Skip to main content

Perception and Reality

It's been a long time since I've been on this site.  On the whole, things have been going really well with my wife and I.  This morning I experienced something that I'd like advice on. 

My wife asked me a question this morning, which I answered.  She did not like my answer, and she responded in a louder, annoyed tone of voice with a "you're wrong" tone to it.  Verging on a reprimand.  Anyway, I said something like "You don't need to yell at me.  I don't deserve that tone of voice."  To which she SCREAMED at the top of her lungs "That wasn't yelling.  THIS IS YELLING.  Whenever you don't like what I say, you ....blah, blah, blah." 

Clearly, she was having a bad morning, but I so did not deserve that response.  I am sensitive to yelling, and she knows that.  When I said to her a few minutes later, "You know I don't like yelling.  And when I said I didn't deserve to be spoken to in that tone of voice, you responded by screaming at me.  I didn't deserve that.  If I tell you if feels like you are yelling at me, then you should honor that, not reply by yelling louder!"  To which she replied (loudly) "I was trying to SHOW you what yelling really is."  Sigh.

Clearly, what I initially said to her caused her to escalate.  So, my question is - what might I have said instead when it felt TO ME that she was "yelling" at me that might have allowed her to hear it without responding by yelling even louder?  Or do I just need to suck it up and not be so sensitive?

Comments

Details

MagicSandwich's picture

The situation on your wife's "yelling" begins with your reply to the original question she asked. So what was her question and what did you say in reply?  As for de-escalating the situation, have you tried a little sarcasm? Like saying, "Oh THAT'S yelling????! Thanks for clearing up the confusion. I feel SO MUCH BETTER now."  

MagicS

Look up the definition of

Look up the definition of yelling and see if that is really what she is doing. My X admitted once that anything I told him that he didn't want to hear was interpreted as "yelling" to him. My son has done the same -- accused me of yelling (by yelling at me) when I said something he didn't like.

Showing annoyance or irritation in your voice is not necessarily yelling.

My soon-to-be-ex-wife does

Pbartender's picture

My soon-to-be-ex-wife does the same thing...  I'm irritated or annoyed or upset about something and very carefully NOT yelling, and she'll say something like , "I can't talk about this any more...  You're yelling at me."  She'll use it as an excuse to end a conversation that she's not comfortable with, or an argument that she's losing.

 

Pb.

I seem to be the only one in

I seem to be the only one in my family (husband, two daughters) who understands that "yelling" typically is understood to apply to a voice that is raised, that is, not normal volume.  

When "you're yelling at me" = "I know you are, but what am I?"

 

I lived with that for years as well.  I was once accused of pretending not to yell because I was whispering. 

If you get that reaction from an otherwise rational person, chances are you should have started the sentence with "I feel..." or "I perceive...".  Then there are people that view any sort of implied blemish on their otherwise perfectness as a full scale nuclear assault and will respond appropriately.  You can usually identify those people because it is not just "You're yelling at me.", it is usually "You're yelling at me you worthless piece of crap. No wonder your kids hate you and you'll never amount to anything."

Indisputable proof that my defintion is right.

Using a dictionary never worked for me.  There are just some people that will gaslight a dictionary.  If you say "Look honey, this is why I was confused.  I thought you meant this definition of the word.  This one- right here. The definition that the entire English speaking world has agreed to use for hundreds of years."  You're more likely to get "You always have to be right.  You're an ass.  Besides I didn't use that word, you did." instead of that apology you're looking for.

 

I found the better approach to be "Yelling may not have been the best word and I am sorry.  What word should I use to communicate that I perceive you are being loud, unnecessarily confrontational and ...well....just plain bitchy?"  Now- granted- I never once received an actual answer to that question! :)  But I also never heard " I am NOT being loud, unnecessarily confrontational and bitchy!".  So I assumed my point had been communicated.

Thanks!

I really like this comment.  I'm gonna try to remember it.   Thanks!

Constructive

One way to think about this is that it doesn't actually matter whether or not you are yelling, or using "the tone" or being sarcastic/caustic, or any other negative approach (not defined by you, but by your partner)...what matters is whether you are making your case in a way that your partner is able to hear.  Communication is all about both talking AND listening.  As soon as you lose your partner you may as well be talking to a wall.  Yelling (and the other negative approaches) matters in that it is a very good way to make sure that your partner shuts down...THAT is why it is to be avoided.  It's not gentle or inviting or engaging.  It doesn't allow your partner to feel happy and interested in engaging with you.

Your partner doesn't enjoy these negative interactions, either.  A good tactic is to agree to create a verbal cue to use when one or the other of you feels a conversation is turning sour and you're about to check out.  Perhaps something like "I'm losing my ability to stay tuned into this.  Can we approach it from a different direction?" meaning "I'm starting to hear negative things/tone/ideas/yelling that is shutting me down.  I would like to continue to interact because it's good for our relationship to engage, but am about to put up my defensive walls...can you rephrase more positively, please?"  Then the response to that might be to stop talking and rethink how it's coming out - to be more constructive in approach (there is lots of information available about "good fights" that I talk about in my couples course - including start with a complaint, not a criticism and use a soft start, not a harsh one...) and that the partner who has used the cue actively tries to stay tuned in and listen.

That makes so much sense,

That makes so much sense, Melissa. I hear in your comment that my just walking away when my wife yells at me is shutting down communication, and I don't want to do that. I don't want to escalate to a point where we are just both screaming at each other, either. So what I had been trying to do instead of walking away was to say "please don't yell at me," hoping to get her to speak in a lower voice, to which she would either respond "I'm not yelling," or "give me a break" in a sarcastic tone, both of which would irritate me. And then I'd respond harshly, and the escalation would begin. Clearly that wasn't working. So I shifted gears a little and decided instead of telling her she was yelling at me, waiting until after the fact and then saying "Honey, when you raised your voice earlier, it felt like yelling to me." My hope was that she'd at least acknowledge the way she was speaking to me was making me feel bad. Instead, she'd say "I don't want to talk about it." So I felt invalidated and dismissed. I was beginning to lose hope that this dynamic would ever change.

I was so glad the other day when she acknowledged that she yelled at me and shared that when I respond by saying "don't yell at me" it makes her think I just don't want to hear what she is saying. I was able to share that when she says to me "I don't want to talk about it" it feels like my feelings are being dismissed. And I was especially glad when she suggested how I might respond when she yells (and when it feels to me like she is yelling) - to simply ask her to say it again in a lower tone of voice. That's exactly what you suggest in your comment! I'm sure gonna try it. I will also try it when she responds in a negative tone as well. I'll let you know how it goes.

Yelling....Melissa, some help?

I yelled this morning.  I have been yelling a lot the last couple weeks.  For over 30 years....he used words that I would not want the children to hear in a tone i did not want the children to hear.   I acquiesed, supported, listened, compromised to keep peace, to keep the family together.  I was the sacrificial lamb.  That did not work.  I should have yelled and fought to show my children how to stand up for themselves.  I should have yelled and stood up for myself.  He has not been contributing his share for over 20 years...Not financially, parentally, or spousally.  He has for the most part just done what feels good to him trying to get away with doing and giving as little as possible and seeming quite proud of his accomplishments (that I did but in his memory he did).  I believe he is most proud of how he has been able to "manage" me. I have taken up all HIS slack.  I am MAD MAD MAD.   There are no children to hear our fights anymore and I am not going to be the codependent enabler I have been all these years.  He does not love me more because i listened, compromised, supported him.  He hates me for being witness to his failures.  I get to yell now.  I should have yelled a lot sooner.  I am putting him in the hot seat now.  I told him he is in charge of certain bills and if he does not figure out a way to pay them i will not pay them for him.  I will not be his mother, his emotionally beat-up girlfriend, his roomy who pays the bills.  I am a person too.  He has not heard me when I made reasonable requests or sat down with him to help him organize his business or told him I have anxiety over his not working.  He has not heard my sobs or seen my tears even though they were right in front of him in living color.  He walks away if there is ANY kind of problem that he might have to contribute a solution to.  He and I have both come to assume that I will take care of it.  NO MORE!!!!!    Melissa, I know you got to this point in your life and you had to move out for a while to see how you were contributing to the disfunction.  How did you get out of the chaos to a place of clarity? I have become so entrenched in our habits that if I don't yell, I will continue to sit in the muck and take care of things like I usually did.  When i caught DH with other women, years ago, he said to me "I would have left you if you had done that."   Yeah....with a baby in the days when I would have been called a (in those days derogatory and reason for family to shun you) "welfare mom" and he would have had a career as a traveling salesman.  Yesterday I said to him that he does not hear me unless he personally is affected with pain or consequences - he seems to have no guilt or shame....he said to me...."I would not have had the patience all these years that you had."  I feel like such a FOOL to have patiently listened and given up so much of my own self.  I must yell right now because I must love my self enough to have a voice that gets to be heard - if only to my self.  I am not doing anyone any good trying to talk sweetly to dh and helping him that way.  I can only yell until I can't stand myself anymore and find ways to happiness for my self.  Yelling is a tool I am using right now to keep my sanity. Any flowers or valentines or words of affection today will look to me like more manipulation....not love and care.  The only thing he could do today for my heart to soften is to say "I have taken care of things."  Even then, I would have to see proof because he lies.

I read all of the responses

I read all of the responses (so far) to this...and agree 100%. I get the same "stop yelling at me" line when I start to display even the slightest sign of frustration. As the non-ADHD spouse, what I feel needs to happen is two fold. I need to stop discussing things with my DH when I am feeling frustrated (it just always escalates and morphs into a "I can't talk to you!" fight instead of addressing the original issue). We often react poorly when we feel we aren't being heard. As for what I feel you (Or my DH) could do differently...first, don't 'assume' that you know what her tone means. SOOOOOOOOOOOO often my DH misinterprets my tone or even so much as just a look or a comment that is said..even over texts. HIS negative spin is put on almost everything (this is getting better) so he automatically assumes the worst and shuts down. Ask for clarification.."I'm sorry honey...let's back up and start over...what exactly was it that I said that made you get upset?" I will also admit that hearing the "stop yelling at me" line when I truly feel I wasn't yelling AT ALL just adds to my frustration. Try and just take that off of the table for a bit, listen to what she's saying, ask her what is upsetting her, listen...and see if it helps alleviate some of the 'yelling' you feel she's doing..which is most likely just frustration. Instead of criticizing her delivery, ask yourself why it might be happening.

This is a HUGE example of something I have tried to change myself..within my own marriage...the mindset that everything has to end in an argument, everything has to escalate, no one being willing to stop it before it does, etc. People should be able to talk, ask questions, and communicate without it ending like this...BUT it takes commitment from both of you to stop it.

Different Perceptions about Volume/Yelling

Thanks for your responses, everyone.

So, my wife just said something to me in a raised volume, because she was frustrated with my talking about something that she didn't want to hear.  She said something like "OKAAAY!"  As in "Enough already!"  I was talking about something I am going to do, and she felt like I was repeating myself.  Anyway, a few minutes after I said, "OK.  I'll stop talking about that," I said, in a very calm tone of voice, "So honey?  When you just raised your voice to me a few minutes ago, did you consider that yelling?"  She said, "No."  And I replied, "Well, to me, it felt like you were yelling at me."  To which she replied "I don't want to TALK about this."  To which I replied, again - calmly, "Really?  I would think you'd want to talk about something I am upset about."   And she said "I thought we agreed we weren't going to talk about this anymore."  I said, "Hmmm.  That wasn't my understanding.  But if you don't want to talk about it, I'll stop talking about it."  And I dropped it, rather than escalating.

So, the good news is we didn't fight.  But the bad news is it felt like I was yelled at.  And it feels like she doesn't care that it felt like I was yelled at.

yelling

All the dictionaries are on her side.  Yelling is about volume, not tone, But, I would , too, would have heard "you're yelling at me" as "you are scolding me".   You sometimes yell at people when you are angry, but many other "tones" of voice can express anger, too.  So Yelling becomes a synonym for anger.  And when you hear anger, even at a normal volume, you call it yelling.

She either chose to interpret literally and disagree and prove you were wrong, or she truly believes yelling is only about volume, and being strictly accurate in word choice is way more important than how your partner feels.  Either way, when conversations turn into proving one another wrong based on word choices, rather than trying to understand, -- well, nobody "wins".  To those who are "accused" of yelling, but don't believe they are because their voice isn't loud, YES, the person saying you're yelling at is trying to tell you something, and that's what needs responding to, not discussing a definition.  They maybe avoiding, denying, afraid, ashamed or any number of things,  but proving you're not "yelling" or using the loudest voice you possess, doesn't really advance the situation.   If somebody shoves you, and you say don't hit me, should they then say that wasn't hitting... I'll show you hitting.   ugh. 

And to those who are feeling yelled at, regardless of the volume, if that message isn't getting through in the way you wish, try something else.  When you're reduced to arguing semantics, you've lost the thread of the original problem. 

gardener447

Thanks for your responses,

Thanks for your responses, everyone.

So, my wife just said something to me in a raised volume, because she was frustrated with my talking about something that she didn't want to hear.  She said something like "OKAAAY!"  As in "Enough already!"  I was talking about something I am going to do, and she felt like I was repeating myself.  Anyway, a few minutes after I said, "OK.  I'll stop talking about that," I said, in a very calm tone of voice, "So honey?  When you just raised your voice to me a few minutes ago, did you consider that yelling?"  She said, "No."  And I replied, "Well, to me, it felt like you were yelling at me."  To which she replied "I don't want to TALK about this."  To which I replied, again - calmly, "Really?  I would think you'd want to talk about something I am upset about."   And she said "I thought we agreed we weren't going to talk about this anymore."  I said, "Hmmm.  That wasn't my understanding.  But if you don't want to talk about it, I'll stop talking about it."  And I dropped it, rather than escalating.

So, the good news is we didn't fight.  But the bad news is it felt like I was yelled at.  And it feels like she doesn't care that it felt like I was yelled at.

Update

Later last night my wife did yell at me, by anyone's standards, around an incident with the TV. I responded by saying "You just watch what you want. I'm going upstairs to read because you just yelled at me." She replied "That's because you were trying to control me." I said "If you think I am trying to control you, then please say that in a normal tone of voice. I am not going to put up with being yelled at like that." And I left the room.

I acknowledge that my leaving the room feels just as bad to her as her yelling does to me. But I know if I had stayed she would have continued yelling and I would have ended up yelling also. And I don't want to do that.

So, this morning, she said "Can we talk about last night?" I said, "What would you like to say?" She acknowledged that she yelled at me and she shouldn't have done that. She said she was angry and she told me why. She said when I tell her not to yell it feels like I am telling her she can't get angry, and that feels like I am trying to control her. I told her I understand why she got angry last night and I was sorry for what I had done. I said if she had said "what you did just made me angry" instead of yelling at me, I wouldn't have left the room. I said she has every right to get angry whenever she wants, and she also has a choice what to DO with that anger. And I said, "If what you choose to do is yell at me, I am going to leave the room. Because I am not going to put up with being yelled at anymore. I don't deserve it. And if I don't walk away, I will end up yelling back, and then it will just escalate. We have gotten into this habit of yelling at each other and I don't want to do that anymore. When I am mad at someone at work I don't yell at them, and I bet you don't either. So why do we yell at each other so much? I am trying really hard not to do that anymore. You can do whatever you want. I'm not telling you that you can't yell at me. You can yell at me all you want. But when you do, I need to walk away."

She said "I feel when you say I am yelling it's because you don't want to hear what I have to say. Instead of walking away, can you ask me to repeat myself in a lower tone of voice? And then if I don't, you have every right to leave the room." I said "I will try to do that. And when I do say that, will you refrain from responding with sarcasm by saying something like 'Oh, give me a break! That wasn't yelling.' Because when you do that, it feels like you belittling me and dismissing my feelings." She agreed. She also agreed that if she says something sarcastic or continues to yell, then I have every right to leave the room.

After the conversation, I thanked her for asking to talk about it. And I said "Do you feel like we've reached a resolution?" She said yes, it felt that way. I said it felt that way to me also. And I kissed her. :-)

Awesome progress!!!!!

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.