So, the other day, my wife and I were on our way to attend a wedding in Columbus, OH. During the drive, we had a long conversation about all sorts of topics. During the conversation my wife revealed to me that she doesn’t like to make requests of me. Part of her concern is that she doesn’t like to nag me. Another part is that she thinks that I should be the leader of the relationship. If she makes requests or suggestions or demands, then she is infringing on my role as a responsible husband. It is almost as though I become less desirable to her if she needs to make these requests known to me. It transforms our relationship from one of husband and wife to one of mother and child. Honestly, I think part of it is that she also just likes the idea of me being able to read her mind and anticipate her every need.
It isn’t that my wife won’t make requests, just that she prefers to not make them if she can find another way to make a need known to me. A good example is when I dress the kids and she casually asks, “Are you really planning to send them to church wearing that?”
Well, in fourteen years of marriage, this insecurity or concern or hesitation or whatever you want to call it had never come up and I listened as she explained it to me. I was quite surprised to learn that this concept applied to just about every aspect of our relationship: how we handle chores, who gets to make a late night run to the store for milk and cereal, how we manage our money, where we go for a date, how we have fun in the bedroom and how we serve the church.
One of the strangest things about this is that I actually want my wife to make requests of me, especially when it comes to important things in our life, like bedroom fun, dating, money, bedroom fun, ministry, navigating the holidays and more bedroom fun. This revelation made me squirm inside because some part of me figured that one day we’d get to a point in our relationship where she would eventually be comfortable making requests of me for whatever. Here she was, telling me that she didn’t aspire for that same goal.
So, I thought as I listened. “How can I turn this little bit of information into something helpful for us?” Then it hit me like her look from three weeks ago did when I was late coming home from work for a dinner she had prepared for the family, even though she had managed real estate transactions all day and done homework with the boys while aggressively promoting our next ministry event while nursing the baby while folding the laundry while telling the kids to stop hitting each other with Nerf dart guns… Did I mention that she somehow also made dinner?
Anyways it hit me. She might not want to make unsolicited requests, but I could ask her to make them. Then I was making the request, not her.
Being a generally lazy and forgetful husband, I decided to make the most of technology to assist me.
Here is how it works.
- I set an alarm on my phone for 10:30 AM on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I set it to have three thirty-minute snoozes. The title of the alarm is “Ask Marcy how I can serve her.”
- I set another alarm on my phone for 1:00 PM on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday with the same name and snooze characteristics.
- When I notice that an alarm goes off, I send my wife a text that asks her how I can serve her today. I vary the question so it is never the same. That way she can’t observe the pattern or guess what I’m doing. The content of the question is basically a chance to ask her how I can best love her today. I think it is important that the question says the word “today” in it so there are some boundaries and a timeline for me to accomplish it.
- As soon as she answers, I commit to accomplishing it before the day is over.
That’s it: Set an alarm. Ask for a request. Do it.
I started my experiment on a Monday. She requested that I get home in time for her to go to an appointment with one of her real estate clients. I made it a point to get home 10 minutes earlier than necessary.
On the following days, she made simple requests like pouring a bubble bath and a glass of wine for her after the kids went to bed, or giving her a short foot massage or talking about the budget. I forget what she asked on many of the days because they were quite small and simple.
One day went by where I chose not to ask. I was swamped with work and I’ll admit that I didn’t want to put myself out there that day. She didn’t seem to notice.
On Thursday the first week, she had a meeting with the praise band at Oaken Barrel. She had noticed my questions and how I was making an effort to fulfill her needs so she decided to bring me growler of Indiana Amber. Score! I got to fill a bathtub with bubbles and was rewarded with beer.
I kept the questions rolling most days and continued to follow her suggestions for how best to serve and love her. The next week she surprised me at the office by bringing me a slice of pizza from my favorite pizza place, Brozinni’s. I had not anticipated the return on this to be so instantaneous.
So, I can imagine some problems with this process:
Maybe there will be a day when my wife makes a request that I can’t fulfill or one that I don’t want to fulfill. So far, this hasn’t happened. Maybe I’m just lucky. But if it did, it seems like a really good time to open the lines of communication and dialog to figure it out with her. (If you don’t know what dialog is, I’d recommend that you attend a weekend marriage retreat like World Wide Marriage Encounter or Retrouvaille) This seems like a really good time to understand my feelings associated with the request and to share those feelings her. It also seems like a good opportunity for her to understand how her request makes me feel and whether or not it is one that recognizes my dignity as a child of God. If Marcy kept requesting things that I could not or would not provide, I think I’d either stop the experiment or I’d seek her help in understanding why she is requesting a flavor of love that I’m unwilling or unable to deliver.
Another problem I can anticipate is that there will be days where I don’t want to ask the question because I’m not open to the idea of doing whatever she might request. On these days I have two choices. I can skip the question and hope that she doesn’t notice or I can explore my reservations and try to figure out why I’m not willing to risk asking the question. Days like this do happen to me and I’ll admit that I’ve done both. Sometimes it seems like my day is too full to dare trying to squeeze in one of my wife’s requests. Sometimes I’m just tired. Sometimes I am busy when my alarm goes off and I forget.
Whenever I’m tempted to skip the question I’m reminded that this is an opportunity to remember that love is a choice. Will I choose to set my wife’s needs above my own for even just a part of today? If not, why? What is going on inside me that needs to change so that I’m confident that I can ask the question and answer her request to the best of my ability? This question helps remind me that it is my role as husband to actively love my wife and not to wait around for her to change in a way that matches my conveniences.
The simple act of asking her this question had an immediate positive impact on our relationship. I like to think that we already had pretty good communication skills. We understand how to share feelings, how to communicate intimately and how to listen without judging. However, this little question is a gem that has added a cherry and whipped cream to our caramel ice-cream sundae. It has put the big red bow on the Christmas present. It has put the “oo” in good.
I think it is worth mentioning that this isn’t exactly my idea alone. Dr. Gary Chapman outlines a similar strategy in his book, The Five Love Languages. Where his approach is designed to help you discover your spouse’s love language, mine is to simply ask them instead. I want to give him some credit though because it is a great book and the same concept of loving your spouse in the manner which means the most to them applies to both his approach and my process. I suspect that his book somehow influenced my process.
So… Back to the disclaimer from the top… If you are a wife and you’ve made it this far, please remember that you can’t change your husband. Feel free to try it out on your husband if you want, but I honestly have no idea if it works the other way around.
If you consider yourself to be a typical husband, I dare you to try this experiment for three weeks. Even if you’re wife shared this article with you, I’d still dare you to try the experiment for three weeks. Maybe she didn’t read it and she will be pleasantly surprised. Please let me know how it goes.