Sue Nador came up with a (not so) novel idea to communicate better with her husband.
Here is what took two decades of being in a heterosexual relationship to learn.
Like many people, my husband:
- Takes what I say at face value.
- Is not able to read my mind.
I wrote a thesis on gender differences in cognitive functioning back in the ‘80’s when I was doing a graduate degree in Psychology. You’d think I’d be smart about how men think—but you’d be wrong.
For too many years, and knowing I should know better, I expected my husband to think like me. This was especially true around my birthday. Oh, my birthday. Sigh. Every year, when he asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I would say, “Oh, don’t make a fuss.”
What did my husband “hear” when I said, “Don’t make a fuss”? What he heard was, “Don’t make a fuss.”
I know. Crazy, eh?
This was shocking to me. I expected him to hear what a woman would hear. Many women would realize I was speaking in code because they have been known to speak in code, too. What I really said (even though I really didn’t say it) was, “Get creative and surprise me.” And by that I was picturing rose petals strewn on the bed, candlelight, and a box of sexy lingerie (no, never mind—a box of good chocolate).
Given my husband couldn’t break the code, I was disappointed. Every. Single. Year. In fairness there wasn’t much my husband could do that was ever good enough. He did buy me a cell phone for my 40th birthday, which just about sent me into orbit. I think I pouted extra hard that year. A cell phone for a milestone birthday is not very romantic. (Where were the earrings, perfume, spa certificate, damn it?) To me, a cell phone was worse than no present at all.
It took me many miserable birthdays to realize I was perhaps being a tad unreasonable (ok, maybe more than a tad). After all, is it such a crime for my husband to actually believe me? Don’t women want their partners to take them seriously? I realize now that I was testing him unfairly. I convinced myself that if he really loved me, he would just know what to do. I shouldn’t have to spell it out for him, should I? Doesn’t that cheapen the experience?
Here is where I mucked up. There is a difference between saying, “Don’t make a fuss” and “Surprise me”. “Don’t make a fuss” can legitimately be interpreted as “Don’t make a fuss”. “Surprise me” is a different message—one that is less passive-aggressive, more straightforward and more (dare I say it) mature. And here’s an even better idea (and one that I finally adopted)—actually tell my husband what I want!
Radical idea, I know.
My birthday was yesterday. It was fantastic. I did many things right before my big day (drum roll, please…). I told my husband I wanted to go out for dinner with him and our two sons, and I suggested a restaurant with the best maple bourbon sours in town. I laid hints about cologne I liked, and a book I wanted to read.
And like magic—Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo—guess what appeared? A wonderful family dinner, lovely gift, and interesting bedtime reading!
Well, it wasn’t magic exactly. But you get the point.
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Originally published in The Relationship Deal