My family loves Waffle House.
We have gone there since our son was eating Cheerios out of a plastic bag. He is now 19.
We all have our favorite things to order. And we order the same thing. Every time.
It is ritualistic eating.
What does this have to do with figuring out marriage? Here's the story.
My son Rob and I arrive first. We say "hi" to Mary, our favorite waitress. We chat. Decide to order. I order for my husband as well, knowing of course that he will be there soon and that he is starving. He arrives. As he is seated, I tell him I have ordered for him.
"Well thanks, what did you get?".
"That's great". We go on.
Then I start thinking, something we psychologists do. "I am curious. If I had been the late one, would you have ordered for me?" He replies flatly ,"No, I wouldn't have".
The answer is the $10,000 response.
"Because I would have been afraid you would have been mad".
Most married women are reading this, screaming, "Mad? No, I would have felt understood! And cared about and known and adored and remembered and cherished. Maybe I would have wanted bacon that day, but who would have cared?"
THEN women get mad, or sad. If we could listen more objectively, what the guy has just revealed is that he is afraid of disappointing us. Afraid of failure.
My Waffle House story is an obvious scaled-down version of what can happen at home. Women's angry, hurt thoughts or even vicious attacks about not being cared about or loved enough. Men withdrawing or becoming sullen and angry themselves. "Can't win for losing".
Women need to learn men as a gender crave affirmation - that they are good at what they try to do. Women need to express gratitude for that. If women are angry about something, they have to wait to approach. Find the right time. Men? To understand that women yearn to be known, to feel connected. As partners, they need to look for opportunities to listen, to support. Not solve problems. Just be.
Drs. Patricia Love and Steve Stosny have written about this in their wonderful book on marriage, "How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It". This fairly short, concise book is based on excellent research. The dynamic above has more details that are also well-explained. I have found both men and women like its' practicality and tangible guidelines. These how-to's are simple and easy to put into practice, if you have two people who are willing to take responsibility for their part in the issue.
Sometimes that's a big "if".
Since going to a workshop that Dr. Love presented about 5 years ago, I have asked almost every couple I have seen about the above dynamic. The men have almost beamed when I have used the term "failed", and reported that that is EXACTLY the way they feel in hearing their spouse's anger or disappointment.
So it just takes some practice. Men working on not personalizing, taking on fault. Women approaching in a softer fashion. Both agreeing on a time and place for those more serious discussions to occur. Both working on being more positive with each other.
It can work! Your marriage, and your breakfast, can be better for it.
Dr. Margaret Rutherford is a clinical psychologist who has been in private practice for over 20 years in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She began blogging in 2012 after her only son left for college, coining the term "NestAche" for her empty nest experience. Not only here on Boomeon, she has been featured on the Huffington Post, Midlife Boulevard, BetterAfter50, BlogHer, Readers Digest, The Cheat Sheet and ArkansasWomenBloggers. Her new eBook, "Seven Commandments of Good Therapy", a basic guide on choosing a therapist or evaluating your current therapy, is available for free on her website. You can find her at DrMargaretRutherford.com or on Twitter @doctor_margaret.
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