by Colleen M. Hammond
Dennis had a bagel clenched between his teeth, steam wafted out of the hole in the insulated coffee cup in his left hand, and his black laptop case and car keys dangled from his right fingertips. Now was not a good time to ask him to empty the trash by the back door.
“Have a good day, and God bless!” I smiled, giggling to myself. A few years ago, I would have asked him. My, how our marriage has grown.
For the better part of our 16 years of marriage, I’ve been congratulating myself for being able to discern Dennis’ needs and enthusiastically looking for ways to offer my support. I mistakenly assumed that if Dennis loved me, he would do the same. When he didn’t, I would pout, resent him, and think, “If he really loved me, I shouldn’t have to ask.”
After a few years of sulking, I finally figured out that I was married to someone who was different than my girlfriends. First, like many men, Dennis does not instinctively offer his support. Second, if he wants something, he will usually ask for it. With this as his reference point, Dennis assumed that if I didn’t ask him for help, he was already fulfilling all of my needs.
I’m happy to say that, through the grace of God, our relationship has matured. He has become more intuitive, and I’ve become better at requesting. Nevertheless, I made five major mistakes while I was learning to ask.
Mistake number one: Timing. I found out the hard way that timing is crucial. Men don’t like to be asked a question when it’s third and goal from the two and there is one minute left in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. Whatever Dennis is doing, he has tunnel vision. Conversly, I can nurse a baby, make dinner, talk on the phone, and tell our children (in sign language using my free hand) to set the table — all at the same time. I wrongly assumed that was how he functioned as well. So now, if Dennis is focused on something, I have learned to wait.
Mistake number two: Tone of Voice. Essential! Because I used to wait for him to perceptively fill my needs (and he didn’t), my resentment built up. By the time I finally did ask, I was annoyed and my attitude was as demanding as a two-year-old’s. By asking Dennis for what I want immediately and not waiting for him to try to discern my needs, I keep my tone of voice pleasant. I’m sure that, too, is part of the reason my husband is more responsive to my needs these days.
Mistake number three: Enumerating. Because I didn’t understand Dennis’ need to be asked, I wrongly assumed my husband wasn’t helping me because he didn’t believe I needed his help. So I used to give him a list of reasons, thinking it would help motivate him. I was trying to help him justify helping me by saying; “You’ll be going by the store on the way home. The baby needs more diapers. I’m so tired; I just can’t go back out again today. It’s been a rough day. Could you stop by and get them?” Little did I realize that sometimes my litanies of difficulties made him feel manipulated.
Mistake number four: Dropping Hints. I would give clues in an effort to obtain his support and say things such as, “Gee, that trash can is full,” or “The trash hasn’t been taken out yet,” or “The kitchen smells funny — do you think it’s the trash?” I was shocked when I found out that Dennis sometimes interpreted that as criticism. He thought I was blaming him for the stinky kitchen, when I just wanted the trash taken out! Now, I get straight to the point.
Mistake number five: Using Indirect Words. In the spirit of politeness, I’d use “C” words in phrases such as, “can you” or “could you,” which can be too subtle and indirect. Dennis would interpret those phrases as requests for information, or take them literally. When I would ask, “Could you empty the trash?” he would sometimes think, “Of course I can…but I won’t right now.” Dennis is decision oriented, requires brief requests presented in a manner that allows him to make a “yes” or “no” decision.
It hasn’t been easy. Learning to ask at the right time, being brief, and doing so in a direct manner takes practice. The easiest way for me to do it was to use the “W” words: “will” and “would.” They are direct and polite at the same time. At first I thought the “C” and “W” words carried the same weight. Then Dennis pointed out something. He said, “I didn’t ask, ‘Can you marry me?’ I asked, ‘Will you marry me?’” It may be subtle semantics to me, but to Dennis, the “W” words can make a world of difference.
Our marriage continues to grow in Christ. We have developed a deeper mutual respect for each other’s God-given differences, and we treat each other with deference. Most importantly, we pray together, calling upon the grace available to us in the sacrament of our marriage.
Dennis is becoming more perceptive, sensitive, observant, and aware of my needs; he tries to fill them before I request his help. And I’ve learned to ask. I wait for the right time, I’m brief, I’m direct, and I use words my man can relate to.
When Dennis got home that night from work, I asked him, “Will you please make sure the trash by the back door is emptied every night?”
And it has been ever since.
Copyright Colleen M. Hammond 2001
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