Right after we bought our house, my husband and I discussed the remodeling that needed to be done first: paint the magenta bedroom a nicer color, replace the leaky windows, install new kitchen counters and a deeper sink, etc. And I distinctly remember hearing him say that he planned to take down the doorway and wall that enclosed the stairs to the second story. We didn’t want to have to open a door to go upstairs, and thought that an open staircase would look very nice. The next day, my parents and I were trying to carry our mattresses upstairs, and we couldn’t fit the box springs through the doorway. I said, “No problem, we’re going to take this wall out anyway,” and got a crowbar and knocked a big hole above the doorway so that the box springs fit through. Honestly, I was proud of myself for fixing the problem on my own, without my husband’s help.
But it turns out that while I thought he meant “We’re going to take that doorway out right away,” what he actually meant was, “Someday we’re going to take that doorway out.” So he was more than a little surprised to come home from work that night and find a huge, gaping hole above the doorway. Not happy, but definitely surprised.
I also remember when my son was in kindergarten and had to get to school especially early one morning. In an effort to save time, I asked him to lay out his clothes the night before, so we wouldn’t have to go through the ritual of deciding what he was going to wear (he had strong opinions about that when he was young) in the morning. When I went in his room that night, I saw that he did indeed have his clothes “laid out.” His t-shirt was spread carefully on the floor, and his jeans were placed just below them, with the shirt overlapping about an inch or so. Sticking out from the bottom of each jean leg was a single sock, and when I looked underneath the top of the jeans, sure enough, there was a pair of underwear. I thought I had told him simply to select his outfit for the next morning, he thought I wanted him to arrange his clothes exactly as if he was wearing them.
The older I get, the more I realize that there is often a big difference between what one person means to say and what another person actually hears. It might be because different people assign different meanings to words, or it might be because we all tend to filter what we hear through our own, unique perspective. I really don’t know. But I strongly suspect that a lot of the hurt feelings and conflict we experience in our life stems from simple misunderstandings about what exactly we mean when we communicate with each other.
For my part, I’m trying to remember to make more of an effort to make myself as clear as I possibly can when I speak to others, and to take the extra time to make sure I truly understand what others mean when they speak to me, even by asking silly-sounding questions when necessary. It isn’t always easy, and I’m certainly not always successful, but I do think it’s worth the time and effort. I know my husband wishes I had done that all those years ago, before I started swinging away with my trusty crowbar. Because we didn’t open up that staircase for another ten years, and plaster walls are a real hassle to patch.