About a year and a half ago, my good friend Deb talked me into working on my marriage. I’ll always remember her advice, “Men are clueless,” she told me. “He probably just needs you to tell him what you want.”
I was doubtful, however, that my husband’s issues could all be summed up by cluelessness. I suspected that other adjectives – adjectives such as selfishness, immaturity, and irresponsibleness—summed up the situation much more accurately.
And it was easier to believe these descriptions of my husband than it was to believe that he was clueless. After all, if I believed he was selfish, irresponsible, and immature, I could continue to close my heart to him. I could continue to feel numb to him. If I hated him, I didn’t hurt.
But I’d promised to try. I wanted things to work out, if only for our daughter’s sake.
OF FEAR AND CLUE HOARDING
It pained me to give him each clue, though. I didn’t want to teach him how to please me. I didn’t want to tell him what I wanted. In part, this stemmed from fear. What if I told him what I wanted and he refused to change? What if he laughed? What if he belittled my request?
I didn’t think I could bear any more hurt. To save myself from that pain, I wanted him to have a divine revelation. I wanted him to consult Cosmo, other women, other men—anyone and anything other than me. I just wanted him to wake one morning, understand what made me tick, and be done with it.
Oh, if life were only that easy.
I forced the clues out of myself. I asked him to take a day off from work each week (until then, he’d been working 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week). I requested more manhandling in bed. I suggested he might consider asking me about my day, my work, and my life. I demanded he spend more time with our daughter. I told him I hated when he used The Voice on me.
THINGS GOT WORSE
With each clue, I noticed a change in his behavior. Each time I noticed a change in his behavior, I allowed myself to feel a little more hopeful about our future. Yet, as I allowed myself to feel hopeful, I also couldn’t help but allow my heart to warm to him, and that was just excruciating.
It was excruciating because I still wasn’t as assertive as I needed to be. He still didn’t know what I needed.
We still fought. In fact, as our marriage improved, we fought more than ever. There were so many times that I wanted to give up. There were so many times when I told myself, “He’s never going to get it. He will never become the man I want. This just isn’t going to work.”
One evening, about six months into our marriage project, we got into a fight. He walked away from me mid fight, went to bed and fell asleep. That night I sat with my back to the washing machine, my knees pulled into my chest, tears and snot streaming down my face.
“Why did I ever open my heart to him?” I questioned myself. “Why did I allow myself to feel pain?”
WRITING THE INSTRUCTION MANUALS
Yet, slowly, over time, I became stronger. I became more assertive. I became at one with handing over various Instruction Manuals to Keeping One’s Wife Happy.
He got an Instruction Manual on romance. He got one on sex. He even got one on how to celebrate my birthday.
He read the manuals. He used the clues. He became the man I wanted, and things got easier, much easier.
So it was with amazement earlier this week when I watched him—during the few hours he was home between business trips—clean the kitchen. It was with amazement when I saw him—during these same few hours—do the laundry and pick up what was strewn all over the floor in the sunroom.
It was even more amazing to me that when I said, “Thanks for cleaning up the house,” he responded, “I know you’re working really hard right now. I just want to help you out. I know it’s going to be hard while I’m away.”
Was he the same husband I almost left? Surely an alien had visited our bedroom one night and replaced his brain and heart with ones from a man with more compassion and selflessness. Surely.
IS HE CLUELESS?
Surely? Not really. Although the transformation in my marriage, at times, seems magical, I know just how hard it was. It wasn’t easy getting to this place, and it’s not easy staying in this place, either. But it is worth it.
It’s worth it every time, when on a business trip, he calls our daughter to wish her a good night. It’s worth it every time he asks me about my work. It’s worth it every time he wraps his hand around mine. It’s worth it every single time he tells me about his day.
It’s really worth it.
Was he clueless? Perhaps, but no more clueless than I was. Was he irresponsible? Yes, but only because I allowed him to be. He might have been selfish before, too, but only because I allowed it. It’s the same with the immaturity.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t. What matters is that he’s trying. What matters is that he’s following my direction. What matters is that he loves me, and I know that he loves me because he’s doing the hard work required to clue himself in.
To me, that’s much more important than trying to read my mind. After all, if I’d held the clues back and had continued to force him to guess, he might have guessed right every now and then. But that would have meant nothing other than the fact that he was lucky. That he follows the clues I give him? That means he believes my clues are worth following and, to me, that means everything.
So, back to my original question, “Are men clueless?” Yes, but only in the sense that they don’t know what we want because we don’t tell them. Men are no more clueless than women. They can’t read our minds. They are not clairvoyant. They are not psychic. No one is.
Give them the clues, however, and they will follow. They will become clued in.
TODAY’S PROJECT POINTERS
Change your definition of love. I know just how irritating and difficult it is to just come out with the clues. If they loved us—really loved us—they would know us, right? And if they really knew us, then they wouldn’t need clues, right? The truth of the matter is that our spouses can’t know us unless we reveal ourselves to them. In the end, it’s about your happiness. It’s about what you want. If you want:
• Something specific for a gift, tell him. Don’t hint at it. Don’t hope he gets it. Just tell him.
• To try something new in bed, suggest it. Talk about it.
• Him to do more around the house, explain how exhausted you feel. Talk about how your feel taken advantage of. Say that you might be more welcoming to his sexual advances if there were not dishes piled in the sink. Talk about it.
• Him to talk to you—about books, movies, your life—tell him. Mention that you miss him. Tell him that you want to get to know him better, and want him to get to know you. Pretend you are strangers on a first date. Get to know one another all over again.
A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.