“But I feel like he is doing these things just because he has to, not because he wants to,” my friend told me after she and her husband went to marriage counseling. “It’s like he is checking things off a list of things that he knows I want him to do. Did I ask her how her day was? Check. Did I take out the trash? Check.”
I could sympathize with my friend. My husband David and I have had our share of squabbles over me accusing him of not being as spontaneously romantic as I would like. And yet, I wondered if my friend was being too harsh towards her husband. He was trying to do the right thing, and yet she was rejecting his actions because she suspected he was acting out of a sense of duty rather than a sense of love.
I realized then how often I’ve put David in a similar bind.
“I don’t want to tell you what I need or desire, because you should already know,” I might say to him. “But I can’t read your mind—just tell me what you want,” David might respond.
And then when I do spell out my wishes—“It’d be really nice if you would bring me flowers sometime” or “It’d make me feel loved if you brewed my coffee in the morning”—all of a sudden the gestures no longer seem romantic. I might have fresh flowers on the table and hot coffee in my favorite oversized mug, but then I worry that those actions were done only because I had specifically asked, not out of my husband’s love for me. And then I feel guilty for being needy and demanding, and yet am still a bit resentful that David couldn’t just read my mind in the first place.
It can all get rather silly. I might criticize David if he doesn’t take me on a date. But if he does suggest a date night, I might accuse him of doing it out of a sense of duty, not because he really wants to. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, in other words.
And even though I recognize this tendency, I still fall into this pattern more often than I’d like. In fact, Last night David suggested that we watch a movie while I nursed our two-week old son to sleep. I thought that sounded like fun. I’m always telling David how much it means to me when we take time to relax together. So we watched the movie and stayed up until midnight. I was happy for the “date night in” and fell asleep snuggled close to David. But in the morning, after multiple night feedings, I was tired and grumpy. I blamed David for keeping me up too late and said that he should have realized that I needed to go to bed earlier. Once again, he was caught between my conflicting expectations.
I apologized quickly, with this blog post in mind, reminding me of how so often I fail to do the good that I want to do and know that I should do.
At a mom’s group the other day, some of my fellow moms started talking about something they heard on the radio. The speaker encouraged husbands and wives to make a list of 40 small ways they feel loved, and then to give that list to their spouse. That way, your husband (or wife) can have a clear idea of how to best show you love. The expectations are explicit, and the hope is that the instances of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” moments will then be minimized.
At first, I thought this sounded a little unromantic. But then I remembered my friend’s comment about her husband after their marriage counseling. It takes a little bit of adjustment in one’s thinking, but perhaps it really is best to accept the fact that, as romantic as it might be in the movies, in real life men and women cannot read each other’s minds. And given this, the best we can do is to talk to each other openly and honestly about our expectations, and be patient as we imperfectly try to meet those expectations.