I’ll say, “It would be really nice if somebody would close that door.” He’ll huffily respond, “If you want me to get up and close the door, just ask me to do it.” Or, in a flat tone, “Uh huh. It would.” He’s tried to train me for 15 years to say exactly what I want and it hasn’t worked consistently yet.
When I ponder why I don’t feel comfortable asking for what I want directly, the answer is related to both the way I was parented and my first marriage. In my parents and friends houses in the 1960s, children were to be seen and not heard. I certainly never interrupted adults to ask for something I wanted. I waited, and then when I got glared at for standing there while an adult conversation was going on, I tentatively put out some feelers about what I’d like to have. If it went well, I’d be specific. If it didn’t, I left the room. In school, girls never asked for something they wanted to be explained clearly during class, especially if the teacher was a man. Girls waited until later and spoke privately to the teacher. In my first marriage, nothing ever succeeded if it was my idea, so I learned how to plant seeds that would make what I wanted his idea. It was crazy, it was convoluted, it was “How to Deal with a Narcissist 101.” I don’t recommend it. All told, forty years or so of this kind of “training” left me pretty debilitated in the asking for what I want department, particularly from men.
I’ve processed the “why” thoroughly since meeting Dave, who would be happiest if I could just let my habitual responses to these old messages go. I can, and sometimes I do, but I really have to notice consciously before I open my mouth. I also know that if I think he will disagree with me, I shrink back into old behaviors. Alexander Technique helps when I remember to pause before speaking, let go of habitual indirect questions, and then ask clearly for what I want.
My daughter was here at Christmas for a visit, and Dave got very frustrated with me about something I was being unconsciously indirect on. I had to laugh, because Anne came to my defense and translated perfectly to him what I was actually saying. Then she said, “Geez, Dave, you’ve been together for 15 years. You can’t figure out Mom-speak by now? Are you still trying to change her?”
It’s amazing how powerful the core language of a family can be. It persists despite our best efforts to change it. In our family of origin we understand one another perfectly, yet to others we can sound totally unclear. What quirks do you have in your family language? What old messages do you carry around with you?