"I realized the question I was trying to ask you is 'Are you happy?'"
The Wonder Sweetie had walked out with me to the archery range we have out back. Earlier in the day we had had an odd/tense-ish conversation about my schedule. He kept saying that he thought I was overextending myself. I kept insisting the real problem is that I just needed to be better organized (organization--well, staying organized--isn't one of my strong suits). The reason the conversation was tense was that both of us were not actually saying what we were trying to say.
I think this OFTEN happens in conversation. One person says something, but it isn't quite right to them. They can't find the words or haven't found the root. So right there is one level of frustration--you can't even say what you are trying to say.
The other person reacts to what the person SAYS, not whatever the first person was trying to say. So there is a second level of frustration.
Imagine this discussion (this isn't our discussion, but an example :) )
Husband: What's wrong?
Wife: You aren't helping me around the house. Like, you never do the dishes.
Husband: Ok, do you want me to do the dishes?
Wife: NO! I want YOU to WANT to do the dishes!
Husband: Seriously, no one wants to do the dishes. But if you want me to do them, just say so.
Wife: Nevermind. I'll just do them!
Ok, so the problem here, as you can see, is not actually the dishes. The wife is trying to say that she wants her husband to volunteer to do chores.
Actually, it might not even be the chores themselves, but the idea that he was thinking of her!
But she didn't say that. She said "You don't do dishes". "Easy peasy", he thinks, "I'll just do the dishes."
But when he was willing to do the dishes, that still rubbed her raw because she still hadn't gotten to the root of what was bothering her. If she couldn't articulate what she was feeling, of course he couldn't guess! :D She didn't even know really what her problem was herself. His offer was practical but not what she was looking for. That's not his fault, of course. We can't blame someone for handing us a glass of water when we say "I need water" when what we really mean is "The kitchen is on fire, grab a hose".
(I will eventually get to the point of my "don't know, not saying it right" in part 2. :D )
But all y'all...if you are having one of those conversations with someone that feels weirdly (or not weirdly) terse and like something is off, if the person says "I don't know!" to your efforts to help them (or you say it to their efforts to help you)...
Stop. Breathe. Say "I think there is a deeper issue here. Let's both take our time to talk through what is going on. To think. To pray. I am eager to help; I love you. (or "I know you are eager to help, and I love you for that.").
If everyone is calm enough then to sit and think, awesome. If not, just step back, again, to think and pray, and then come back.
I hope this helps with one type of conversation issues that people might not even know is a problem. I know today was incredibly helpful in understanding my husband and myself. tbc