December 4, 2013 in Features

Carolyn Hax: Ask, but also give your preference

Washington Post

Hi, Carolyn: I wanted to check this disagreement I’m having with my fiance against a neutral third party. Every once in a while, I notice a situation in which his preferences or perspectives might be different from mine, and when those come up, I like to communicate with him about those preferences and how strong they are respectively, to figure out the optimal course of action.

For example, we had planned an evening together, but a close friend wanted to have a short phone call to catch up that night. So I asked my fiance, “So-and-so would like to talk Thursday for a little while, but I know we had planned to spend that whole night with each other. Would it be OK to talk with her?”

He said that was fine, but later expressed that he didn’t understand why I didn’t just assume he’d rather I spend the time with him, and that in general, he’d prefer I sometimes try to anticipate his desires rather than always asking about them. What do you think? – Communicating

I think there are times when I want to apologize to everyone for advising so much talk.

Your fiance is right that there’s merit in treating some things as obvious.

But there’s more to it than that. By running your conflict by him as you did, you basically assigned the Thursday night decision to him without taking any position of your own. That can seem respectful on its face – a la, “I want your perspective” – but notice that you’re not actually saying, and owning, what you would prefer. You’re just asking him to do that, thereby making his preference the deciding vote: messing up his own plans with a yes or being the bad guy with a no.

If you instead had come clean – “I know we have plans, but, unless you feel strongly, I’d really like to catch up with this friend, since it might be weeks till our next opportunity” – then you’d have given your fiance a chance to weigh in without crossing the boundary into making your decision for you.

So, do keep recognizing your fiance’s stake in your choices, big and small – but also stop yourself before asking for his preference becomes a way out of owning yours.

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