By Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
Imagine calling your best friend up and telling her,
“I miss spending time with you. We have both been so busy lately!” She agrees and invites you over for dinner. She insists you don’t need to bring anything, but being a person with social sensitivity you know that showing up with a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine is a gracious and important gesture.
You arrive with said bottle and bouquet in hand and note that her home is sparkling clean, with the floor freshly vacuumed and the everyday clutter put away.
“It’s lovely in here,” you tell her.
You sit together in the living room, enjoying a plate of brie and crackers.
“I want you to cook me a pork chop,” you say. Her mouth hangs open in shock. “With braised carrots and mashed potatoes. And be sure to use that smoked paprika that I like.”
“B-But—that—that’s not what I made” she stutters.
“I want us to eat in the kitchen, not the dining room,” you continue. “And you need to light more candles.”
At this point your friend has decided that you either have been possessed by the spirit of a buffoon or are behaving in an unforgivably rude manner.
An unlikely scenario? Geez, I hope so! And yet I see parallel situations in my work with couples all the time!
Partner A (usually the one with the XX chromosomes) wants Partner B to be closer to them, so A asks for this. B responds by trying to move in closer. Yay! But wait! What happens next? A then criticizes B, telling them they are doing it wrong or too slowly or not enough.
“If you really loved me enough you would KNOW what I want,” moans A in their head. At this point, A is the dinner guest dictating the menu.
What message does B take away from this experience? Being a sensible creature, B tries to STAY AWAY from A as much as possible.
And here’s the real tragedy: all this happens in response to A wanting to get closer, not further.
Lest you think B is getting off the hook too easily here, let me add an addendum: B can be a bit lazy sometimes, putting off the work of relationship-tending until A is freaking out, or until Hallmark reminds B that there is an upcoming sentimental holiday in need of consumer spending.
So here’s a helpful thing for B to keep in mind: Make attending to your partner one of your life’s greatest priorities.
And to A: however B does it, it is fabulous just the way it is, and the more you express gratitude, rather than criticism, the more you’ll get invited in.