I want to clear up a misconception I see so often in marriage counseling that I should make t-shirts. If I could get this message out to every couple in the world, I think we could almost hear the planet getting a little happier. It’s this:
When you ask for something, and someone gives it to you, it shows that they care about you.
Even if they didn’t think of it first.
Many of you are just about to click away because this is so obvious you don’t know why I’m writing it. You might want to stick around, though, to consider this. It’s possible your husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend disagrees. In fact, I’ve found that a huge number of people operate under the belief that kindness only counts if you don’t “have to” ask for it.
Some people think if they “have to” ask for anything, it’s proof that their partner doesn’t really care.
The thought goes that if you really, really care about someone, you anticipate their needs and desires and meet them without any communication necessary. By the same token, not being a “thoughtful” person is akin to being selfish, cold, and uncaring.
I can understand this thinking. For some, being in tune with other’s needs and desires is like breathing. It comes naturally. They are just wired in such a way that they often think of nice, kind ways of showing their love. These can be the most delightful kind of people to be around for this very reason. Except for one thing. Sometimes, they are also full of resentment. This is because they often have a blind spot: they expect others to be just like them. So when other people don’t think up similar nice things to do or say, it feels like an insult. It hurts.
Is this you? Do you wait for your partner to notice the little things you like, silently hoping they’ll “get it”? Do you let a birthday or an anniversary go by, miserably, only to complain the next day? Is there a secret test going on that your partner keeps failing? This is a painful way to live, and it cheats you out of feeling loved.
But what if, instead, you asked yourself who it really is that keeps you hopelessly waiting? By not asking, aren’t you sending yourself the message that you are unimportant? That your happiness is at the mercy of someone else’s mood, whim or attention span? The reason for learning to ask for what you want is simple. If your partner doesn’t happen to be a proactive romantic with a great memory and creative ideas, you still deserve to feel loved. And waiting around for someone else to think of what you want could take a very, very long time.
So what would happen if you had to ask, day in and day out, for what you want? For one thing, you would have to face the question of whether you believe you deserve it. Oftentimes when someone doesn’t like to ask, it really means they sometimes don’t feel, deep down, like they have a right to ask. They think someone else has to be the judge of their worth. In fact, they may fear that if they did ask, they’d hear no. That would confirm the fear that they’re unimportant to the other person. So they wait.
Asking helps you learn to acknowledge that what you want matters. It forces you to demonstrate that you, for one, think you count. And sometimes its a sad fact of life that other people will only respect you at the level you respect yourself. If you discount your needs and desires, you’ll likely find plenty of people to go along with that plan.
There are other good things that could come from learning to ask more. You would help your partner to finally be able to show you they care. Without the “test” of having to remember, they would be free to just respond. If they’ve never been good at tuning in, they can still enjoy getting better at responding. Now their kindness, generosity or caring is no longer blocked by the fact that they just don’t think of it first.
Of course it’s wonderful to have thoughtful people in your life who think of you and do nice things. It’s great to have someone remember to show how much they care. It’s just that people come in a wide variety when it comes to how they show it. For every great guy with a box of your favorite chocolate on the fourth anniversary of your third date, there is another one who might forget your golden anniversary. But that second guy might also be the one who would drive hours in a winter storm to be with you in an emergency, if only you would ask.
Sometimes you don’t even know how caring a person is unless you help them by asking. And giving them the chance is a very thoughtful thing to do.
Margie Wheelhouse is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Springfield, Illinois. She helps couples build great relationships and repair broken ones.