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The "Be Spontaneous" Paradox



Yesterday my husband and I celebrated our “the day we first met” anniversary. One would think that those days should be a great occasion for couples to make a nice day of it or at least memorable evening. Unfortunately all too often they fail miserably – for instance when one of the parties involved (usually the male part) either totally forgets the day or at least shows up without the obligatory bouquet of flowers or else forgets the “real” present.

That, by the way is a favorite subject in couple relationships. And by the way not just on the “day we first met”- wedding or any other special anniversary. I would just love to have a penny for every time I hear a woman complain “he never brings me flowers, any more!” – as an option naturally also “jewelry”, “furs”, or simply the occasional little token of affection. When the initial passionate courting phase is history, women generally really get their feelings hurt when the partner turns into a no-show on that score. No red rose under the windshield wiper when she arrives at the parking garage after a long day in the office, no surprise sachet under the pillow. No “post-it” sticker with “I love you!” on the bathroom mirror any more. No more tickets for a romantic weekend trip in the day planner – and then not even a bouquet on the wedding anniversary!

On a different level, but basically in the same genre is the - usually female – complaint: “And what’s more, he never helps with the housekeeping!” There are a multitude of variations regarding the subject matter, but in terms of content the issue is always that wifey would have liked to be relieved of certain tasks and after several attempts gave up to ask the beloved and retreats to the point of view: “It should be obvious to him that it must be done … that all of this is just too much for me … that other men are happy to help their women ... etc.!” And reacts with getting her feelings hurt when he prefers to play with his Harley instead of redecorating the living room.

In the final essence this always involves situations when one partner – in this case the woman – wants something from her partner without clearly expressing it and instead expects that he/she guesses what he/she is supposed to do. This becomes particularly obvious when in the course of partner therapies and with lots of patience, I have finally managed to get one partner to tell the other, for a change without reproach in the voice but simply as an entreaty and formulating it as an I-statement (“I would really like you to do ....”) tell each other what would make him/her happy. It has been my experience that for women this is always a heavy lift! From their corner I always hear a grouchy “Well, if he can’t figure that out on his own ...” and then always with the obvious silent afterthought: “ . . . then he doesn’t love me” – “ . . . then I am just not important to him” – “ . . . “ . . . then he doesn’t understand me!” - or something like that. When she has finally brought herself to formulate a list of her expectations, in the next session I can bet Dollars to Doughnuts that I’ll hear the ultimate relationship MCA: „Well, of course, after I brought it up the last time with you here, last Saturday he finally did bring me flowers! But how was I supposed to be happy when he just bought them because he needed to be prompted and not because he actually felt inspired to do it! Because then they don’t mean anything!” Whammo! Now the poor fellow is trapped. If he buys flowers starting immediately, he does it only because she told him to and he can just as well throw them to the garbage. And if he doesn’t buy any, it is obvious that the old boor is never going to change. That is exactly the crux with prompts as already expressed in the caption – they are simply impossible to satisfy because they contain an inherent contradiction.

A while ago I participated in a very rewarding and inspirational educational seminar. It dealt with couples and their coexistence in the conflicting priorities between individuation – our vested need to freely develop our very own personality – and symbiosis – our yearning, to totally meld, become one with another. Constituting two, (at least at first glance) totally opposing
needs. We discussed case studies dealing with love- and couple daily routines. Naturally the one about the flowers came up as well. Throughout it became clearly evident that many women have more serious problems with the first part – individuation – than with the second element – the symbiosis. We are not very good at standing up for ourselves, clearly formulating our desires and then, if necessary in the face of resistance potentially risking adversity and conflict, asserting them. We have never really, or not correctly learned saying “this I want” and, “that I don’t want”. (Or, why are assertiveness courses for girls booming that cover exactly those subjects?) Somehow to us this articulateness is almost dubious, because then we don’t feel sufficiently “gentle”, “nice”. We always want to be gentle, gentle and innocent and unassuming. Consequently we need our partner to divine that which we want and then give it to us without us having to ask for it. In that way we feel peachy – we are permitted to continue feeling gentle and innocent and unassuming and still get our bouquet of flowers on the breakfast table and new wallpaper in the living room. We are permitted to snuggle in our symbiotic blending phantasy because after all, the other “is divining” what we want.

Dear ladies, are our own needs and wishes really that terrible? Why aren’t we supposed to have them and if, why are we only permitted under those strange circumstances? Looking at it objectively, what makes the flower bouquet on the living room table any less beautiful just because we had to remind our partner two days in advance: “Sweetie, just remember that Tuesday is our wedding anniversary!” Nothing! After all, we also remind him of his mother’s birthday and his daughter’s recital without complaining that his attendance won’t count just because he did not remember it all on his own. Getting bogged down in those patters only causes one’s own life and that of the partner to be unnecessarily complicated. After all, men aren’t mind readers (neither are women, although they occasionally think they are!). Let us enjoy the flowers by just saying what we wanted instead of walking right into that “cinderella trap”! After all, the other still decides whether he/she wanted to satisfy the wish, or not. Naturally the ability to deal with a “no” response to a wish is a part of asking. But that is another subject altogether . . .

By the way, yesterday I didn’t get any flowers, either. My husband knows that I rather buy my own flowers when I feel like it, no matter if it‘s our wedding day or an ordinary Tuesday. Instead, we planned the day together in the morning, started it with an outing to the beach and spent the evening grilling on our terrace. Honestly: It was super delicious and very romantic! Notwithstanding (or actually because?) it was my very own idea.

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