How do I express to my partner I'd like him to do thoughtful things for me without making him feel bad.?
March 31, 2012 9:15 AM   Subscribe

How do I express to my partner I'd like him to do thoughtful things for me without making him feel bad?

I will begin by saying that my partner is a very good man with an excellent moral compass and a lot of love and care for his friends, family and pets. He has a lot of things to manage on his own and is very much focused on life responsibilities. He has an intense work load and added stresses at work that keep his mind occupied. I love him very much and he verbally expresses he loves me almost daily. He is very good at reaching out during the day with an email, text or a call.

I work from home and focus on domestic and creative activities I enjoy, which he verbally expresses he appreciates and enjoys. This is to say that I occupy my time with interesting things and keep my mind active. l I don't know if I just expect too much and am also being unreasonable with my level of desires. Thoughtful actions and verbal affirmations are how I feel most loved and appreciated. I didn't realize I was making my partner feel bad, and likely defensive, with my reference to thoughtful things other people did for others and deliberate gentle hints about the things I'd wish he'd share, buy for me or do with me. These range from taking care of technical things and repairs to flowers, food, small gifts and physical contact. He brought it to my attention and I felt terrible not appreciating all the wonderful things he already does do with me and for me. I usually express and acknowledge when he does things that touch me and I find to be very thoughtful, but I think it may have come off as insincere. He expressed feeling as though I gave him a lot of credit for small insignificant things that I asked him for and therefore not try as hard. He also felt I was treating him like a child and trying to train him. So I put it out there for some harsh criticism on me and some excellent ideas on how to ask for what I desire.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I would like to recommend a book called The 5 Love Languages. It isn't long and it is an easy read actually. It does a really good job of explaining that people speak different languages and they also express love in different languages. If both of you are more aware of each other's "language" then you will be better able to recognize when the other is expressing love and you'll also be able to express love to each other in their language so they understand.

I think it helped.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:24 AM on March 31, 2012 [5 favorites] reference to thoughtful things other people did for others and deliberate gentle hints about the things I'd wish he'd share, buy for me or do with me.

Sounds like he regards your hints as veiled criticism or expressions of disappointment. Have you tried asking him directly for what you want?
posted by jon1270 at 9:34 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do you do all these thoughtful things for him? Do you buy him gifts, food, perform small tasks for him, etc.? I think this may be the best way of showing the things you like and feel are part of being a loving partner, instead of asking him to do so for you.
posted by xingcat at 9:38 AM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

He expressed feeling as though I gave him a lot of credit for small insignificant things that I asked him for and therefore not try as hard. He also felt I was treating him like a child and trying to train him. So I put it out there for some harsh criticism on me and some excellent ideas on how to ask for what I desire.

Then stop hinting and be explicit. Look, when you need something from someone, you ask for it. That's what adults do. The only reason flowers don't ask for water is because they have no voice. You do. Use it. Be clear.

In the meantime, model the behavior you want from him. Do random nice things for him, buy him small tokens, compliment him.
posted by inturnaround at 9:41 AM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Totally seconding the recommendation for The Five Love Languages. I read it in a day and I've spent a lot of time thinking about it. It seems like a very simple concept that you already know - people communicate love in different ways - but it really cements and makes clear how important it is to understand that your partner may be speaking in a different "language" than you.
posted by anotheraccount at 9:44 AM on March 31, 2012

My partner's and my agreement is: no hints. If we want something that we haven't been getting, we ask for it. It requires a few corollary rules, like "it's ok to ask me for what you want, I won't get defensive and pissy" and "I will do whatever you ask me to, so if it's a hard thing, only ask if it's really important."

The downside is that it's not as romantic as having someone anticipate exactly what I want; but that doesn't really happen outside of fairy tales anyway.* The upside is we don't have to worry that we're missing hints; and we know we'll get what we ask for.

Anyway, I recommend it. If you haven't had a talk like this, it's better to give some notice, like "honey there's some stuff I was hoping to ask you about, do you have a minute?"

*if I don't specify what I want for my birthday, it's generally not a great scene.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:25 AM on March 31, 2012 [18 favorites]

I would go one step further to suggest that you read the book together and discuss it. That way he knows you're also looking to learn how to express your love for him in the best possible way.

I think that men (in general) commonly need a lot of affirmation; more than women do (again, in general). I know that what I think is completely sufficient praise and acknowledgement for what my husband does is completely insufficient for him. It's a challenge to deliberately make an effort to go above and beyond what I'm used to, but I feel it's an important part of a relationship.

I think my love language sounds about the same as yours - I like thoughtful gestures, gifts, etc. While my husband is excellent at telling me he loves me (as it sounds like your partner is), it's difficult for him to understand that it's not the whole picture for me.

An additional thought that I have is that men (or people in general) might think that the things we need to feel love are things of monetary value. For me, it has nothing to do with the money spent, but it's the fact that he thought to get something for me. Flowers picked from the side of the road, for instance, are just as wonderful as a diamond (okay maybe not quite, but you know what I mean).

Could you try having a frank discussion and explain it that way? Especially if you can give him an example of something he's already done for you. For instance "I'm so grateful that you took the time to fix the ________. It's not so much that it's fixed; while I appreciate that, it's more meaningful to me that you knew it was bothersome to me and you went out of your way to fix it." Perhaps if your partner understood your rationale behind your feelings, he'd feel better?

Just my two cents. :) Good luck!
posted by nataliedanger at 10:40 AM on March 31, 2012

He has an intense work load
I think you might give him a pass on bringing home flowers and treats. If you want roses, go buy a bunch yourself. If he's loving and caring, greet him at the door with a big kiss and hug and see what happens after that. You can ask that he be more physical in his affections, but I think modeling that behavior (ie, hugging, squeezing, touching and kissing) works better with most men that any verbal requests. You might want more little gifties and such, but if he's killing hiimself at work and then coming home to you, I think that's a big gift right there.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:20 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

In addition to the book recommendations, I think that taking a step back and reassessing might also help. You say he's got an intense and stressful worklife outside of the home, yet he finds time in the day to text/call/email you to let you know that he's thinking of you. He tells you what you mean to him, he supports you in your creative endeavors, and does things he thinks you'll appreciate. It sounds like he's doing a really good job of balancing everything and is keeping your needs in mind.

Why is the grass greener elsewhere for you? Telling him about what other people are doing and hinting around about what other things you'd like are likely making him feel unappreciated when he's doing a great job of making room and time to tell you and show you how much he appreciates you. I don't mean to be harsh, but are you caught up in some romantic comedy fantasy of how a partner "should" show affection? Flowers, candy, surprise gifts, and the rest of the drill? If that's not his style, it might feel artificial and like he's acting out a role for your entertainment rather than being himself.

By all means, tell him what you want and need. You may also want to examine yourself a bit and figure out why all the things he is doing are not enough for you. There's probably a great half-way point that you two can find where you feel you're getting the gestures you want and he's able to feel authentic about how he shows you he loves you.
posted by quince at 12:50 PM on March 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

Lots of great advice about having an explicit and frank conversation that leads to both of you doing more of the things that make each of you feel more loved.

You may also want to consider the Shamu method. When he does the sort of things that make you feel loved, praise him to reinforce the behavior. It sounds cold and manipulative, but I was surprised to find that making the effort to explicitly praise my husband draws my attention to all the nice little things he does for me instead of taking them for granted. (This is similar to what nataliedanger suggests, I suppose!)
posted by BrashTech at 5:24 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Overpraising can seem insincere or condescending--that may be why he's put off by it. Smiling and saying, "Thanks, baby!" or "This is great!" is sufficient for most gestures.

I would also nth the advice to ask for what you want explicitly. That way he knows exactly what you want and, more importantly, how to succeed at making you happy. It'll be much less stressful for him, and maybe you could use some practice asking for what you want, too: win-win.
posted by elizeh at 5:58 PM on March 31, 2012

Practice this: "I really like it when ___x___. It makes me feel __y___. I love you!"

Repeat as necessary, especially after he's done x.
posted by softlord at 6:57 PM on March 31, 2012

This is great advice, but at some point you've got to realize that if he doesn't care, he doesn't care. If you explicitly ask for affection and he acts grouchy about it, then what? Don't waste time trying to get blood from a stone. Focus on doing things to make yourself happy and validated outside your marriage--developing a wider circle of friends through volunteer work wouldn't hurt.
posted by doreur at 4:07 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing The Five Love Languages. My partner and I are in the middle of reading it together (we're taking turns reading chapters out loud). We end up having really thoughtful conversations after we finish each chapter. We're only up to page 91 and it's already made our strong relationship even stronger.
posted by southern_sky at 3:20 PM on April 1, 2012

Mod note: From the OP:
Thank you for the insight and advice. I'll take a read from the books suggested. Because there are some assumptions made because of my lack of explanation, I wanted to mention that he and I do not live together and are not married. One of the things he says he loves about me is that I am very explicit about what I want. Initially he responded accordingly. If I remind him in the same explicit way, I'd feel like I was nagging him. I have some reality checking to do to ground my romantic desires, as well as figure out if I am truly trying to get "blood from a stone," as mentioned above. I'll keep reading for any more insight from mefites.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 6:14 PM on April 1, 2012

Maybe you could try cultivating thoughtfulness toward yourself, in lieu of prompting it from another.
posted by macinchik at 11:41 PM on April 1, 2012

« Older Can you "invest" in the lottery?   |   Help me remember an article I read long ago! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.