Day after day, I see couples in my office that describe their efforts at pleasing their partners, and they express to me how hard they are trying. Somehow, though, neither partner feels pleased, despite all of this effort on both of their parts. Have you ever felt that way? It’s that feeling that nothing you ever do is appreciated or that it’s just not enough. So, you try harder and harder, only to still come up short.
The reality is, that no matter how hard you try, if you are doing the wrong things, it will never make a difference or get better. You are probably wondering what do I mean by that. In the simplest of terms, it means that despite your efforts to please your partner, the things you are doing are not actually the things that will please your partner. You might be confused. Let me help with an example:
You’ve been spending a lot of time at work lately, and your wife has missed your presence. When you are home, you are exhausted and just want to watch football and be on your phone. Knowing that your wife is feeling neglected, you made a reservation at a lovely restaurant for Valentine’s Day. You also bought your wife a beautiful necklace and gave it to her in a pretty box without a card. The dinner was nice, but she didn’t seem as happy and excited about the gift as you had hoped. What went wrong?
It’s not that your gestures aren’t kind and loving. Everyone enjoys being wined and dined and gifted. But what your wife is really longing for is a connection with you. She didn’t need the jewelry or even the fancy dinner. What she really wants is…YOU. In this instance, she probably would have preferred a quiet night at home cuddling on the couch with you, or even making love. And a sentimental card professing your deep love and admiration for her likely would have meant more to her than the necklace. Sounds crazy? It’s not.
You see, each of us have wants and needs and desires. We so often assume that whatever we want, need, and desire is what everyone wants, needs, and desires. We mistakenly believe that if we do something that would make ourselves happy, that the other person ought to be happy with that, too. But this is where we fail. This is where we exhaust too much time, energy and effort, only to stay stuck, all of which can be incredibly frustrating. There is a better way.
All relationships are made up of individuals, who have unique personalities, backgrounds, ways of being in the world, wants, needs and desires. What do I mean? A man might come from a family where his mother stayed home and cooked and cleaned, while his father worked and then came home and became an abusive alcoholic. This was not a hugging, touch-feely, share your emotions kind of family. He quickly learned to keep his feelings inside, and disconnect from whatever is going on around him. He married a woman from quite frugal parents that were more like hippies, shared all the housework, where they constantly shared feelings. There was enough hugging for a whole neighborhood.
These two people found each other, and could balance each other in beautiful ways, if only they could learn to please each other. He thinks an occasional nice dinner and gift is how you express love and appreciation, when all she really wants is his physical affection and some undivided attention. No matter how many times he takes out the trash, buys a gift, or fixes something, she will never feel loved if she doesn’t get the physical affection she so desires. Likewise, he doesn’t care much for all of her hugging and feelings talk. He would be much happier to come home to a clean house and a hot meal. She could write him loving notes and hold his hand all day long, and that still would not necessarily help him feel loved. They are each doing what they think should make the other person happy, but not what actually makes the other person happy.
Here are some tips for how to navigate through all of this:
- Don’t assume that you know what your partner wants or needs. Example: She really would be happy with a meaningful card, but you think she needs an expensive gift.
- Tell your partner very clearly what you want and need. Example: I’d really like some time, just the two of us, to just take a walk and talk.
- Pay attention to what you’ve tried and how successful it was at pleasing your partner. If doing dishes or bathing the children makes your wife very happy, then keep doing it. But if it isn’t what she really wants, try to figure out what is.
- Check in with your partner. Ask if they are feeling are loved, and ask what it is they would really like from you.
- Be willing to step out of your comfort zone to try and give your partner what they long for. Expressing feelings and affection comes easy for some, but not for others. Spending money is easy for some, not for others. Some assume chores will be shared, others assume more traditional roles. I could on and on, but you get the point here.
Relationships are hard work, but you should never feel like you are trying so hard and nothing is working. If you do, stop blaming your partner, and try something different. Clearly what you’re doing is not working, and if you keep doing the same thing, nothing is going to change. Communicating your wants, needs and desires can go a long way towards avoiding unnecessary problems in any relationship. While this is not always easy, it is imperative if there is any chance for your partner to meet your needs.