Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

R Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin
What Do You Mean?



Sometime during our first years of marriage, I asked Karen to make a “good, old fashion home-cooked meal.” She said that she would be happy to do that. While driving home from work, I began thinking about how much I was going to enjoy that dinner. When I opened the door to our home, I was greeted with the very strong odor of sauerkraut! It certainly wasn’t what I expected.

Karen greeted me with a big smile. I could tell she was so pleased with what she had cooked for us. She told me that after I told her I wanted a “good, old fashion home-cooked meal,” she called her grandmother in Cincinnati. While talking on the phone, Karen’s grandmother, who was part German, read the recipes for an old fashioned German meal. Being from Tennessee, it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for an old-fashioned meal. I wanted steak, baked potatoes and a salad!

This incident is typical of the problems we encounter when communicating. From the story we can see that the words are the same, but the interpretations are quite different. The point is: we can never assume that the meanings we apply to the words are the same as our partner’s. So what this means is that we need to check out the interpretations we are sending and receiving.

We can never assume that
the meanings we apply to the words
are the same as our partner’s.

It’s not a good idea to say to your female partner, “You look tired.” Women don’t interpret those words the same way men do. If you tell a man he looks tired, he will say, “Yeah! I was up all night. Couldn’t get to sleep for some reason.” Whereas, a woman may interpret this to mean “You look terrible.” The same words, but two different meanings assigned to them.

There are other ways we get into trouble by assuming we all have the same interpretations of what we hear and see. For example, we may come home and notice that our partner’s body language seems to say that she is angry. Many of us will immediately assume that she is angry because of something we did or did not do. So, our reaction is to get angry. Perhaps when things settle down, we discover that instead of being angry, she is tired. The truth is, body language is not easy to read. Being tired and being angry has almost the same body language. So, we need to check out our interpretations of our partner’s body language.

To better understand our partner’s words and body language, we need to ask ourselves if there are other interpretations besides the ones that we have. We call this process “reframing.” It goes like this: “When he does that, I think he is making fun of me.” Instead of going with that interpretation and being angry, we simply ask ourselves, “Is there another way of interpreting what he did?” Then the next step is to check it out with him. Consider it an opportunity to get closer to your partner.

Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700