The Relationship Manual

I often talk to clients who are furious about how someone has treated them. They assume the other person should have known better. For example, a girl complains that her boyfriend didn’t have her favorite wine on hand for their anniversary dinner (although she never mentioned wanting it), or that her girlfriends should’ve known she’d need to spend the entire girls-night-out venting about her boss.

I ask in sarcasm, “Did you forget to give them the manual?”

“What are you talking about?” she replies, getting a little snippy.

“Well, it sounds like you expect people to know what you want and how you want to be treated. There must be some kind of instruction manual you’ve written and shared. Maybe they just haven’t read it yet.”

I once had a person write into my relationship advice column wanting to know what she should do about the guy she’d been dating. It seems that he didn’t want to pick her up for their dates. The first few dates they met at the restaurant or the movie theater or wherever they were going. She drove on their fourth date (she offered to drive, mind you, and he simply accepted), and he came to her house for dinner on their fifth date. So, in five dates he hadn’t picked her up and driven her anywhere.

Her conclusion? He was obviously extremely rude and not a gentleman at all. On top of that, he wasn’t putting any effort into the dates or into impressing her, which clearly meant that he wasn’t interested in her anyway.

Clearly.

She wrote to me not for clarification or for an outside perspective on his behavior, but to ask how she should dump him. Should she just dump him outright or should she confront him on all of these terrible things he did first, and then dump him?

I suggested that maybe he liked her so much that he was embarrassed that he didn’t have a nicer car. Or maybe he wanted to be so respectful of her that he thought meeting for their first few dates was the thing to do. Or maybe he didn’t want to drive for whatever reason, but he was still a wonderful person who she might go on to have a loving long-term relationship with if she could just move past her own rigid judgments.

None of these options had ever occurred to her. She was absolutely positive that her read of this guy was spot on. Apparently, he never read her manual either.

The moral of these stories: Don’t assume that people know what you want if you haven’t explicitly told them. And even when you have explicitly told them, don’t assume that heard you the way you meant to be heard. Communicate if you have doubts. Clarify, ask for what you want, and elaborate on what you want. Needing to ask for what you want doesn’t mean that the other person isn’t a match because they “should have known”.

They shouldn’t have known, ever. Cut them some slack and don’t expect them to read your mind. Or your manual.

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