I heard a story awhile back about an older couple who decided to try counseling before calling it quits after 40 years of marriage and when they sat down with the counselor for the first time the therapist turned to the gentleman and asked “How would you describe the problem in your marriage?” – The man replied with frustrated anger, “She never listens, every time she walks by me she pats my head and I’ve told her 1000 times not to but she keeps doing it – Every. Single. Time!” The counselor turns to the woman and asks the same question to which she replied with a soft voice and downcast eyes, “He never pats my head.”
This story is great because it clearly illustrates a key issue that is common in relationships – we don’t stop to identify and understand the way in which the other is attempting to communicate affection/caring/love. In the above example, SHE is saying “I love you” with each pat on the head and since it drives him crazy (he didn’t understand the intent of the gesture), he wouldn’t dream of doing it to her – because he doesn’t… she is not feeling any love reciprocated.
I encourage my clients to pay attention to what their partners do DO, silently; perhaps without being asked as a way to identify the way in which they express their affection and then I encourage them to DO IT BACK!!
Does your partner buy your favorite cookies every time he/she goes to the store? Do they compromise on the type of movie you see on Friday night? Do they keep a light on if they go to bed before you? Are they quiet getting ready in the morning so you get a little extra shut-eye?
What happens if you are like the man above who just can’t tolerate the loving gesture that your partner is using to express? Try a conversation like this:
“Honey, why do you pat my head?”
“Because I love you.”
“Well, thank you for showing me that you love me so often, but honestly… it drives me crazy!! I am wondering if there is another gesture that might work as well… one that I enjoy?”
Seriously, something THAT simple in the beginning… when it first becomes irritating is all it usually takes to iron out such a potentially devastating habit. We have a tendency to try to stop annoying behavior without looking for the REASON that the behavior exists in the first place. Or, we tolerate it so long that the annoyance builds up over time to a pressure point and then our response becomes angry.
Keep in mind that your partner is NOT a mind reader and while some people are really good at picking up ‘signals’ – others simply are NOT! If you feel like you have asked for what you need/like and still have not gotten it then be DIRECT and ask again. My experience is that most of us *hint* or beat-around-the-bush versus asking for something directly.
The other day my partner called me “babe” incidentally and it’s not a word that he uses often. I took the time to let him know that it sounded endearing and that I liked it when he referenced me as his “babe”. He has used it several times since!
Do you know that your partner understands the things you say or do that express affection and/or love? Have you asked lately?