you want to meet him, after this mess, you could: a) tell him you were off your meds; or b) stop talking in “Patti Stanger”-speak. No games with weird rules, angel. Read between his E-Male lines, and be very clear about what you say and what you mean and apologize for making him hunt down an urban thesaurus.

* Finally, make a fire. Grab the idiot book. Toss it in. (Buy marshmallows so you can multi-task.) Yes, most men prefer the chase, but books that tell you males don’t need encouragement belong in a Self-Help Compost Heap. Historically, men are the ones who ask us. So the greatest fear they have is us saying “no” or breaking into a belly laugh. Men rely on straight signals. If women of valor have signaled brilliantly without dribbling in desperation, so can you.

Copyright © Marnie Macauley / 2013 Singular Communications, LLC

Marnie MacauleyAdvice guru Marnie Winston-Macauley — therapist, author, speaker — has been a radio, TV, and syndicated advice columnist and counselor for over 20 years. Witty, wise and totally irreverent with a self-professed loathing for psychobabble, she’s written over 20 books and calendars, along with  hundreds of relationship columns and features for prominent publications.  She has her MS degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work.  In media, her work has garnered her Emmy and Writer’s Guild Best Writing nominations. She is widowed and now living single. For personal advice, you can also find Marnie Macauley on or on Presto Experts. She invites you to join her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. 
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