I Know Things Should Be Done a Certain Way


I received a wonderful question today by email. It came from a woman engaged to be married to a man who (surprise, surprise!) does not do things the same way she does. She wants to know how to develop more trust in him.
One of the things that makes it difficult to trust him is that, as she puts it, “[I] know things should be done a certain way to get them done correctly.” Ah, don’t we all?
Our definition of “correctly” is one of our most gigantic impediments to knowing we are loved, respected, and cared for.
Is dinner made correctly when it has a particular number of calories and ratio of fat to fiber or when the person making it feels great serving it to his or her beloved? Is it made correctly when the process follows all the steps some teacher prescribed or when it leaves time for reading to the kids or making love to your spouse?
Is the oil changed correctly when you cannot see the oil on the dipstick except in bright light? Or is it changed correctly when you get fresh oil plus a free safety inspection and don’t need to spend an entire Saturday on it, so you get more together time?
Is the vacuuming done correctly when it includes moving every piece of furniture to vacuum under it or if it’s done quickly, as an act of service for a loved one with allergies who is out of the house for a few minutes or to leave time to shop for a special gift?
While you tap your toe, impatiently waiting for your life partner to adopt your standards instead of noticing how his or her standards make your life better in some other way, you miss out on love.
If you have high standards you cannot or will not relax, by all means include them in a discussion of a Third Alternative to the ways you two approach a task. But you don’t need to trust that your partner will always meet those standards. It’s not likely to happen. Your expectation that it will is premeditated resentment.
The thing you need to learn to trust your partner will do is love you. That’s a lot easier when you grow aware of the ways he or she shows love that have nothing at all to do with what you think you know about the certain way things should be done.
Today would have been the 39th anniversary of my first marriage. By the time our 13th anniversary rolled around, I was still tapping my toe and thinking it was his fault I was so unsure of his love. Three months later, I finally understood I was too sure of how things ought to be done. Unfortunately, I discovered this only because I had to do them all myself after his completely unexpected death. You have a chance to reap the benefits if you stop expecting your certain way and expect love instead.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • Patty,
    I love your blog and the refreshing, healthy perspective it provides on marriage! Unfortunately, I could have used it 3 years ago in the midst of my failing marriage! I am now divorced, but in a very healthy and loving place with my ex-husband, and we even have a blog together – ahappydivorce.wordpress.com…please check it out! Thank you for your words that are even helping me in my happily divorced state. Keep inspiring and educating! Best, Tanya

  • When I think of people who demand that things be done a certain way, I sometimes remember my junior high home economics teacher. Everything had to be done the “right” way in her class. We were not allowed to refer to a hard-boiled egg as a hard-boiled egg. It was a hard-cooked egg, because the proper way to cook an egg does not involve boiling, blah, blah, blah. Even if we had already learned to cook and sew at home, we weren’t allowed to do it the way our mothers taught us. We had to do it the teacher’s way. I had been sewing from an early age and had won prizes at the county fair, but she made it clear that in her view everything I did (and by extension, everything my mother and grandmother did) was wrong. Girls in her class did not learn the joy of cooking or the pleasure of wearing a pretty handmade dress. They learned to resent the tedious misery of every picky little task (dishes must be washed from left to right, spices must be stored alphabetically) and to feel relief rather than accomplishment when a job was finally done. Perhaps she was a well-meaning person who truly wanted to help others, but no one saw her that way. We saw a mean-spirited tyrant. I did learn one very valuable lesson from her, which was not to be like her! (By the way, sometimes I boil eggs and sometimes I don’t. They taste good either way.)

  • Thanks for all these wonderful examples, Rosemary. I ache for your teacher. It is so hard to feel the love others offer you while expecting “better” from them.

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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