The Shirt with Invisible Sleeves (or Why Husbands and Wives Fight)

My husband is a saint.  He is supportive and amazing and brilliant, a wonderful friend and a fabulous father to our children.  And he looks great in a suit.  But sometimes I’m not sure that he hears me.  This morning we were getting ready to go somewhere, and we absolutely had to be there on time.  I was looking for a sleeveless brown shirt that I needed for the cardigan I had chosen.  I spent ten minutes searching everywhere and finally asked if he could look for me – describing it very carefully as a brown, sleeveless shirt – because I absolutely had to get in the shower or we would be late.  My husband puts the laundry away (I told you he was a saint), so I thought he might remember where he last saw it. As I was walking into the bathroom I heard him say, “I think I saw that shirt in the laundry yesterday.”  I said, “No, I didn’t wear it this week,” and climbed into the shower.  At some point during my shower, he found my shirt and left it outside of the bathroom for me to quickly put on so we could leave.

Except when I opened the door, I found a short-sleeved brown shirt waiting there to greet me.

Now, I couldn’t really be mad at the guy for his mistake.  The fact is that if he didn’t put the laundry away, we’d all be pulling folded clothes out of laundry baskets all week long.  Also, I’m an adult and should really be able to keep track of my own clothing at this point.  However, this illustrated a bigger point to me.  If he heard “sleeveless brown shirt” and came to me with a brown shirt that clearly had sleeves, what else did he think was open for interpretation?  I mean, isn’t the existence of sleeves an incontrovertible truth?

And suddenly I realized why we have had so many arguments over the thirteen years of our relationship that have been some form of this:

“I told you blah blah blah blah.”

“No, you said yada yada yada yada.”

A-HA!  To him, blah blah blah and yada yada yada are as much the same as a short-sleeved shirt and a sleeveless shirt.  This is why, “The kids need to practice piano today,” means “I’d love the kids to practice piano today if they get around to it.”  This is also why, “I am sick and don’t know how to get through my afternoon once the kids come home,” doesn’t actually mean Come Home.  Come Home Now.  I’m Dying.  It really means, “I’m sick and it sucks, have a great day, honey.”  The ramifications of this new knowledge I’ve discovered just in terms of parenting are mind-boggling!  I now know that going to the park means going to the park and CVS and to get a treat at Rita’s.  I know that going to do something fun means going to see that movie that I wanted to take the kids to see, but can’t because I’m out of town.

And sleeves and sleeveless?  Totally the same thing.  Almost.  Now that I know, I can be more clear in my communications with my incredibly patient husband.  And I can also totally find my own shirts from now on…


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  • So true. What makes my mind absolutely explode is that when I say “yes” my husband can still think it means “no”, and the justification, “well, you said yes, but the way you said it, it sounded more like a no to me”.

    While you would think that us women are more prone to reading nuances and deliberating the real meaning behind the words, I think it actually is men who do it equally much, or even more. Or not listening to the “way you said it”, but selectively only hearing a “…. brown shirt…” instead the entire sentence.

    And yes about the “coming home when I’m sick” thing – just gimme some sympathy and bring home some wine or chocolate when you do come, and LISTEN to me. I don’t necessary need him to rescue me, I just want him to LISTEN to me.

    • Katja, my dad used to interrupt me when I would say, “Well, I thought…” with “DON’T THINK.” Maybe we need to stitch that on a pillow 😉

      • No kidding! I think when we all learn to draw less conclusions and listen better a lot of problems will be solved.

  • ah yes, the whole men are from mars thing. why does communication have to be so impossible, even with a kind, patient, supportive, brilliant, fabulous father-type husband. sigh.

    • Who looks great in a suit. Let’s not forget the thing about the suit.

  • SuZ

    Ha… ha ha ha. You should’ve known better, Amy! 🙂 I am sadly one of those moms that doesn’t put the laundry away and I spend a week pulling stuff off my kids dresser (at least I kinda get close, right?) and shaking out the wrinkles for them. But you should consider yourself lucky that your husband even helps! Mine doesn’t even know where the laundry room in our house is. 🙂

    • At what age can the kids put all of their clothes away themselves? I’m dreaming of that day…

  • Are we living a parallel existence? This is the number one thing my husband and I argue about. I say he doesn’t listen; he says I mumble or just think I have told him. I guess if that’t the worse we do we’re doing all right. But it is still really annoying.

    • I really enjoy when they say, “You never told me that,” but you’ve got it in writing via text or an email. Wait. I don’t really love that. But it does make me right 🙂

  • aparna

    What a cute post. I agree, this would explain quite a few things for me too. Mine also puts away the laundry.

  • Evolution!! Congratulations on breaking the man-code. Specificity! And, congrats on getting a guy who can actually tell a brown shirt from a beige or even grey shirt. (This is what I’ve been writing all week about. Evolving to survive.)

    • Lee, I love the way you are thinking about this! I should be rewarding him for effort and color coding, not be upset with him that he thinks sleeveless and short sleeves are the same thing.

      • YES! Look, I don’t know about your MIL but mine is the passive aggressive queen who can’t give a straight answer to save her life. Men thrive on direct, clear instructions. Mine does and I reward him with treats and the occasional petting.;-)

  • your husband, my husband. peas in a pod. I HATE talking specifically because it doesn’t seem polite but that’s so what they need.

    that said, my husband is also a saint who just stepped out of his office to call to check on me because he was thinking of how stressed I was over my back splash last night.

    So, there’s that. They’re good people.

  • Mine is always trying to convince me that I said or didn’t say something when I know for a fact that he is wrong. Maybe this is the whole problem. He just doesn’t interpret (i.e., listen) what I’m really saying.

    • That’s my new theory. They take not hearing what we said for us not saying it.

  • You’re lucky the shirt he gave you was brown. Let’s be happy with that. Haha. Made me laugh, thank you.

  • anne

    great post

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