We recently bought a new car. I feel very spoiled and fancy driving around breathing in that new car smell, not even wondering whether or not it will start in the Target parking lot and not tossing goldfish onto the ground “for the birds” as I get my infant out of his car seat. Not yet anyway.
The owner’s manual for this car is a couple of inches thick and while I used to only pull out an owner’s manual every 6 months when the time changed and I had to look up how to adjust the clock, my good friend Tara taught me that the owner’s manual is actually very useful. It’s full of tips and tricks about what you can expect from your shiny new car. Features you may not even know were there. And you know those little lights that come on near the dashboard from time to time? You can look them up in the owner’s manual and sometimes there’s a SIMPLE fix instead of worrying about how much money it’s going to cost you or just ignoring it until something REALLY breaks like I used to do. Amazing! It’s all there in the manual and I love it!
And you wanna know something else interesting? Most of us ladies have manuals like this for our guys. We have this picture in our heads of how our husbands should operate. It is also very thick and it is based on things we were told or observed growing up. Our own parents were inspiration for a lot of it but so were our friends, our churches, Walt Disney, every Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan movie ever made and countless other undocumented sources and the thoughts we had about them.
I distinctly remember in college when my friend Jesi and I saw a man purchasing a pre-packaged Easter basket from the grocery store very late the night before Easter and we both agreed, “Our husbands will never do that! They will buy thoughtful gifts and plan ahead!” I developed my husband manual slowly and thoughtfully but subconsciously at the same time. See, I never wrote it down or even talked to my real life husband about it. Of course I didn’t. I just expected that he already knew what was in the manual I had for him. Because he was THE one and surely he would know how to operate correctly in order for me to be happy. And therein lies the problem.
As soon as we tie our happiness to someone else’s behavior, we have rendered ourselves powerless. That’s essentially what we’re doing when we have a manual for someone. This concept of “the manual” is one area many of my clients and I work on and it takes time to fully embrace. When I first introduce it, some people feel defensive like, “Oh so you’re telling me I just shouldn’t expect anything from him?” They think I’m taking something away from them. Once they recognize that what I am doing is actually giving them ALL of their power back by helping them release their manuals, they come alive. And their husbands don’t have to do anything differently. Ironically enough, once my client makes this shift she’s often blown away at how her husband “changes.” Wink, wink.
There’s nothing wrong with making requests of your husband, but if your happiness is tied to him following it and he chooses not to…well, you know where I’m going with this. Sometimes couple’s therapy spends time having couples tell each other what their needs are so the other can meet them. While I strongly encourage communication, I think the idea of a relationship where both people are “needy” doesn’t sound like much fun at all. Instead, why doesn’t each person be responsible for their own needs and then meet in the middle and have an amazing time together? Because the truth is no other imperfect person can EVER truly meet your needs. I’m reminded of the scene in The Breakup where Jennifer Aniston really wants Vince Vaughn to do the dishes so after a lot of nagging and arguing he finally and reluctantly agrees to do them. She’s still unhappy though because, she says, “I want you to want to do the dishes.” She is making his actions or inactions mean all sorts of things that may or may not be what is going on in his mind and it happens in real life too.
Here are a few pages from some husband manuals I’ve heard, and what the husband is probably really thinking.
1. Wife: If my husband really loved me enough, he’d take out the trash like I’ve asked.
If this were true it would mean the husband is thinking something like, “I would take out the trash, but I just don’t love her that much so I’ll just leave it.”
What he’s really probably thinking:
Husband: Trash? Oh yeah. I forgot again. Crap!
2. Wife: He never compliments me on anything. I think if he liked what I was wearing every now and then, he would tell me I looked nice.
If this were true his thoughts would sound something like, “I really don’t like how she dresses. Ever! If she ever did put a cute outfit together I would give her a compliment but she just never does. When we were dating I loved her style enough to marry her but then we got married and BAM! Ugly clothes.”
More likely it’s this:
Husband: Are the 49ers still ahead?
Whenever you play it out in your mind, you’ll find that the meaning you are giving to your husband’s action or inaction sounds fairly ridiculous. However, the pages of your manual are strong and it takes serious reflection to notice them and let them go. You’re holding on to them for a reason. The church lady in me has to point out that to truly meet your own needs, you only need the abilities your own divine spirit already possesses coupled with the infinite Grace provided by the Atonement of Christ. That’s it. Your husband doesn’t have to do anything different for you to feel deep joy and happiness.
I also want to point out that I’m not saying it’s appropriate to allow anyone to mistreat you. Boundaries are necessary if a spouse or anyone else tries to mistreat you physically or emotionally. Boundaries are an important topic and I’ll address it in a future post, but this work of releasing your manual is about all of the little expectations you have (psst…your husband has one for you too) that are weighing you down and keeping you frustrated.
He should come to bed when I go to bed. He should treat my mom a certain way. He should buy me a gift and make it special on my birthday. He should help out more around the house. He should ask me about my day when he gets home. He should spend more time with the kids. He should work less. He should work more.
These are the things in our manuals and when you learn to release it all you will never look back and your relationship will thrive. Trust me. I’m published on the Internet so it must be true.
Have an AMAZING week and it would make my day if you’d share one line from your husband manual in the comments below. When we connect and relate to one another it’s so much easier to let it go!
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