AT SOME POINT when we were together we each made lists of the things we both needed in a relationship. Sounds weird, but it wasn’t — it was a smart, useful exercise to do. I recall I asked to do this because I wanted an actual reminder of her needs that I could refer back to. That sounds ridiculous, but due somewhat to a limited attention span I sometimes need reminders and repetition to to keep on track. At that time we were having some problems and I was frequently told I wasn’t doing the things she needed to feel secure and loved and I was desperate for something that could possibly help me stay on track. The list did help, but I needed more than that; it took me awhile to find out what that was.
Nothing on her list was out of the ordinary or asking too much — tell her I love her often, help her with things she’s not good at doing, be affectionate, give little gifts, participate in planning our future, compliment her, to name a few. All things that would be on any woman’s list. And, as I found out later, any man’s, including mine.
Now you might be thinking, they needed lists? I often thought the same thing — what’s on our lists should be automatic, right? Well, it’s the basics that often go by the wayside during stressful and rocky times. Even during good times those basic needs that couples have are what can go unfulfilled due to complacency. So, yes, a list can be helpful, and discussing and making a list should and can be a bonding and maybe even a romantic endeavor. Ultimately it’s a good thing for any couple to have (which reminds me of another list, 21 Keys To A Happy Relationship).
I found both our lists a few months back and really objectively examined the one she made for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I did and didn’t do, the successes and failures. The exercise reminded me of, and really made me think about, a lot of both good and bad things. There’s disappointment and regret remembering where I failed, but I also realized I didn’t have to beat myself up as bad as I did about those failures.
Really examining that list, and trying to be ever-so-objective, I saw that overall, my batting average was pretty good. There were a few I didn’t do very well on, and one of those ended up being “the final straw” (thanks to a huge amount of financial and housing stress, that all culminated on her birthday, her “final straw” was neglecting to call her and wish her “happy birthday” — though I did do what I did every morning: the first to instant message her at work, and I said ‘happy birthday’ and said I loved her; I also posted about her birthday on Facebook).
The regular, ongoing successes, however, weren’t noticed or acknowledged, by either of us, really. I was so used to hearing what wasn’t enough or what I did wrong I never thought of what I was doing right. She was so used to telling me what I did that bothered her she didn’t notice or acknowledge what I was doing right. My failures carried more weight in the ongoing checks and balances and that was the only barometer here. Turns out however, that though I was doing a lot, my attention to the details important to her was often distracted. Looking back, I should have actually looked at the physical list more, routinely — repetition is important when you want to get better at something.
Ultimately, I wasn’t meeting her needs and that was magnified and it all metastasized to where only my failures were recognized. Fast forward and her unhappiness increased, adding to other issues to get her to the point of no return. Make no mistake, though, what she felt she wasn’t getting from me was not the only reason she was unhappy, but it was a catalyst, a starter, and a big part of why things went downhill.
As part of this whole exercise I looked at my list and realized something I never really knew: the importance of reciprocity. See, meeting her needs wasn’t entirely dependent on my needs meeting met, but I never noticed I wasn’t getting what was on my list, and her meeting my needs was very often dependent on her list being attended to, regularly. All that I’ve learned after it all is tempered by the fact, and the guilt, that I didn’t learn so much during ours and other relationships. The positive, however, is that I do learn, despite the challenges to do things right.