I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
Her hand kept tapping her empty cup on the metal table.
“It’s like, I just keep telling him what to do and it goes in one ear and out the other.”
Her frustration was obvious. We had this conversation so many times before yet she continued to return to her unhappy situation.
I slowly squeezed the sides of my empty cup and did my best to be a good listener. Instead of waiting for my turn to talk, I kept my mouth closed and just let her vent. I knew that’s what she really wanted. She didn’t want my advice. If she did, she would have listed to what I said the first time. Or the second. Or the 17th time. But you can’t get upset with someone because they don’t listen to what you have to say. All you can do is help them notice their inconsistencies and let them know what behaviors to alter that will change the outcome. I couldn’t fix her life or her problems no matter how many solutions I tossed her way. Because relationships are only black and white to those not involved. No one fixes anyone. We only fix ourselves when we find the courage to believe we deserve better. And that isn’t an easy task. Because before courage, you have to find confidence. And to find confidence, you have to learn that you are worth it. And your worth is your value of what happiness you believe you have earned and if you can’t look in the mirror and truly believe that you have earned happiness, true confidence is a long way off.
“I mean, I tell him I just want him to do the little things to show me that I matter. He never buys me little presents or kisses me when I get home or helps me unload groceries. All he does is play video games and has sex with me in the middle of the night.”
I waited for her to pause. Anything to indicate that she was finished venting. I set my cup down and asked, “So, is that where you’re at now?”
She let out a frustrated sigh and said, “Yep.”
I said, “So do you want it to change?”
She looked at me like I was crazy, “Have you no been listening to all the awful things he does and the way he makes me feel?”
“Oh, I heard.” I said, “So what are you doing to make the situation better?”
“I shouldn’t HAVE to make the situation better.” She said in just under a yell, “He is the one making me feel unloved. It is HIS responsibility to change.”
“You are absolutely right. It is not your responsibility to fix anything.”
“But it is your responsibility to let him know how it makes you feel.”
“I DO! I tell him how he needs to do the dishes and fill the car with gas and to stop smoking so much weed.”
I cut her off and said, “You know that you’re not helping matters when you bark demands at him, right? He perceives that you’re coming off like his mother.”
Her face told me that her patience with me was growing thin.
“Listen. I once dated a woman for years who was constantly disappointed with me. That I wouldn’t introduce her to my friends. That I ignored her for video games. That I never picked up her favorite candy. And most of all, that when she came over to my apartment – I never asked her how her day was.”
Her posture relaxed and I could see that she could identify and was genuinely intrigued, so I continued.
“Well one night, as we were finishing burritos and watching late night television from under a shared blanket, she grabbed the remote and turned the television off. We usually stayed up later than that so I thought it was odd. She turned, looked at me, and said, ‘Do you know why I get so upset with you?’ I said, because I don’t ask about your day? Yeah, I know. She said, ‘Because when I come in after a long day on my feet, after being yelled at by customers, and going through drama with my co-workers, the one thing I have to look forward to is coming to your apartment and seeing you. And you are my happiness.’ It was sweet and made me want to wrap my arms around her. ‘But when I walk in here excited to see you and you don’t even make the effort to stand up to greet me and ask about my day, it makes me feel like you don’t care. It makes me feel like the words you say don’t match the actions you show.’ I sat up straight and emphatically attempted to explain just how much I did care. Because she was everything to me at that time but she said, ‘I know you DO care, but I need to feel it. Because if I don’t feel it, I don’t truly believe it. I would take feeling your love one time over 10 times you telling me you love me.’ She looked at me calmly and with genuine care and compassion and asked, ‘If you truly are in love with me, you would want to put a smile on my face, right?’ I said yes. ‘And I’m telling you how to do that.'”
I paused and let it sink in for a few beats.
“It changed the way that I interacted with her. Not because she told me what to do, but why to do them. She was right. I was in love with her and my job as a boyfriend, and the job of every boyfriend and girlfriend and wife and husband, is to work hard to put a smile on her face. All you can do is explain how he makes you feel and see what he does with that information.”
“So what you’re saying is that he has to care enough to want to change?”
“No.” I said, “He has to be in love enough to listen.”
Her posture softened and she said, “And what if he doesn’t?”
“Then you need to reevaluate the value of your happiness and have the courage to want more for yourself.”