How do you get what you want in your relationship? Do you ask for it directly? (Very few of us do.) Do you offer it to your partner instead, hoping she’ll offer it back? Or do you just make subtle hints, hope she’ll read your mind, and then get frustrated when she doesn’t? Alas, all too many of us fall into that latter category!
We help many couples untangle these kinds of patterns. For instance, Jules and Dina both felt as if they were giving all the time, and never receiving. It turned out they were both giving a lot – but they were each giving things the other one didn’t want! For instance, Dina often bought Jules presents, including clothing – which, as it turned out, Jules wasn’t comfortable with. Jules never bought gifts, but frequently offered Dina back rubs, and cooked and baked little treats for her. However, those gestures weren’t on Dina’s radar, so both women ended up feeling hurt and unappreciated.
In our first session, we gave each woman time to talk about what she felt she had been giving. Both Dina and Jules felt better once they saw that each of them was giving in her own way. But they still needed help to work through the more subtle layers of what was going on.
For instance, it took some exploring before it grew clear that Jules actually felt kind of invaded when Dina bought clothing for her. Even though Dina knew her taste well, she really preferred to buy her own clothes. But she’d been afraid to tell Dina that. In fact, until we helped her articulate it, she hadn’t even fully told herself.
Although Dina was a bit hurt when she heard how Jules felt, we helped her hear that Jules’ feelings had nothing to do with her. Instead, they were a holdover from the clothing battles she’d had with her mother throughout her growing-up years.
For her part, Dina realized that her parents had always given her material things rather than gestures of affection, so that was what she had unconsciously learned “counted.” She had resented Jules for not giving her holiday gifts – “Not even cards on Valentine’s Day, much less flowers,” she’d complained early on in the first session. But once she realized that Jules’ giving style was different, she decided she actively wanted to become more open to receiving the small, daily gestures of affection Jules was so good at giving.
“And what can I give you?” Dina asked Jules shyly in their 3rd session. Jules blinked, suddenly having a hard time talking.
“I mean, you don’t want me to buy things for you, and that’s the main way I know how to give. So what would you like?”
Jules hadn’t realized until that moment what a strong prohibition she felt against asking for what she wanted. It literally felt hard for her to get the words out. Fortunately, we saw what was going on and encouraged her to just stay with her feelings, breathe into them and be silent for as long as she needed.
Then, to both of their surprise, Jules started crying. “No one has ever really asked me what I wanted,” she said when she could finally speak. “It was a gift just hearing you ask that question,”
Dina was deeply touched. She had never realized quite how hard it was for Jules to ask for what she wanted. Tenderly embracing, the two of them vowed to listen better to themselves and each other.
We love coaching couples into happy endings like this one! Jules and Dina genuinely loved each other, and each was trying to show her love in the ways they knew how. Yet they had been stuck in a cycle of pain, confusion and resentment for months before they came to us. We call our program Conscious Girlfriend because we’ve found again and again that the act of bringing consciousness to our habits and assumptions can open the door to so much intimacy and healing.