My last blog entry was about the difference between a-ttention and in-tention as it pertains to how we relate to and understand our spouses’ actions and words. It garnered some nice responses from you. I was moved that you shared your own stories and experiences from your own relationships.
I’d like to piggyback on one comment in particular from my cyber sister, Sherry. (Hey girl, hey! How you doin’?) She offered important additional advice that resonated with me deeply. Her exact comment . . .
“In the interest of quid pro quo, I have one for you. Men need to be praised and appreciated for the smallest things. Never underestimate the power of a heartfelt thank you. Many times when I give this advice to women they say, ‘Why should I thank him! Nobody thanks me! He should want to make me happy!’ I always reply that marriage is not a contest so keeping score doesn’t work. Say thank you because it’s what he needs to feel good about his efforts. Love him where he is and he will try to love you where you are.”
I identify with this so much. For example — and this really is a trivial example, but I swear it’s the tiny things that people have the hardest time negotiating and navigating, so I think it’s as good a jungle gym example to play on as any — recently Patrick emptied the dishwasher. My honest, initial reaction was indeed to thank him. But I actually stopped myself from uttering the words. I stifled the genuine kind expression. I second-guessed myself thinking, why should I thank him for doing something he should do. I empty the dishwasher all the time. He never thanks me. But regardless of how things are, if you want something to change, you must appreciate and acknowledge the effort being made from the other person. In truth, Patrick was doing something outside his regular routine and comfort zone. That was a big deal. It was loving. His action was thoughtful. Not thanking him for it was immature and ugly and spiteful on my part. I stayed quiet and missed an incredible opportunity to match love with more love.
Too often we think it’s up to the other person to change, to make the sacrifice, to rise to our level, to give us what we need. But it takes two, always. Even if the one person is only responsible for offering forgiveness, it’s still a two way street. Both people have to participate for change to occur.
So, I echo Sherry’s sentiments. It’s really the same theory as all spiritual principles. You get back what you put out. I’m certainly not the first to say it or the first to mess it up. It’s a practice. I’m always striving to do better. And sure, the dishwasher should be the least of all our worries, but like I said, it’s as good an example as any. Practice with the little things. It will make the bigger things easier.
I love that you’ve shared with me your stories. I think it’s really powerful when people can share their vulnerabilities in order for others to learn and grow. We’re in our marriages alone, but we’re in this world together. Thank you all for your open hearts.