I was counseling a friend recently who was anxious about a girl he liked who was not responding to his texts. I keep having to remember that this is a texting generation (he is in his 20’s) and not a talking generation, so I shifted my old brain into modern mode so that I could help him breathe and relax a bit about it. He truly likes this girl and is a bit nervous that he’s going to mess up his chances with her. I guess when you’re only texting someone and you really don’t know them otherwise, you have no idea how to navigate conversation with them. He would text her “good morning” and have no response. I asked why he expected a response and he simply stated that he would reply, if it were him. I then asked if he was just trying to wish her a good morning or if he was trying to initiate conversation and get her to respond. He said both. So, I thought it was time to help.
I then shared this story with him from a time when my husband and I were in counseling. This was the biggest “ah ha” moment of my marriage and the changes I’ve made since then have shaped the healthy marriage I have now. Here is my story:
It was a Thursday and Steve was very busy at work (he had told me that). I had texted him off and on that day and had not seen a reply as of around 3 pm. I was becoming anxious and worried because this was right in the midst of our marital issues and all kinds of things began floating through my head as to why he was not responding. After some deep breaths I decided to take on a new strategy – I would shift my focus from the worry to something positive by deciding to make Steve’s favorite meal for dinner and pampering him when he got home. If he had a busy day, maybe this would be a nice thing to do. So, I quickly texted him what I planned to do for him that night. He responded quickly with gratitude and told me he loved me. I was soaring! All anxiety flew out of the window an I cheerily went home and did what I said I’d do and he seemed pleased.
Now, fast forward to the next day at my individual counseling appointment. I told that story to my counselor thinking he’d be so proud of me. Instead of being proud of me, he said, “Now, Monica, I can see how manipulating Steve seemed like the right thing to do at the time . . .” I literally almost jumped off the sofa and gave him a piece of my mind. Manipulate?!! Really?!! My counselor saw the fury and confusion on my face and clarified. He said, “Before you get too angry at me, let me ask you this. How would you have responded if Steve came home from work and was too tired to enjoy your meal. Or, what if he got stuck at work and missed dinner all together?” I answered with the truth – I would have been devastated. My counselor simply responded, “Well, you didn’t do all of that for him, then. You did it for yourself.”
The valuable nugget from that conversation was this – if I do kind things for Steve, they should be for Steve. There should not be an expectation for anything in return. Doing something kind for him and anxiously awaiting what he gives me in return is the equivalent of my manipulating him to give me what I want. It’s like fishing for compliments – we want to feel good about ourselves so we throw out a question or comment in hopes that we can manipulate someone into saying something nice about us.
On the flip side, if my “love bank” is getting low and I need something from Steve to help fill it, then I simply talk to him about it. No games, no manipulation, just honest conversation. It is so freeing!
Since that conversation with my counselor I looked back at all of the many times both my husband and I did that to each other. Now, however, we give freely to each other without expectation. If I send Steve a kissy face emote, there is no expectation that he will send one back. My young friend was saying “good morning” each day waiting for a reply. When, if he were truly just wishing her a good morning, there should be no expectation of a response.
One last note: Find out what your love language is. Mine is “words of affirmation.” This means that it is very important to me that Steve responds when I tell him I love him, or that he simply offers those words freely. Steve’s is “physical touch.” Therefore, it is very important to him that when he comes to me and offers physical affection that I welcome it and return in kind. These are things we have discussed and agreed to reciprocate toward one another so that we continue to fill each others love banks.
Knowing this will alleviate so much of the manipulation in your relationship. The largest reason we manipulate our significant others is because we are lacking the love language needs that we have. If these needs are being met and discussed openly, then there is no room for manipulation! So, kick it to the curb!