Today’s question comes from gojulesgo of goguiltypleasures.com, who worries her marriage is becoming too equal for her liking. (If gojulesgo sounds familiar, perhaps you’ve heard from your friends Jules has her very own barn.)
Dear Good Greatsby,
Over the past 8 years, my husband has grown quite spoiled by my wit, generosity and what some might call utter perfection. I’m concerned with his constant need for compliments when he cooks me dinner, not to mention the way he expresses jealousy whenever I tell the dog I love him best. I used to be able to thwart this behavior by crying, or with threats of shopping trips to Talbots. Things have changed, I’m afraid. Just a few weeks ago, he stormed out of the room after opening his birthday present. Stormed out! You’d think he’d show a little more appreciation for the $7.14 Borders gift card I’d given him. He shouted something about how the local chain has already gone out of business, and his tone was simply unacceptable. I don’t think he even noticed that I wrapped it in recycled paper – paper I made with my own two hands by shredding every love letter he’s ever written to me. I’m sure you understand my plight, and I know if anyone can help me restore the natural imbalance of my relationship, it’s you.
Paul: Of course I understand your plight because I deal with similar frustrations in every single one of my relationships. The more time someone spends with me, the more they get used to all the impressive things I do. For example, my kids used to rave to their friends about their dad every time I pulled a coin from their ears, but now they only want to see that magic trick at the arcade when they need change for a dollar.
Eventually, the balance in every relationship shifts and instead of me receiving 100 percent of the compliments for my impressive feats, family and friends expect a 50/50 exchange of compliments and to be praised every time they wipe their noses. My son read a book I wrote, and he gave me a nice card saying how much he loved it. After I read the card, he looked at me expectantly and I realized he wanted a compliment for the card he gave me complimenting the book I wrote. A compliment for writing a book and compliment for writing a card, especially a card with sub-par penmanship written on computer paper from my office printer, should not be equal on the compliment scale. And even if they were equal, that would just be trading compliments–what’s the point?
Your specific relationship imbalance is a common complaint of marriage because we’re all programmed to try and win a life partner who seems better than we are, as though we’re getting something higher in value than we’re giving, and if both partners in a relationship think they’re getting a better deal, eventually, someone is going to learn the truth and be disappointed. It sounds like your husband still hasn’t realized what a great trade he made, and it must be frustrating for you to realize you got the worse deal while your husband adds insult to injury by demanding compliments as though he were your equal and you hadn’t done him a huge favor.
My suggestion is to stop being so impressive until the scales tip back in your favor. If he no longer appreciates your perfection, your Borders gift cards, or your efforts to save the world by recycling his love letters, then it’s time to cut your perfection in half to match his level.
Here are some fake faults I use on my wife to help her feel we are equals:
1. Forgetting her name.
2. Forgetting her friends’ names.
3. Introducing myself as single while inquiring after her friends’ names.
4. Forgetting her birthday.
5. Throwing myself a birthday party on her birthday and insisting I got the dates mixed up, although I still manage to remember and celebrate my birthday on the real date.
Once you’ve cut down on your perfection level for a period of time and feel he’s been sufficiently trained to appreciate the lengths you have to stoop to be on his level, you can start bringing out the impressive again. This cycle may have to be repeated every few years, and you may find it easier to simply convince your husband to become much more impressive.
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