Friday, August 10, 2012

Relationship Training

“Relationship Training” is what Dr. J has decided to call her sermon series on relationships. This past Sunday’s sermon was on What Men Wish Women Knew. This information was supposed to come from the relationship surveys that Dr. J had handed out the month before, but she admitted she supplemented the responses she got from the 16 men who turned in their surveys with information she got from other sources. Most of the bits of wisdom she revealed I recognized as having been floating around on the internet for a while, and to which I give as much credence as I do other bits of wisdom floating around the internet. 

For instance, item number one is “We aren’t mind readers”. Actually, I have no trouble believing that. My husband, for instance, can’t even read his own mind. Ask him where he wants to go for his birthday dinner? “I don’t know”. Ask him what he is planning to do with the five wooden Siamese cat sculptures he is purchasing from a vendor in the Bangkok Sunday market? “I haven’t thought that far ahead.”

That doesn’t stop him from trying to read my mind when he thinks it is to his advantage. My real reason for wanting to recover the dining room chairs, in his mind, had nothing to do with my stated reason, that the cats had scratched holes in the chairs and stuffing was poking out. No, my own personal member of the we-can’t-read-minds brigade was sure he knew the real reason for my wanting to recover the chairs, and it was that I am never happy with what I have. 

Guys? If you want to contend that you aren’t a mind reader when it suits your purposes not to be a mind reader, do not ever begin a sentence directed at your wife with “The real reason you want . . .” We do notice logical contradictions. 

Then there is the item that goes “We only see 16 colors. Peach is not a color, it’s a fruit.” That, of course, is the reason the CEO’s of all paint companies are women. Sherwin Williams is a woman who was given the name “Sherwin” because it’s her grandma’s maiden name. And that dude who painted the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel was really a cross dressing female. Trufax.

Honestly guys. It’s okay for you be bad at something like color perception. You can be bad at it as an individual, is what I’m saying. It doesn’t need to be a group effort. I mean, I’m a woman, and I have a hard time telling peach (the color) from apricot (the color). I think  it’s only in the past ten years I’ve been able to tell the fruit apart, and now the world has sprung pluots on me.Is that fair? Next thing you know, that Sherwin Williams character is going to start hawking pluot paint and we can both be confused about it.

But my favorite, favorite one was “Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. That's what we do.”  Uhm, no, that’s what you don’t do, except for those values of “help” that mean “give orders”. Here’s how it works around my house. It’s 5:00 Friday night and a bill arrives in the mail. It’s the same bill I have paid six months ago, and have spent the past six months trying to convince the payee (using   a copy of the cancelled check) that I have already paid.  I know this means another call to the billing department, but as I just said, it’s 5:00 Friday night and I can’t call  until the billing department opens at 9 :00 on Monday morning. So I am grouchy and frustrated and I say so. Several times.

No, telling me “I guess you’ll have to call them again” is not helping me solve the problem. It’s just telling me that my problem, which is that my weekend has been ruined by the unfortunate timing of the bill, is not a real problem (which is a weird thing to do if you want me to believe you can’t read minds) and only the problem that you think you have a solution for is. You don’t get cookies for that. 

To be fair to hubby, he often does offer real solutions to my problems. Just yesterday, I thought the light switch in the living room was broken because nothing happened when I pressed it. Hubby figured out that both light bulbs were out, and stopped what he was doing to go out into the garage, get the ten foot ladder, and change the bulbs, which is something I can’t do because of balance problems. Did I then complain that he didn’t let me talk about my feelings about the broken light bulb? Of course not. I thanked him profusely. He offered a real solution to the real problem. An offer of real help with solving a problem doesn’t start with “Why don’t you . . .?” It starts with “How about if I . . .”

I don’t even think the “offering useless advice instead of help or at least sympathy” behavior is exclusively male. I know I have been guilty of it. When my husband used to come home and vent endlessly about his boss, I would offer useless advice, like using “I” statements with his boss. I suggested he say something like, “When I am told to stop work on what you told me was our number one project to work on something else that is our number one project, I feel confused.” 

For some reason that advice never went over well.

No, really, guys, we are perfectly capable of noticing that when you are the one venting about your boss, or your idiot brother-in-law, or the car mechanic who broke your car, you aren’t asking us for help in solving a problem either. You just want our assurances that you are right and the other guy is wrong. Even when we honestly think you are wrong and the other guy is right.

I do understand, having been there myself, what it is like to deal with a partner who whines endlessly and doesn’t seem to try to fix the problem. And sometimes a nudge toward action is what is needed. In my billing department situation, if it had been 9 AM Monday and I had still been whining instead of calling, “Quit complaining and go call them” would have been a reasonable thing to say. 

So what is the right thing to say when your beloved is complaining about a problem you can’t really solve? YMMV, but “Damn, that sucks. How about if I take you out for dinner?” works great for me.

How hard is that?

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