Can Men Be Mind-Readers?

Q: My girlfriend and I have been together for three years and everything is going well. There's one small problem, however, and I'm hoping you can sort this out.

She's always asking me to help out around the house (we live together), but instead of coming out and asking me directly to do something, she keeps dropping hints. She doesn't ask me to take out the trash, for instance, but she'll mention that the trash is by the back door. Rather than asking me to do the dishes, she'll complain that her feet are sore and the sink is full, or the lawn is getting long, the hamper is full, etc. The worst is when she wants a backrub but only tells me her neck hurts.

The frustrating part is that she becomes annoyed if I don't do what she's been wanting , or I don't do them right, or I don't do them right away. We've talked about it, but I really feel she's wanting me to read her mind. She's upset with me for not knowing what she wants without her having to ask me directly. This all makes me feel manipulated and unhappy, even though we have terrific communication in almost every other way. Any ideas (and please don't take her side because you can identify with her more than me)?

Dr. Susan: Ah, there's where you're wrong! My husband and I switch off between using direct and indirect styles. If the house were on fire, I swear he'd say, "Oh, by the way, you might want to think about packing up rather quickly, hon...." And if I ever give him what he thinks sounds like a direct "order," he balks. What you and your girlfriend have is a very common communication style difference. With you two, it's the typical split: males often prefer to get to the point quickly, ask directly for what they want, and don't expect anyone to work too hard to figure out the underlying meanings of their words. Females, typically but not universally (I have several female family members who don't fit this profile!), ask for things in a gentler hint-like way, trying not to seem too bossy. At the same time, many of us (regardless of gender) imagine that if only our lovers truly "got" us, we wouldn't have to ask to have our needs met. How can they not know what we want!? After all, we've told them repeatedly... Weren't they listening? Don't they care? Eventually, motivated couples catch on that they're actually speaking two different languages. I won't go into the various reasons why such separate ways of talking develop, but let me assure you that you and your girlfriend can quite easily translate one another so everyone can get their needs met. How this works out in reality: She wants the trash put out and mentions it's piling up. You hear her words, you know full well it's time to take out the trash (if that's the chore division you two have worked out), and you take it out. Or you say, "I'll get to that before I go to bed, love buns." Or you sit down and discuss how you'd like to be reminded of your chores, or if you hate being reminded, you say so and work out some other compromise so stuff gets done. Now, if she expects you to hop to it the minute she hints, you might like to talk about your expectations of one another. If a job is yours, you should be "allowed" to handle it the way you prefer. She can learn to let go a bit more. As for those neck rubs, can you tell her that all she has to do is point to her neck and you'll come running? A little give and take, that's what love requires.

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