“Babe, I ordered a blender,” I told my then-boyfriend as we were getting ready for bed.
“It’s for my morning smoothies; I’m really excited.”
“Great, Molly, I’m excited for you, too,” he answered absentmindedly, while thumbing through a book.
A day or two later:
“Oh! My package comes tomorrow…you know, my blender….”
“Nice. Very exciting, Molly.”
“I’m heading to work so can you keep an eye out for my package? It’s my blender, it should be coming today. If they leave it by the door, can you bring it in?”
Now, you may think this was simply an everyday exchange about an online purchase. But sometimes, we have an indirect way of communicating. Sometimes, we try to communicate through mental “telepathy” and then expect partners to understand our true meaning without translation.
What was really going on was a) I wanted him to be as excited as I was for the morning smoothies I was going to start making, and b) I wanted to come home that day to a fridge full of smoothie ingredients from Whole Foods — almond milk, fresh fruit, almond butter, perhaps some honey.
That’s what I was communicating.
See, I had this romantic yet delusional fantasy that telling him my blender was arriving would be inwardly translated by my partner to Oh, I need to go to Whole Foods to get Molly’s smoothie ingredients. That way, when she gets home, she can make a smoothie with her brand new blender and joy will ensue.
I just wanted him to be able to figure this out and to want to do that for me. I wanted him to be able to pick up on my subtle cues by paying an exquisite level of attention and show his devotion to my needs.
Wasn’t it obvious when I said I ordered a blender that that’s what a loving partner was to do? No?
I’m sure it’s no surprise that he was not able to decipher my secret code and I did not come home to a fresh array of smoothie ingredients, much to my dismay.
This begs the question: Why didn’t you just ask him outright for what you wanted? Why even bother with this complicated game of mental telepathy?
What I didn’t know then, but certainly know now, is that my training and conditioning had programmed me into what’s known as the Good Woman Syndrome, which made it hard for me to ask for the things I wanted.
At that time in my life, my desire for fresh smoothie ingredients felt like a lot to ask. It was unfair to expect him to take time out of his day to go to the store, make a trip just for me, and spend time picking out and searching for my ingredients.
It also made me feel really vulnerable. What if he said, “No, Molly, this is your thing; I’ve got a lot to do this week”? It would open the door for potentially feeling rejected and completely dampen my current excitement about my new blender purchase.
This conditioning is deep, and the truth is that there were all sorts of reasons I didn’t flat out ask for what I wanted — that’s a tangent for another day. So, instead, I did what most of us naturally do. I just kept reminding him that my blender was arriving soon and hoped he would somehow “get” what I was after.
Of course, he was perplexed in the days that followed as I gave him the disappointed cold shoulder, in his view, for seemingly no reason.
Another check for the “women are irrational” box.
A few weeks later, during an argument, I let him into my secret world. “I wanted you to go get me smoothie ingredients for when my blender arrived.” I told him how he had fallen short in the ethers of my delusional world, how he should have just known.
He died laughing. “Oh my God, that’s why you kept bringing up your blender! I was wondering what the big deal was. Now that I think of it, you weren’t that subtle. You kept telling me to look out for your package.”
We had a good laugh together, a new moment of intimacy. He was learning more about the intricacies of my complicated, feminine mind.
As our relationship deepened, he began to pick up on my subtle cues and he got better at understanding my ways of communicating in our relationship.
For example, another common question I would ask him was, “Do you want a quesadilla from Urth Café?” which really meant, “I want a bubble tea so hopefully you are hungry and will order something, and then you can buy me a bubble tea, too.” In time, he learned to just ask, “Molly, would you like me to get you a bubble tea?” This made me sublimely happy.
We learned to speak each other’s languages and had fun in the process. It became a game of him learning to deepen his intuition, and as it turned out, he was often right.
He’d say, “You know, I had a feeling about that,” or “I knew I should have asked about that.” For me, his willingness to make the effort to understand me satisfied most of what I was really after in the first place: his attention. It boiled down to me wanting a connection with someone willing to pay close attention.
In many ways, this is what intimacy is really about.
Dealing with a partner’s idiosyncrasies can often feel like you’re going insane. Why can’t you just ask for exactly what you want? As frustrating as this may be, these little subtleties, the nuances in our romantic relationships, can sometimes make up the backbone of intimacy, connection, and the fun that comes with learning each other’s languages. This is what makes the experience of a relationship what it is. If we had it all figured out, we’d just be boring…robots.
And don’t you have a lot of secret codes and ways you communicate to get what you want?
How can we all get what we need?
Sometimes in a tough situation, the best way to defuse tension can be with play and humor. It may feel incredibly risky when emotions are high, and things seem endlessly complicated, to then try to poke fun at something that is very serious. However, my partner and I have been able to resolve conflicts when one of us could take a step outside the situation, stop taking ourselves so seriously, and find a way to laugh.
A warning: This does require you to focus on your partner’s feelings, and to never come from a place of being condescending or resentful, since that makes it more difficult to transition into a less serious, playful frame of mind.
Communicate with love and inject a little more levity, and you may be surprised to see what follows.
“You are a terrible boyfriend; you never do anything I ask!” (initial angry accusation)
“Oh? I’m the world’s worst boyfriend? Okay, I agree. And what do you hate about me most?” (assigning a less serious tone, turning it playful)
Take the Attention Off of Yourself
We, as humans, are feeling beings. We almost always know if someone is fully present or checked out when we’re engaging with them. In a relationship, it’s especially important to trust that your partner loves and cares about you, isn’t going anywhere, and is committed to making the partnership work. If you can hold this as your baseline level of connection and commit to believing these things, your head won’t be as polluted with inner talk surrounding doubt, fear, anxious chatter, that you’re not good enough, that he doesn’t love you, he’s going to break up with you and leave you for his co-worker, etc.
When your mind is constantly being filled with those voices, you’re not present and you can’t actually feel each other.
Decide you’re a worthy and capable partner from the start and the attention you’re able to provide will expand, will allow your partner to open up, and help express more with you than you thought was possible.
Listen to Your Body
We can feel when something doesn’t land as we intended or wasn’t received well. Pay attention to how you feel when you’re communicating with your partner. Does it feel open and easy, does it flow, or is there a negative charge or residue from a previous interaction that didn’t get the closure it needs? Ask, “Did something I said earlier upset you? Is there anything on your mind? Do you need anything from me?”
Trust what you feel and extend yourself to try to name it. We don’t always have words for what’s going on, but don’t be afraid to venture into potentially difficult territory. The risk is always worth it. What’s on the other side is more intimacy and connection. Be willing to say the uncomfortable thing and you’ll almost always be rewarded. Be willing to take this risk for the sake of your connection.
Remember Everyone is Trying Their Best
When we come from a place of love, compassion, and empathy, things have a way of working out for the better. To the best of your ability, try to remember that your partner is their own person who has their own unique flaws and experiences that made them who they are and that got them to where they are today. Remember that they have various skills and challenges and their own set of voices running through their head all the time. They’re trying their best with the tools they have.
Try to be as clear as you can, and when you’re having trouble expressing yourself, come back later with vulnerability and honesty about where you were coming from and what it is you need. Ask them to do the same for you. Sometimes everyone needs a reminder of “I love you and I’m doing my best.”
Always assume the best and make it your goal to help your partner win with you.
It can be difficult to stay conscious and present during a heated or challenging argument. Refocus your attention by asking questions and learning what’s going on for your partner.
If you’re tuned in and find yourself genuinely curious about a certain statement or comment they made, trust yourself and ask about it. Perhaps there was an answer that landed a certain way in your body. You might ask something like “What just happened there?” or “What did you mean by that?”
A bonus note is to always ask permission before asking a potentially triggering question: “Can I ask you something?” and then follow with what you want to know more about.
Remember, if you’re coming from a place of connection and love, and the knowledge that they’re doing their best, it will come across in your communication and open up areas that might have previously been an impasse or a stuck place for you both.
How we relate to our most intimate relationships will ultimately make or break the connection. I recommend finding the joy in unlocking each other’s doors and using your attention to learn the deep inner workings of each other’s minds and ways of being. Stay curious and open, listen to your body and intuition, assume the best, and try to communicate with each other from a place of love and understanding. I truly believe that what we’re all after is each other’s full presence and loving attention.
Molly Godfrey is a coach for women and a published writer. She specializes in the worlds of dating, relationships, and sex & intimacy. She is both a trained desire & intimacy coach as well as an integrated mental health coach. She works work with women 1:1 to help them move from “frustrated to free”. To identify, heal, and change their (sometimes) painful patterns when it comes to their dating lives or even in their current relationship. Heartbreak is a big part of Molly’s story. She’s known by some as the “ex-boyfriend expert” and has a signature “relationship detox” protocol she takes her clients through before they begin to jump back into dating. Her biggest passion is helping women to fully own, know, and embody their brilliance and all they have to offer the world and from that place, powerfully showing up in all their relationships. You can find her here for a free online dating ebook and her “Why You Don’t Have Love in Your Life Quiz.”
Image courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez.