“I’ve been married 19 years and I just found out my husband likes mustard on his sandwiches!” tweeted author Sheila Gregoire. I had to chuckle at that but, inspired by her honesty, I asked my wife “Is there anything like that that I should know about?” Thinking for a moment, she politely replied “Well, you do put too much milk on my cereal.” Hmm… I’ve been flubbing the cereal for 28 years? Who knew!
I realize these are small tweaks in the grand scheme of things, but they are indicative of a romantic paradox verified in a study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (August 2010). According to the authors “Our results indicate that older couples had lower accuracy in predicting each other’s preferences than younger couples even though older couples in our study had spent an average of 40 years longer together.” They go on to describe many possible explanations for the discrepancy, but, to summarize; it basically comes down to an assumption problem. We assume we know too much about our heartmate.
Unfortunately, this is a real problem when it comes to romantic gestures because all great gestures show that we know our other – that we are connected; that we truly understand her or him. In the worst instances, a “slightly off” gesture can actually be worse than no gesture at all and become a metaphor for “you don’t understand me.”
As I see it, the solution comes down to these basics:
1) Ask, don’t assume. Ask ahead of the gesture. And ask throughout your relationship as preferences change.
2) Listen to the answer you get and humbly accept it without judgement. Truly listen to what is said. If your partner says they would really likes roses, orchids are not the same, and don’t try to convince them otherwise. Fine tuning is one of the things that takes an ordinary romantic gesture to the next level.
3) Answer truthfully. In those moments when your heartmate is being vulnerable enough to admit “I want and need to know more about you,” saying “whatever you like” or worse, telling an outright white lie, will return as frustration in the long term. Be present; be honest.
How well do you know your heartmate’s preferences? For fun, try the following experiment. Write down on a piece of paper what you believe to be his or her favourite:
- Sport or game to play
Then ask. Give yourself one point for each answer you get exactly correct. For example, if you guess “apples” but they say, “I really like apples, but these days I am really craving cherries,” you don’t get the point.
What was your score out of three? I’d love it if you posted your answer in the attached poll. And don’t feel bad if you get them all wrong because now you know and that’s the point of asking.
For More Information:
Scheibehenne, B., et al., Older but not wiser – Predicting a partners preferences gets worse with age, Journal of Consumer Psychology (2010), doi:10.1016/j.jcps.2010.08.001