It’s Rude to Tell People What They Think

My dear wife Lori has fewer pet peeves than I do. One of her more rabid peeves is telling someone what they think.

  • “You think I’m stupid.”
  • “You want me to ______.”
  • “You said ____. So that means you think _____.”
  • “You must think _____.”

Even if the statement is 100% true, it’s rude. When less than totally true, such statements hurt communication. Asking “Do you think _____?” Is a bit better, but checking an assumption is still not as good as just asking what your husband thinks.

BTW, I know this can be difficult for some of you because your hubby doesn’t volunteer what he thinks and may not answer when asked. Making guesses in such a situation is natural, but it’s still rude and it still hurts communication. 

~ Paul – I’m XY, and I tell my wife what I think about everything!

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14 Comments on “It’s Rude to Tell People What They Think

  1. You had me up to “even if it’s true.” Communication is a two way street, though.

    I think there are a lot of people (like B and her family, like Nick Peters’ wife) who take an experience with one person and apply that unfairly to someone else. In that case, telling someone what “they” think is incredibly rude — because it’s not what they think at all and it doesn’t match their words or actions.

    But doing that to someone who has actually said the things that you say they said and who actually thinks the things you’re ascribing to them … GET OVER IT. If someone is communicating that they think their wife is stupid / ugly / needy / lazy, they don’t then get the right to be upset that their wife noticed or repeating the exact thing they’re communicating. That is the definition of communication. I signal this message, and you receive it. It seems incredibly just awful to have this kind of conversation:

    “Geeze, you messed up the bank balance again. You are so stupid; you can’t get this right now matter how many times I try to explain it to you.”

    “Did you just call me stupid?”

    “You know what, it is incredibly rude to tell me what I think.”

    Like, seriously, at the end of that conversation, I would just assume that there was no relationship left to salvage.

    I think this hits home because my husband has (directly, not implicitly) called me:

    * Lazy (so, so many times)
    * Rude
    * Selfish (“so selfish I can’t even look at you”)
    * Fat
    * Irresponsible

    Most of the time, I just absorb this. And absorb and absorb and I don’t argue. But I am going to be blunt here (which I’m not in real life): you don’t get to say these things to people, using those words, AND THEN GET ANGRY IF THEY BELIEVE YOU. That’s on you. You don’t get to salve your conscience by telling someone else to get over it and it’s rude to ever mention this thing that you keep communicating to them. “I mean, yeah, I called her stupid, but then she actually said ‘you think I’m stupid’! Like, how rude was that, amiright? Right to my face.”

    • Not 100% sure on this, but I think what Paul means is to give someone the benefit of a doubt when, and only when, there is ambiguity in their words or actions, and give them the opportunity to communicate more clearly what they meant, rather than jumping to conclusions of what you think they meant.

      Of course, this is not applicable in the situations you are describing, where there exists no ambiguity whatsoever. If someone tells you clearly “you’re stupid/lazy/selfish/etcetera, then it is a fair assumption that that’s what they think you are and exactly what they meant to say. You are quite correct; in such a scenario, that person would have no right to be upset or offended if you were to call them out on it, because you’d only be repeating back to them exactly what they DID say, or if you believe their words.

      But that was not the scenario Paul was describing. He was talking about scenarios where there could be more than one possible interpretation of their words/actions, and you can’t be 100% certain which interpretation is the correct one. In that situation, it is indeed best to not make any assumptions and attempt to communicate and work things out together.

    • @sunny-dee – I have a close relative who has said some of these very things to me. When she’s done it, there was no doubt her intention was to hurt me AND CONTROL me. Although, she will say she’s never been cruel to me. The ironic thing is of the multiple times she has called me selfish, it’s clear to everyone but her that she was the one being selfish. In my case, she was deflecting her own issues onto me. From what you’ve written about your husband it sounds like he may be doing the same thing. I’m sorry he’s said these things to you. Keep doing everything you can to not let his lies get into your head. Praying for you.

      • My husband is a functional alcoholic (something he denies, but whatever), and most of the mean things he’s said has been when he’s drunk. I’ve stopped bringing it up to him because he says the next day that he has no memory of it and denies feeling that way (and I mostly believe it about not remembering — he blacks out pretty much every day and forgets TONS of things, not just things that are convenient to forget).

        This is one area where I kind of feel like I’m making assumptions, but also kind of not. He says these things explicitly, but usually when drunk. So … does he believe those things when he’s sober and just not say them? I think probably yes — but there’s also some uncertainty there.

        • Hmmm…when my husband is highly stressed, or on certain medication, he can act out and say things that are hurtful. We went through a combination of high stress and this medication for years to the point where I was confronted twice by two different women telling me that I was being abused.

          But, when he is off the meds and stress is at a more normal level, he is different. Nicer. He doesn’t seem to recall how bad it got. I remember like an elephant.

        • @sunny-dee – The person who did this to me was always in a fit of rage when it happened. When confronted, she would have no memory of saying those things either. She would remember the “argument”, but not saying the mean things. She does believe now she said them because my husband and I have both told her she did, but she swears she doesn’t feel that way and that she wasn’t trying to be cruel when she said them. I’ve come to realize that the times she’s done this, she got angry because I wasn’t doing something she wanted me to do. Her response was an attempt to control me. For a long time, she did control me. It’s taken a lot of hard of work to break free from that pattern of behavior with her and it’s still a work in progress for both of us.

          My husband and I have also had a close relative who was an alcoholic. That person exhibited many of these same behaviors too. There was no rationalizing with this person either. I’d guess your husband doesn’t really believe these things about you. It’s likely it’s the alcohol talking. Unfortunately, like you said, he is creating an atmosphere for uncertainty. I hope you can find a way to stay strong in who you are and not believe what he says about you when he is drinking.

  2. The problem with this is most people don’t live their lives with congruence. When your words and actions don’t support each other, it’s easy for others to make assumptions about what you think. If you say having family dinners is very important but you don’t make time to have family dinners, what are people supposed to believe you really think? If you say sodas are bad for you while you are drinking one, what are people supposed to believe you really think? This isn’t as simple an issue as we’d like to make it.

  3. I haven’t had that actual conversation with my husband yet, because I agree it’s rude and can only lead to bad feelings, but in my mind I’m thinking, “When you do this it must because this.” For example, “When you can’t pay the electric bill but you have money to go out with friends, you must not even care about me struggling to make ends meet.” I’m not sure how to actually address these things with him. (I did ask him, once, how he could have money for fun and not for bills, and he said, ‘It’s different money’. ???) I suppose there’s the old “When you do X I feel Y” but I don’t know how effective that is, either.

    • OMG, this happened to a friend of mine! She and her husband are both a little … open handed with money. It was near the end of the month, and she was literally digging through couch cushions to try to get enough change to put a couple of gallons of gas in her car so she could get to work — and her husband was watching her do it. The next day, he came home with a new shirt from Banana Republic. She asked where on earth he got the money for that, and he said he used the $100 bill he’d gotten from his mom for Christmas. She pointed out that she had used her $100 on groceries and asked why he hadn’t given it to her so she could get gas, and he got all upset and kept insisting that that was his Christmas money, not household money.

      • My husband seems to compartmentalize money more, too. In many ways it is an asset because I tend to pool all the money into needs for the household and I have a hard time saving for wants. Thankfully, though, in times of need, hubby will pull out his fun money to help, pick up extra jobs….

    • @Lynn – I could probably be that way if I let myself, so I do sort of get it. It’s okay if you are single because no one else pays for your choices. But once you have a wife and especially kids it’s a really bad plan.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Open A Door or Carry SomethingMy Profile

  4. Some thoughts on this:

    When my wife would say derogatory things about herself, mainly her appearance (she used to struggle with weight), I would tell her she is beautiful, then she would say something like, You’re just saying that, you don’t really think that. The words used to sting, since she was, in effect, calling me a liar. I finally understood that I needed to hear her heart more than her words. I still don’t like words like that, but now I try to go beyond them to the real issue: she needs reassurance of my love.

    Some people say things like Paul described in his post because they have no filter on their mouths. I’ve known many people like this (my mother-in-law was a perfect example, which gave rise to many of my wife’s self image issues). They usually don’t recognize that their words are hurtful, and they may not even remember them. Their minds tend to be rather random, so a lot of thoughts escape through the mouth without passing through the cognitive part of the brain.

    I really agree with K above, that words and actions not aligned speak volumes about what’s really going on. Maybe the best way is to ask your spouse what they think, but I can understand the frustration of being on the receiving end of a mixed message.

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