Say what you mean

In the film ‘The Breakup’ the two characters played by Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn have a blazing row that seals the end of their relationship after a dinner party that doesn’t go quite as planned. If you’ve seen the film you might remember the exchange:

“I want you to want to the do the dishes!”
“Why would I want to do the dishes?”

(You can remind yourself of the film on YouTube here)

Now this may be the stereotypical example of the man in this exchange not getting the plot but the reality is that we both men and women spend a lot of their lives not getting the plot in their relationships. It’s because we so rarely actually say what we mean – even though we think we have been crystal clear in our communications.

How many times have you been caught by this trap when you here the request: “You don’t need to buy me much, just put a little thought in to it”. After all it’s the thought that counts isn’t it? How much clearer could that be? Much, much clearer. Because the word ‘thought’ could mean many things; for example:

Notice what project I’m working on and buy something to help it along
Notice the little luxuries I never buy myself but love to have
Think about the holiday coming up and what you might buy to make it even more enjoyable
Notice that words are important to me so when you buy me a card say something I want to hear
Notice how hard I have been working and arrange a spa break/golf break for me whilst you take care of everything
Arrange for the kids to have a sleepover so we can have the evening to ourselves
Notice that you haven’t been giving much time to your relationship recently and arrange a surprise weekend away
Notice that I don’t like clutter so buy me something that’s small and I can put away easily

How many times has the wrong ‘thought’ got us in to trouble? How many times has the wrong thinking ended up in disappointment and frustration despite your best ‘thinking’? Now of course you could be better a noticing what might work (see previous post on ‘Buying the perfect Christmas Present‘) but we can all be clearer in what we mean.

When two people disagree, the situation is not always as fundamental as it might at first seem. A major factor in misunderstandings (often interpreted as a lack of thinking) is not a clash of values, but how the different parties interpret those values.

For example, in personal relationships, we might both agree that love is important, but disagree utterly in how we know that the other person is showing love. What is our evidence that the other person loves? What behaviour demonstrates their love for us?

For me, it may be the fact that you bring me flowers
For you it may be the fact that you work hard all week to support the family
For me it may be that you spend time with me
For you it may be that we embrace each other at least once a day or that I smile at you

What we are saying is Love, as a value, is equivalent to certain behaviours. Here’s a brief exercise you can do by yourself to help you get clear about your values and expectations around relationships:

1.   Select 3-6 behaviours that mean Love to you in a relationship and write these down

2.   Where do these expectations come from? Where did you learn these an how do you feel if you get something different?

3.   How do the behaviours you want to see differ from the behaviours you exhibit?

4.   Now step in to the shoes of that special someone you might be thinking of around Valentines day or any other special occasion coming up.

5. From their perspective what are their expectations and how do they express their love through their behaviour.

6. Is there anything you would want to change based on what you’ve discovered?

The truth is that we do get what we ask for but if we aren’t clear in our expectations then we don’t get clear outcomes. How you could be clearer with your nearest and dearest so you can receive and give the love that works for you.

To find out more you might like to try (and share) our ‘How do you want to be loved?’ quiz. This is a short (but very insightful) quiz for checking out how you show love and how you love to be loved. It’s something to share with your loved ones and a way to start conversations that build relationships that really work for you. You can find that here.

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