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Jim McElhinny

I’ve been studying a second language. It wasn’t something I chose to do — more like something I had to do. It’s much more difficult than I anticipated, and even though I’ve been studying it for quite a while, I’m still not fluent.

My most recent lesson the other day started with a pan in the sink — and showed me that I still have a lot to learn.

My wife casually pointed out that letting a pan sit for half a day after cooking makes it hard to clean, as she scraped and scrubbed. That subtle message was missed by her naïve husband, yours truly, the maker of several pounds of sausage earlier that day.

My response? I told her that I was disappointed too because those pans are supposed to be non-stick.

You see, at this point, I think we’re on the same page, agreeing that our non-stick pan is not working to optimum capacity. Imagine my surprise when she had to spell it out that it wouldn’t have hurt me to rinse the pan after cooking. In that particular game of reading between the lines, Wife 1 – Husband 0.

Spouses see the world very differently. Guys are usually dense and unobservant, while women have concepts that are layered and complex. I am working to decode this barrier, creating my own system to translate the language that I like to call Spousish. As you can see from the sausage fiasco, it’s not perfected yet, but I have learned to decipher a few of these foreign phrases.

Here’s a little quiz I created.

If your wife tells you that she has nothing nice to wear. You can say, A: “Perhaps it’s time to do laundry.” B: “What’s the matter, can’t you fit into your nice clothes anymore?” C: “You should go shopping and I’ll stay home, make dinner for the kids and help them with their homework.” D: “None of the above.”

As with all standardized tests, if you are not sure, answer C is often a good guess.

If she tells you that there is not enough room in the bathroom you share. You should respond with, A: “It doesn’t bother me. I enjoy being close to you.” B: “Maybe we should remodel and turn it into a spa.” C: “From now on, I will share a bathroom with the kids and you can have this one to yourself.” D: “I will buy some air freshener.”

This one is tricky as all four answers have merit, but the proper response to this coded statement is actually B and C. In the language of Spousish, there are often multiple answers.

If your wife tells you that she hates the color of the living room. You can say, A: “You picked it.” B: “The ladder and the brushes are in the garage.” C: “If you pick out a color you like, I will happily paint it for you.” D: “None of the above.”

If you picked C, which seems like the absolute perfect answer, you would be dead wrong. That’s why this language can be so difficult to master, because it’s not based on logic but on a higher level of thinking that the male Neanderthal mind cannot grasp. The answer is actually D, none of the above. The proper response is the write-in statement, “Maybe we should move. Let’s go looking at new houses.”

That’s a tough one. No first-year student in Spousish is going to get that one. Only advanced students with many years of experience have a chance of getting that one right.

Don’t feel badly if you did poorly on this quiz. After all, marriage doesn’t get a letter grade … it’s more of a pass/fail course that lasts a lifetime. As long as you keep trying, learning from your mistakes and continually adding to your Spousish repertoire, you will ultimately learn this language.

Having an understanding wife with a good sense of humor doesn’t hurt either.

Dave McElhinny is the North Bureau Chief for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at dmcelhinny@tribweb.com ..

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