A Primer on Tone of Voice


It is about what you say, and it’s also about how you say it

Tone of voice matters.

The other day, my 5 year old and my husband got into a snit. This put my 5 year old in her bedroom for a nice long sulk. Eventually, she stopped sulking and started drawing pictures. That’s when she realized that her latest masterpiece was in need of orange, and the orange magic marker was not in her bedroom where she was drawing, but rather in the living room, where her daddy was surfing the Internet.

“Mommy, can you go get my marker for me?” she pleaded.

My husband can be a big grumpy bear at times, so I completely understood her fear. Heck, there have been moments when I haven’t wanted to walk past him either.

But I knew this was a good learning experience. After all, if she could learn how to assertively face down her father, then she would be able to eventually face down anyone.

“Look, honey, it’s easy,” I said. “You just walk into the room like nothing ever happened. You walk past Daddy and say, ‘Hi Daddy!’ as if you are ever so happy to see him. And then you get your marker. Are you ready to try it?”

She said she was. She slowly walked out of her bedroom and into the kitchen. Within just a few seconds, I heard the quick thump thump thump of her feet. She ran back through the bedroom door, put her hands on her knees and breathlessly said, “I didn’t do it. I got too scared!”

“Alright. Maybe we should practice,” I said. “Pretend I’m Daddy. Walk past me and say, “Hi Daddy!’”

She hung her head, stared at her little feet, and whispered, “Hi Daddy.”

“Okay, again, but with more enthusiasm!” I said, as if I were some sort of cheerleader.

This time she stared past me with an expressionless face and monotoned, “Hi Daddy.” She sounded as if she were the saddest human on Earth.

“Alight, one more time!” I said in this strange perky voice that I didn’t even know I had.

“Hi Daddy!” she said with a smile.

“Perfect!” I said, giving her a high five. “Now let’s do it with the real Daddy!”

Things with the real Daddy didn’t turn out so well, I’m afraid. Somewhere between the bedroom and the living room, she lost her nerve again and reverted back to the whisper. She did manage to retrieve her marker, though, and she and her Daddy eventually made up—with no intervention from me.

I tell you this story because it illustrates the importance of tone of voice and body language. Even if you manage to say the right thing, you can still fail to achieve your purpose if you say the right thing in the wrong way. You might not verbalize the fact that you think your spouse is an idiot (or worse), but your tone of voice and body language broadcasts that you are thinking it.

The Night Daggers Emerged From My Eyeballs

This very thing happened to me Friday night when I realized that my husband had planned to work on Saturday, be away all day Sunday, and then proceed to be out of town for four days the following weekend. This was after he had been out of town for a few days the week before. This realization was made worse by the fact that he smugly reminded me that I’d agreed to all of this.

I said, “I wish you would take my needs into account before planning so many trips so close together.”

Good wording, right?

The problem was that invisible daggers were flying out of my eyeballs as I said those words. My aura was a fierce ball of heat, and he retreated for dear life.

I’m embarrassed to say that I remained a fierce ball of heat all weekend long, which is probably why he ended up getting all snippy with our daughter (can you spell d-i-s-p-l-a-c-e-m-e-n-t?) and why the two of them got into a fight and… well, that’s enough of this self blame, don’t you think?

My Tone of Voice Tips

Now, after reading that story, I’m not quite sure why you would trust me to give you tone of voice tips. Really? Me? The Queen of Sarcasm is giving you tips on tone of voice? How could that be?

Let me just say this. I’ve been making a lot of progress in this communication department. That’s almost entirely due to the Karma Project, which I will be writing more extensively about in the coming weeks.

For now, here are some pointers.

State the obvious. If you have to communicate when you are angry, then state that you are angry and apologize for any ramifications. For instance you might say, “I’m really angry right now, so I might accidentally roll my eyes or something. I really do love you, even though I might not believe that myself right now. Once we solve this problem, I know I will love you again, because I always love you again once we solve problems. I’m sorry that I can’t seem to calm down, but I feel we must discuss this now.” Or something like that. If you manage to crack a joke, you’ll lighten things up and chances are you might even be able to improve your delivery.

Chill out. If you don’t have to communicate when you are angry, then retreat. This past weekend, after I delivered the eyeball daggers, I retreated for days. It took a run, a full night of sleep, and an incredible amount of self-talk for me to calm down. But once I was able to calm down, I was finally able to look at my husband with a warm smile and ask, “Are you okay? Do we need to talk?” And from there, we fell back in love with each other again.

As you chill out and talk to yourself, remind yourself of the following:

I loved my spouse before I got mad. I really did. As soon as I shed my anger, I will love my spouse again.

I want to warm things up between me and my spouse. It sucks that I have to be the big person, but this is how it is. I can either get past this and make it right between us, or we can both be miserable forever. Which way is it gonna be?

Meditate. I’ve written about black and white breathing before. I’ve found this technique incredibly helpful at releasing anger. Once I do it for a while, I can usually bring my mind to a compassionate place. Once I’m there, I mentally wish my husband happiness and I keep wishing him happiness until I really mean it and feel good about it.

Do a mental practice run. I visualize myself saying what it is I want to say, and I visualize myself delivering the message with love and compassion. I keep at it until I look and sound happy in my mind.

Remind yourself of this important fact. Compassion breeds compassion. Surliness breeds surliness. Most of us resort to a surly tone of voice out of fear—fear of rejection, fear of our spouse’s anger, fear of failure, you name it. Yet, it’s the surliness that will bring about all of the things that we most fear. Only the compassion will get us to our happy place.

This post was brought to you by your request. I only have 20 more of these to go! You can see my progress here. Let me know how you feel about this series in the comments, will you? Also, let me know if you think I should have just gotten that orange marker for my little girl, or whether you have tone of voice tips to share.

34 comments… add one

  • Sabrina June 8, 2010, 10:54 am

    I loved the story about your daughter, but I also find it amusing to picture a grown man arguing with a 5 year old. I know it will happen to me at some point as my daughter gets older, it happens now and she is two…but I always look back and laugh because she is the child and I am the adult.

    I use your visualization method a lot, especially to make sure I can articulate what i want to say properly.

    I am also a person that cant carry on a conversation when I am angry because I am unable to effectively communicate, so i would rather walk away and bring up the subject when I have cooled off.

    I am looking forward to the other forthcoming posts.

  • Drummer Guy June 8, 2010, 11:21 am

    Love this one Alisa. So very true. Many times it isn’t just what we say but how we say it. Sometimes it is a change of words, sometimes it is how we say words. For instance if my beloved said to me, “I can’t believe you did A,B or C” I would be put on the defensive & try to justify what I did, said etc. Now if she said in a calm tone, “Honey when you did/said A, B or C, I was really hurt & need to discuss it”. I would be open as I never want to hurt her. Now take those same words with the “dagger eyes & surly tone (I love the daggers term ) & I would probably get defensive.

    Also something that has helped us is to NEVER even attempt to discuss things when angry over some perceived slight. We have learned that nothing, no matter how bad it first seems is really that bad. 100% of the time after a day to calm down we find that it wasn’t really all that bad. It also prevents us from saying something in anger that we would regret. Also we keep in mind that we both love each other so much that neither of us would ever intentionally do anything to hurt the other. Most slights are done out of ignorance that it would hurt the other person, not an intent to hurt them. For most couples that is true. If it isn’t & the spouse is trying to intentionally hurt the other there are serious problems. Anyway that works for us. I look forward to reading different takes on it.

  • Karen June 8, 2010, 1:25 pm

    Glad I read this post for a few reasons, the first is your link to black and white breathing; I really appreciated your sharing a different twist on *returning to the breath* especially thinking of specific feelings and images for the in/out breath. Thank you!

    I also appreciated your point about keeping in mind that we’ve loved our spouses before, during and after every disagreement. That’s actually always the rub for me, when I’m upset, because I know that he does, really, rub me the right way literally and figuratively :-) and knowing I have no intentions of going anywhere sometimes just fans the flames. Maybe you can only get those kind of flames where there’s always a spark…

    I’m fascinated that apparently it is possible to be “a fierce ball of heat” – of course being a wife I loved your description – and as cold as a stone at the same time. Maybe that’s why when my husband has gotten too close to me when I’ve been both I haven’t been able to freeze him to death or catch him on fire because they cancel each other out?

    Along with your excellent tips of waiting your tone out, and thinking about what you want ultimately to accomplish, what I find helpful is to actually say what I’m really thinking to myself. It might sound a little weird or counterintuitive, but stating a different kind of obvious gives me perspective, and a moment’s pause that helps me decide how I really might really want to proceed as compared to how I’m about to…

    I figure the reality is I’m about to use a particular tone of voice – just like I do any other tone of voice – because I want to, because I think somehow it’s going to get me somewhere, even though I would tell you I know it’s not and I reeeally don’t want to come off this way. Right. So starting there, that I mean to do everything that I mean to do for what I think is a good reason, I say to myself…”I’m glad I’m about to let my husband know how disappointed I am in him. I’m going to feel better letting him know how dumb I think he is.” Umm…maybe not.

    I’m pretty sure that most times when I’m angry, my husband has thought – and I would agree- that I am more than happy to explain exactly how his footprints are stomped clearly all over the problem, so glad is not too strong of a word for me.

    At one point in my daughter’s young life – she’s 9 – it seemed like all I was doing was yelling at her, and even though that probably, hopefully wasn’t true, I was yelling a lot.
    Saying the same thing – or along the same lines – has helped with my tone with her. Not 100% of the time, but A Lot more. “I think it’s a good idea to yell at Jenna when I’m helping her with her homework and she gets frustrated.”

    I’m not being sarcastic with myself, just questioning where I want to go and if how I plan to get there is really the best/only way I can come up with.

    And no, since you asked us, I don’t think you should have just gotten the orange marker, those of us who follow you know your little girl is in great hands.

    Thanks for the tips and reminders!


  • Joanne June 8, 2010, 1:34 pm

    I know why some parents really enjoy being grandparents after reading this post. I was a disciplinarian type parent. I gave my children pretty strick boundaries, I felt I had to because I was a single working parent with three children for almost 6 years when I met Ray and I needed to keep controls tight. Now, I can’t wait to have grandchildren so I can interact with them the way you do your daughter, Alisa. With patience and understanding and from their eye level. Yes today I would have coached my children through approaching Ray like you did but not do it for them, you don’t do them any favors but not teaching them how to cope (in a safe environment with love compared to learning the hard way in the big bad world).

    As far as tone of voice, our marriage counselor has been working on that with me. I can cut a 6’2″ 200 lb. guy down to his knees with my tone of voice I have been told and in all honesty I am glad it was pointed out to me because everyone deserves to be spoken to with dignity and respect even when they have truely been a butt head.

    Once again we may not be able to control their actions but we can control how we respond to them and I like taking the high road. Ray even told the counselor recently that he appreciates that I forgive easily.

  • Favor June 8, 2010, 1:39 pm

    This is soooo true! I tell my husband that all of the time – when I give my reasons for being hurt by what he says. I seem to forget these points when delivering my own messages to him. I’ve taken up a “pause and pray” approach. I stop and ask God to help me be nice before I say one word. It’s been helpful to me because I know that God is watching {He was watching before I invited Him to help anyway}.

  • Sarah Liz June 8, 2010, 2:05 pm

    This is such an interesting post, and so useful!

    I was reading a book about a year ago (don’t remember the title) that talked about something called Content Communication.

    Content communication means taking what someone says to you at face value–forgetting tone, body language and simply realizing what the person is SAYING, instead of HOW they’re saying it. (The total opposite of what most of us are taught!)

    In other words, you focus only on the CONTENT of the communication–not the attitude with which its said…..it is really, really super hard–but when you go with it, it is SO worth it!

    When you honestly communicate with someone strictly based on the CONTENT of the communication–taking what they say literally and at face value–regardless of the tone, shrugs, sarcasm, eye rolling and so on–it’s kind of a breakthrough. It also holds you WAY more accountable and you have to choose your words more carefully–you can say them however you want–but if you say “Why do you do x, y and z, it’s irritates the crap out of me,” regardless of the tone, you must mean it–because you said it. In some ways, it makes the not so nice things cut deeper–BUT–it also makes the nice things so much sweeter!

    Anyway, I find that sometimes my husband and I just can’t communicate–I chalk it up to being newlywed, young & stubborn–communication is a learned skill that takes practice and time. Anyway, sometimes even when we try and do it the content way. So, at that point–like I said in the comment in the previous post–we just wait it out for a few days–let one another cool off and then come back to it. I agree with not saying things that you might later regret.

    It is true what Drummer Guy & Kathy are saying–rarely does anything get accomplished in the heat of anger.

    Personally, I despise waiting it out, it’s so darn hard for me, and I really like having the last word–always. Even if it’s a nice one, I still have to have it. That doesn’t always bode well for me, but, I digress.

    I think you did the right thing, Alisa, when you wouldn’t go get the marker for your daughter–I think a parents job is to teach their children how to survive on their own–fend for themselves and clean up their own messes (life wise and house wise) and I think you absolutely did the right thing!

    You’re teaching her forgiveness, compassion and how to suck it up when it really isn’t life-altering to do so. Bravo!

    I’m not a parent myself, but in my opinion, that’s good parenting! :) I’m glad everyone made up! I don’t blame you for being angry with your husband–but you know, I think eventually, we do remember WHY we love them and realize they’re not doing things on purpose to hurt, or inconveniance us.

    One thing I do want to mention is that I never stop loving my husband–it’s an unconditional love–I always, always love him–no matter what he does or how he acts. I agree that this is a very spiritual, karmic way to look at it–but for me it helps. No matter how hurt or angry we get–I always try and remember that my husband is a child of God too-God loves him too and created him too. My husband deserves love, forgiveness and good things too–even if I don’t feel like giving those to him at a certain point in time.

    I have to add that I may not always love him in a romantic sense, and we know spouses don’t always LIKE each other. His grandmother even told us that before we got married–”you’ll always love each other, but you will not always like each other” and that is so true. But even if/when I don’t like my husband–and if/when he doesn’t like me, we always love each other. Granted, sometimes we DO forget that and throw out all forms of compassion and expressions of love–but we still love each other. We love who the person is, what they’ve given us and how they’re teaching us.

    No one is perfect, certainly not me, but I don’t see myself not loving people just because they upset me.

    I don’t think it’s bad if people don’t love uncondtitionally, I’m just sharing my own personal situation.

    Thanks for this awesome post, Alisa!

    Have a great week everyone!

    Many Blessings,
    -Sarah Liz :)

  • Sarah Liz June 8, 2010, 2:11 pm

    @ Joanne & Ray…I’m a tiny person too, 4.11″, under 100 lbs…pretty much anyone is physically bigger than me, including my husband–so like you, I too can cut down people MUCH bigger than me with my words. It’s not a quality I’m proud of, but it’s something I try and work on.

    It’s terrific that you forgive so easily, so does my husband. I forgive too–but I have to say, between the two of us, my husband is better at doing it sooner than I do. He can let almost anything go–anytime–and forgive me for most anything–I absolutely, positively love that about him. And I believe it’s one of the reasons we keep going–we’re quick to forgive one another–which is such an awesome gift!

    Forgiveness is SUCH an integral part of marriage and I believe it’s just as important as love and respect. It takes a mature person to forgive and on a spiritual level, it expands you each time you do it.

    Many Blessings,
    -Sarah Liz :)

  • Joanne June 8, 2010, 2:17 pm

    “No one is perfect, certainly not me, but I don’t see myself not loving people just because they upset me.”

    Sarah Liz- That is so true. Alisa , you said it too, we are going to get past whatever they did and we will love them again so we need to remember that as we are deciding to sling arrows or not. Also, at some point we are going to do something unfeeling or inthinking and we would want to be forgiven too. It is after all the human condition.

  • Kathy June 8, 2010, 2:38 pm

    I think it was right for you to have your daughter deal with her daddy. She will eventually learn she can stand up to anyone. I think it was a good lesson for her.

    Tone of voice is a big issue with hubby and I. He says he’s teasing me, but he doesn’t change his tone of voice so I don’t take it well. However, I change my voice when I’m teasing just so he knows I’m teasing. But even then, he sometimes doesn’t get that I’m teasing.

    And then there’s that tone of voice that just says “you’re a stupid idiot for not knowing that”. EXCUSE ME! I hate that tone and I usually let my hubby know he’s used it on me. Don’t use that tone with me just because I can’t/don’t keep up with your work BS.

    I even sometimes use a different voice when I need to let my hubby know he’s pissed me off. It’s easier for him to take that I’m mad and he doesn’t tend to get so defensive.

    I really liked this “by your request” blog.

  • Richard June 9, 2010, 3:53 am

    I am frequently impressed (and somewhat shamed) by how good my kids are at making up after a fight! Not only with each other, but with my wife and me too. Well, mainly me, I suppose – I so recognise that scene between Alisa’s husband and daughter. Even my youngest son (who’s not quite 5 yet) has learned how to make up after a scene, probably from watching his elder siblings (10 and 8). Their trick is, after 5 or 10 minutes being in a separate room from each other to cool down, they will come to me to ask for help with something. They will act all cheerful, like nothing ever happened. Since that is one of my major Father roles (and one I really like), I’ll go and help them with what they want help with, or fix what needs fixing, and we’ll all be friends again. Whether this is a deliberate tactic they’ve worked out, or something that just comes to them instinctively, I’m not sure!

    I wish I was as good (or at least as quick) at forgiving, making up, and moving on as my kids!

  • Judy June 9, 2010, 8:56 am

    I think that when delivering a message, the tone of voice (and body language) is everything. That is why written word, email and texting is not as effective as in- person communication. There is no emotion attached to it and even emoticons don’t do a proper job of conveying what we want to say. It’s all in the packaging. For a long time, when I was communicating with my dear husband, when I was upset about something, the “package” I delivered it in probably looked like a ticking bomb to him and he ran in the opposite direction – or retreated to the man cave. So I had to change my tone and body language to something more palatable in order to engage him and get some problem resolution going. I still have trouble with that, but I am AWARE of it. As for the orange marker…I think anything you can do to teach a child about good communication is fabulous because so much in the world depends on it. :)

  • Robert Keteyian June 9, 2010, 10:35 pm

    Auditory sensitivity is variable. Some of us are way more effected by tone of voice than others. Using learning style terminology, auditory learners rely on what they hear more readily than what they see or experience. Of course, we do all three simultaneously, but usually have a preference. I’m very much in the auditory sensitivity zone, getting a lot out of how the communication sounds, but have to be very careful I don’t read too much into tone of voice. This post is a great reminder of how careful we have to be about the way it sounds, checking out assumptions and giving the benefit of the doubt to our loves ones.

  • Richard June 10, 2010, 3:07 am

    Interesting comment from Robert. I am probably less strong at picking up tone of voice, and rely more on the actual words – not unusual for someone who’s your archetypal male engineer with hints of Asperger Syndrome. Although after 18 years together (and several major incidents arising out of failure to pick up the message behind the message) I’m getting reasonably good at interpreting my wife’s tone.

    On the other hand, I am occasionally frustrated at my wife being over-sensitive to tone – she reads a message into what I’m saying that truly is not there at all, it’s not in the words, it’s not intended to be in the tone, and it’s not what I mean or what I feel. It feels to me like she’s inventing a message that was never there. Whenever this happens, the interpretation she comes up with is inevitably more negative than anything I meant!

    • Jeremy Colbeck November 8, 2015, 11:20 pm

      This describes the communication challenges in my relationship to a tee. Wow. Just now starting to get serious about fixing this problem.

  • Alisa Bowman June 10, 2010, 5:49 am

    Richard–I don’t know if this will work for you or not since it’s your wife you reads too much (and not you), but I like to check in and ask, “Am I reading too much into this?” or just calmly state what I think he’s communicating, “That tone of voice makes me think that you think I’m stupid.” In reality, I KNOW he doesn’t think I’m stupid in a general sense, but that he thinks I’m stupid about whatever he’s correcting me for. He only uses the tone when he’s back seat something (back seat cooking, driving etc). Anyway, this gives him a chance to say, “No, I don’t think you’re stupid!”
    .-= Alisa Bowman´s last blog ..A Primer on Tone of Voice =-.

  • Richard June 10, 2010, 5:54 am

    Thanks Alisa – I’ll keep that in mind, I’m sure it’ll be useful next time this happens! I need to find a way to say “I think you’re reading too much into what I’m saying” without antagonising or alienating her, at a moment when she’s already likely to be in a mood with me.

  • Richard June 10, 2010, 7:32 am

    Sometimes you just have to accept that whatever you say, it’ll be the wrong thing! For a while, my solution to that conundrum was to say nothing. Turned out that was an even worse choice!

  • Alexandra June 10, 2010, 9:40 am

    I have discovered that coming right out and saying, “I’m really angry at you right now,” works wonders with my second husband. We generally talk over whatever the problem is after that and the anger dissipates. I am having a harder time getting him to do the same with me. And, his tone of voice is the tip-off, yes.

  • Joanne June 10, 2010, 10:04 am

    I understand what you all are saying but what do you do with the frustration. We go to therapy, the doctor gets a commitment from Ray to be aware and not push certain buttons, he does really well for a week (and I even praise him for the effort) then he goes right back to type. I find it very hard to keep the frustration, hurt, anger and defeatism out of my voice. He isn’t a small child that should have to be called back to task all the time and I shouldn’t have to feel like a bitch every time I need to bring it to his attention. I feel like a harpy and constantly wonder if it will ever get any better.

  • Drummer Guy June 10, 2010, 1:30 pm

    It will get better Joanne. Have faith, patient love & forgiveness. I really do understand your frustration but habits that take years to develop take a long time to overcome. When expressing frustration I can tell you from the male point of view that venting about it to him is counter productive. I know when my 1st wife did that my response was well it will never be good enough so I give up. While it was a WRONG response on my part it was how I felt & just made me rebel & go in the opposite direction. When she would phrase it nicely & say “honey this is something we are working on together so lets take steps forward” give me a kiss & hug I would work harder on it. As Alisa say’s here it is all in the tone. It took a while to overcome several bad habits but with time & love I did. Not being harsh at all just giving you the male reaction. In a perfect world it wouldn’t be this way but we men are creatures of habit, many of them bad lol :-)

  • Bern June 13, 2010, 8:30 pm

    Lots of interesting views – as I get older (and hopefully wiser!) I’ve learnt how much my words impact upon others. I’m one of those people who for some reason seem to be able to use words to make an impression on others – sometimes its great and sometimes a curse! With my 1st wife I would sometimes talk to her in a parental way (I must have realised instinctively that she was emotionally immature), which sometimes was useful, but oftentimes must have got her upset, so we achieved nothing, except add one more notch to her list of my faults.

    On the other hand, I’m really not that sensitive to the tone that people use with me, and more focus on the words (I guess like lots of males), so sometimes miss the intention myself. I’m also quite a kidder, and don’t take myself to seriously, and like to think I poke as much fun at myself as I do to others. In the case of my former wife lots of things I said which I intended as a joke probably weren’t taken that way, and the problem was she never really discussed it with me, so I was blissfully unaware that I was doing anything to upset her. She’d also make comments back which I thought was all part of the banter, but in hindsight suspect that she meant to be hurtful in retaliation, but it probably just washed over me.

    However, my new partner is much more like me, and she likes to see things in a lighthearted way as well. I find myself making many of the same wisecracks with her that I made to my first wife and she roars with laughter and more often than not comes back with a wisecrack herself. So, the message here is not to judge everyone by your own standards, and assume that they see things the same way, because I found to my cost that they don’t!

  • MarthaandMe June 21, 2010, 2:01 pm

    I remember hearing someone say that you can say anything to your spouse, if you say it in the right tone of voice and I think that is true.

  • OneHotTamale25 August 8, 2010, 10:53 pm

    Few things work out in life as well as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is for that reason I work a lot harder than I did in the past to NOT interact with my husband from a place of fear. I have become much more convinced that he actually wants to work through things and talk to me. He has assuaged my fears on numerous occasions when I wanted to revert back to fear, so now I don’t suggest to myself our interactions will be negative or rehearse negativity in my mind.

  • Abby August 12, 2010, 2:13 pm

    I’ve had this post bookmarked for a while now, meaning to read it because tone is one of mine & my husband’s biggest problems. But here’s what often happens: He admonishes me for not speaking to him nicely when he walks in the door from work. Now, given that I’ve usually just spent 12 hrs solo w/ 2 small, demanding kids, I feel like he should cut me some slack & be grateful I don’t run screaming out the door and never come back. I feel like he should be able to see past my tone and realize how stressed I am & that my patience is shot. I don’t feel like I should have to be the one to muster up a pleasant tone even when I’m at my worst. Because sometimes, that’s really, really hard to do.
    Abby´s last blog post ..A Poop Post- Featuring Tori Spelling

  • Tish March 9, 2012, 5:48 am

    I went searching for tips on tone of voice and I’m so glad I came across this blog! My husband and I have a great relationship, we’ve been together many many years, but the area that causes the most stupid arguments is surrounding tone. I’m at a loss as to how to resolve this issue, when I truly don’t understand what he’s talking about.

    For example:
    A very expensive piece of equipment broke recently, one that I had received as a gift from my husband. I apologized and asked if I had done anything that could have damaged it, and if there was a way that I could fix it? I thought it was a pretty straightforward question, as I thought that maybe I had plugged something in wrong or had used it in a way that caused the damage. My husband is pretty handy with repairing things, so though I was upset, I wasn’t too upset. It was most likely an accident by me or our toddlers. I’m a stay at home mom during the day, so ultimately, I’m the adult in the house to watch over everything. He proceeded to get very upset, walk away, and later came back to express that he was upset because he felt like my response was defensive, as if I was afraid that he was going to blow up at me over it. Now I’m really confused. I thought my response was pretty straight-forward, but he explained that it was apologizing that set him off. Now I’m even MORE confused… something broke, I’m a stay at home mom, so I felt responsible. I thought that an apology was an appropriate response. He interpreted it as equivalent to the “battered wife syndrome” and that’s what made him so angry, as if the apology came from fear of him getting aggressive over the issue. Nope, not at all. He realized that he was reading too much into my tone and discovered the 90% of the time, his interpretation of my tone is completely off base. Not slightly off-base, but outer space off-base. The “I think you’re the biggest @-hole in this world right now” kind of interpretation… when it’s “I’m raising my voice because it’s loud in this room and I cant HEAR you” interpretation…. even after I say, “I cant HEAR you! It’s loud in this room. Say that again??”

    But after reading these posts, I’m still at a loss as to what to do. I get that maybe I just have more of a “male” personality and I actually say what I mean & how I feel. The classic, “if I’m angry with you, I’d TELL you I’m angry with you….” of which I remind him all the time! He’s at least narrowed it down to my tone of voice where the mis-communication is coming from. But how do I learn to say things in a way that he’s understanding what I’m saying, when my attempts to tell him what I’m saying are not getting thru?

  • daniel July 19, 2012, 3:52 am

    when you talk to your parents shoul you not going to loud your voice because their are youngest than you

  • Desiree Mate February 8, 2013, 1:16 pm

    I loved your story. I was at a job for 17 years , many title’s as I worked hard to move up. Until the last few years never had any issues. Then as I made a change back into management, realized that everytime I opened my mouth weather it be the right thing to say, I was taken personally. It ended up getting me fired. Although most enjoyed my passion and direction, they could not get past the tone. They let me go now at age 55 will need to change who I am. As your lesson to your daughter is key for growth, I understand the fear and fear of rejection just because I have a strong tone. I believe we all can learn and must think before we speak. But sometimes even when garded its hard. Thanks for shareing.

  • Jolene September 10, 2013, 11:54 pm

    I read this before I talked out a situation with my boyfriend, situation being my tone when I’m trying to explain myself. I’ll just say, it saved us. Thank you.

  • alisa bowman September 11, 2013, 5:48 am

    Jolene–So happy to hear that it worked for you!

  • Annette February 10, 2014, 12:53 am

    Very good! I loved the story of the 5 year old. So cute. Reminds me of my father. The only part I dont agree with is that even when you’re angry with your spouse you still love them. So to say that ill love you again once i shed my anger would probably in my house make matters worse. Even when you’re angry you should never stop loving someone that means that much to you. You may not like them or the things that has happened, but you always love them. But very good and this has helped me a lot. Thank you.

  • Cara April 13, 2014, 7:26 pm

    I’m reading this post and old comments tonight because we just had a “blowout” over his tone, and what it brings rise to, in me. I am in counseling, as I almost ended the marriage a few months back over his anger. He has a history of decades and decades of being angry (not just at me, but at the world and everyone in it). I am trying really really really hard to be a better person, but he triggers me and I’m lousy at catching myself before I go off on him.

    In our case, it is his tone that sets me off, and he claims what I heard in his tone was not his intent (though he will say that in any even snottier tone than what set me off in the first place). Then, he will tell me that I “always want things to be a fight.” I am the one in counseling. I am the only one making a deliberate effort to NOT fight. So this sets me off further.

    I really really need to be more HERE, NOW, and less THERE, now. I am trying to learn to meditate, but I have a “busy mind,” and one that often feels in control of me (not vice-versa). My meditation sessions are not translating into thoughtfulness in all situations.

    In the meantime — I need to work on biting my tongue when I THINK I’m hearing something, or even when I AM hearing something, and walking away to process my reaction to it, before actually reacting. It’s very very hard, and very very tempting to walk away rather than having to remain in a marriage that is this much work. I feel very sad when I think that I’m the only none who cares enough to scour blogs and forums for advice, not to mention going to a counselor, while my husband turns back to his class car auctions and solitaire computer games immediately after we fight, with no thought to what has just transpired.

  • Rick Summers September 3, 2015, 2:10 pm

    OK so long story short, I suffer from this issue, it has majorly effected my communication skills. Since I am aware of whatever it is that is wrong with me causing this I over analyze having to have serious conversations. I was married and I was unhappy, but I just kept on keeping on until I kicked her out for cheating. Some things she would always say is that the “tone in my voice” made it sound like I was having this attitude. That went away for years now but seems to be coming about again. But it scares me because I truly love the woman I am with now and I feel like when we even try to have serious conversations she states the same things that my tone made me sound like I was belittling her or talking down to her. So when things get heated I started to keep my mouth shut and text her my feelings. She thinks I am being impersonal and not being an adult. I am scared to lose her. I suffer from depression and anxiety and I am sure this plays a major role. As a matter of fact my son speaks to her that way at times and it just causes more tension since I get mad at him and she gets mad at him and me for making him that way. I just feel so lost and confused on what to do. I am alone because I have shut everyone out that was a negative person in my life. Now I can’t even explain my problems to the one I love without feeling like I should just not talk until I figure out how to talk without being a jerk with this belittling attitude. Breaks my heart I need help what do I do? I have driven a serious communication wedge between us and even if I try to talk the way I feel like sounds what everyone wants, my mannerisms and my body language say opposite of what I mean. I am 6 foot 3 and weigh 270 pounds. I have a beard and tattoos, but I have a great job, I dress professionally, it’s just how I talk is what I feel. I would love to take speech classes or something to help me. The more stressed out I get, the more prominent the “tone” gets. I try and close myself off but the outcome is my answers are short, quick and sharp sounding answers that I later regret. I don’t know where else to go. Or what else to do.

    • Rick Summers September 3, 2015, 2:15 pm

      I might add to my above post, i feel very defensive when this arises, and really have gotten to the point where i am not who i use to be because of it. Welcome to ADULThood. I am 32 here in a couple weeks and just feel so lost inside. I am a family man and being with my family makes me happy, so it breaks me apart knowing that I am the root cause of the tension. thank you

      • Del February 25, 2016, 5:21 am

        Hey are you sure youre not talking about me rick!? Haha! I feel that defensivness in this case is caused by the anxiety and depression. It comes from a fear of rejection but that begets rejection and the reactions from the family. Take your time, let your wife know you are dealing with these stresses and that sometimes it isnt easy. Your intentions are not to belittle her, tell her that. Find some things online that you feel may help her understand your situation, (even this site) to help explain anxiety etc and the struggles your overcoming. It takes time. I am not the most patient person either which adds to it all lol I find apologising as soon as your recognise your tone or snappyness and state it wasnt your intention and that you can see it upset you, that this issue is something you are trying to rectify. Im still learning how to effectivly communicate myself, i still txt my partner my feelings as i feel i better explain in written form and then talk about (like youve aarmed yourself up and for me feels safer and less likely to become defensive) Please tell her that these skills have to be learned, sometimes it feels from scratch. Coach yourself on communication youtube is wonderful for comms advice, even better if you find a video that she can over hear and peak her intrest. Your doing something about it. Get her involved, be patient, breathe and break that negative spiral!

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