You think you’re being helpful by being easy going. This is why you’re actually making things harder.
Just yesterday I was lounging with my wife and she casually asked me what my thoughts were on the outfits she picked out for our one and three year old daughters. The conversation went as follows:
Wife: Hey Mike, what do you think about these outfits for the girls tomorrow?
Me: Um…what do you think?
Wife: I don’t know, is Emmy growing out of this?
Me: Well what size is she?
Wife: A 4T and a 5T depending on the clothes.
Me: Hmm…whatever you want then, it looks fine.
Wife: Well do you like the outfits?
Me: Yeah, they’ll look cute in anything.
Wife: Ugh. Fine.
My wife starts simply by asking me my opinion. She cares about what I think. However, the problem surfaces when it becomes obvious that I’m not particularly interested.
She patiently tries to prompt more out of me. Again, I deflect by responding with either a question or a vague comment.
Before you pounce, let me explain.
I am not intentionally deflecting. I am not trying to avoid responsibility. The truth is, I genuinely do not care what my daughters typically wear. I care very much about them, just not so much about what they wear. It isn’t just clothing either.
With two kids and a full time job for each of us, my wife and I have to make a ridiculous amount of decisions. Some important, some not so important but decisions nonetheless.
I struggle because though I can logically identify the problem, deep down there is quite a bit I do not concern myself with. Should we eat before we go shopping or after? Should the girls take a bath tonight or tomorrow? What should we have for dinner?
To these questions my responses are; It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Whatever you want, respectively.
What can I say? I’m laid back.
- If she wants me to give them a bath, tonight or tomorrow, fine.
- If she wants us to eat as a family before or after we go shopping, fine.
- If she wants something for dinner, no problem, I’ll have it also.
- No problem, right? How could these answers make anybody mad?
The answer is simple.
Being laid back, as I define it, is minimizing the collective value of the decisions made. In this case, it is a form of belittlement and it is unfairly allocating the majority of the decision making to my wife. The message I’m sending is that it doesn’t matter to me. I might as well say “Honey, don’t waste my time with such trivial questions. Take care of it yourself.”
Beyond these concerns are more important questions: Why is my wife compelled to be the person who has to take the small decisions seriously? If she stopped asking questions, what would it mean for our daughters? If unprompted, would I step up and take care of my daughters with the passion and attention to detail that my wife does? Would my “laid back” approach unmask itself as laziness and avoidance?
Though I cannot provide you with definitive answers, I can say one thing. Moving forward I am not going to focus on providing thoughtful responses. Rather, to prevent my wife from being inundated with the day to day required decision making, I’m going to strive to be the person, at least half of the time, who thinks about the details first.
Why the change of heart? Because if my wife decided to take the same approach as I, then in a short amount of time our life would be dramatically changed. Our beautiful daughters who are clean and well dressed might become otherwise. Our family dinner might be filled with tears because it was served two hours too late. These consequences may seem pretty insignificant but stretch them out over a lengthy duration and we will undoubtedly encounter stress and frustration on regular basis.
In other words, if both of us take the same “laid back” approach then our entire family will suffer. If integrity is important, which I firmly believe it is, then I cannot allow myself to bestow this double standard upon my wife.
It is perfectly appropriate to be laid back. The ability to ride the waves of life with a smile is rare. Unfortunately though, we may have prematurely convinced ourselves that we have this ability. Before we can adequately conclude this thought to be true we must ask ourselves the following question:
In a relationship, can both members take the same approach and still yield positive results?