Communication is the key to love

Kyle was doing something leisurely in the basement with the kids, and I was getting frustrated. I called downstairs, “Honey, before my parents get here, can we get this kitchen cleaned?”

“Sure!” he yelled back.

I continued to fling laundry and toys into baskets and checked the clock again, thinking, How is he not getting this? I toyed with getting angry. But I didn’t have time; so I called down again, “Kyle? Can you just come help me right now?”

“Sure!” He came bounding up the stairs and started talking happily as he cleaned the kitchen with me. When my parents walked in, we were both smiling and putting away dishes together. That’s when I decided—again—I was always going to tell my husband what I wanted. He actually likes it.

Why do I have to keep figuring this out? Why do we, as women, have a hard time just telling our men what would really make us happy? And why do we sometimes think it means they don’t care when they don’t know?

According to researchers Patricia Love and Steven Stosny, in How to Improve Your Marriage without Talking about It,men care more deeply about making their girlfriends and wives happy than we realize. They write: “Most women do not understand how much it pleases a man to please a woman, specifically how important it is to the man in her life to please her. Furthermore, a man does not simply want to please her—he lives to please her.” Don’t you just love men? That rings true for me. That’s my husband.

I've noticed that there are a few lines of thinking that can hold us back from telling our men what we really want and need, keeping them from achieving their great desire—to make us happy. Luckily, I'm confident they can all be overcome.

I feel like a strong, independent woman, but when I really need him, he should know! I shouldn’t have to ask.

In his book The Exceptional Seven Percent, relationship expert Gregory Popcak devotes a chapter to what he calls “Exceptional Service.” While the healthiest and happiest couples have a service mentality, he cautions in one chapter heading: “Avoid Mind Reading: Tell Your Mate What You Need.” He goes on to explain, “Most Exceptional Service begins after a partner makes his or her needs public. Exceptional Service is not clairvoyance.”

As Kyle likes to remind me, men use communication to convey and receive information—straightforward and simple. While a woman might get frustrated by having to spell out what she desires, a man is frustrated by having to play a guessing game. He wants to know how to make her happy, and he’d like to be told how to do it.

When a man doesn’t read the cues as to what he should be doing to be “in it” with you, he’s really not trying to drive you crazy. He probably has no idea how much you need him. Be kind and direct and give him a chance to swoop in.

It feels less romantic or meaningful if I have to ask.

Sometimes we’re looking for a gesture that comes from the heart—and sweeps us off our feet, if it’s not too much to ask. Maybe a surprise date night, a morning off to get our hair done, something like that . . . I don’t know—it’s supposed to be his idea!

If you remind the man in your life how much you’d appreciate something special, he can take it from there. Consider this: If you let him do it his way, it will be meaningful. For example, researcher Shaunti Feldhhan writes in For Women Only that men report wanting romance in their relationships just as women do, but they don’t always define it the same way. Men love “playing” and doing activities together—this is romance for many men!

So here’s a mindset shift: Ask your boyfriend or husband to plan something that he finds romantic. You might end up at a basketball game, and you might just have the time of your life. Perhaps more importantly, you may find that you understand him better, too. A win-win as far as romance is concerned!

I don’t know exactly what I want, but something’s missing, and I think he should fix it.

Talk about being set up to fail. A couple years ago, for some insane reason probably having to do with saving money, I told Kyle not to get me anything for Valentine’s Day. Well, by the end of a 14-hour day of caring for two small children and an infant, I had changed my mind. Still, there was no gift. So I cried, obviously. All I could tell him was, “I thought I didn’t care, but I guess I do.”

Sometimes we just don’t know exactly what we need. Maybe we ask for specifics but can’t articulate the reasons behind them—we say we “don’t go out enough,” but what we mean is we want more connection. Maybe we ask for something general and vital to the relationship, like more romance, but we can’t tell him how to get there. In my marriage the phrase that comes out is, “I feel out of sync.” I don’t know what I want my husband to do, but he better do it quick if he wants to have a nice evening.

In the end, what is it I really always want? Honestly, I want to be part of a team and to feel supported, to be cherished and appreciated, to feel loved and connected. Those things are pretty important, and worth talking about. So next time, in a moment of hesitation over whether I should say something to my husband or not, I'll ask myself: Is this specific thing I desire going to make us a stronger team? If it would, then we’d both win, because that’s what he really wants, too. So I’ll say it. Hopefully.