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Straight talk no chaser, p.13
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       Straight Talk, No Chaser, p.13

           Gena D. Lutz
 
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  5. Whatever you do, don’t take over the tasks—especially with an attitude.

  I promise you, the only person who gets bothered by this is you. Oh, you know what I’m talking about: your man is in the basement enjoying the game or maybe playing a little video game or staring into his computer and you’re upstairs turning five shades of purple or red over his lack of enthusiasm when you announced you want the bed made and the floor vacuumed. Oh, he agreed to do it. But he’s not doing it on your time schedule, so now you’re in the bedroom, snatching the covers and tossing pillows and flinging vacuum cleaners all over the room, talking about, “I’ll show him!” You know what you get from this? A made-up bed and vacuumed carpets that you pulled together on your own, and a level of anger that could easily give you a stroke. What did your man get out of it? A made-up bed and vacuumed carpets he didn’t have to be bothered with. Your doing what you asked us to do doesn’t bother us one bit, especially if we told you we’re going to get to it. If you want it done when you want it done, then go ahead and knock yourself out—now it’s done, problem fixed.

  Of course, a smart man knows that he’ll suffer greatly for this later on, but we don’t get to this understanding easily. We’ll come into the bedroom listening to you on the phone with your girlfriend, laughing and joking and having a good ol’ time, figuring we’re in the clear over that little dustup with you earlier that day. What we’ll soon find out, though, is that the happiness is reserved for the girlfriends—you’ve actually put a little funky cloud in a box and wrapped it up all nice with a pretty bow, just for us. All too often, we fail to understand that we never win when we let you handle what we agreed to get done and should have gotten done, and if you’re asking us to do something, it’s likely for a good reason. So I admit it: we men could be better about handling our business so that you don’t have to nag in the first place.

  Yet given that we fall short, what would be most helpful in getting us to this mutual place of understanding is if you simply asked nicely and explained why you need something done not now, but right now. Think about it: When a man wants something from you—no matter what it is—do we ever come at you fussing? Have you ever heard a man say in a gruff voice, “Hey! I need these shirts taken to the dry cleaner this minute or there’s going to be some problems!” or does he ask in a civil conversation for what he needs? We know this is the best way to get what we want; we already know not to push you, we already know not to talk down to you, we already know that’s not the best way to get what we need from you, whether it’s sex or permission to buy something or our preference for the family vacation destination. We always bring our requests to you in a nice fashion, and there’s always some sound, reasonable explanation behind why we’re asking. We’re always going to come in the door correct each and every time—and we know that, mostly, we’re going to get you to give us what we want willingly, just because of the way we presented it.

  Master that trait.

  I use it in my house all the time, even when I’m not getting my way. For example, I’ve called my wife and said on many occasions, “When I get home, be dressed because I got somewhere special I want to take you. I can’t wait for us to spend a little quiet time together.” And on every last one of said occasions, I’ve gotten home only to find that Marjorie is nowhere near ready to go. Now, it’s been hours since I made the initial phone call—there was plenty of time for her to do her hair and get her makeup just so and find just the right dress and shoes to wear out. Still, I’m sitting in the room, tapping my foot and waiting. Now, if I were going to nag, I’d get a little bass in my voice and go all the way in: “What do you mean you need more time? How in the hell are you not ready? If you’re not ready in five minutes, you can forget going out!” I know better. Hollering isn’t going to get her to move any faster; the only thing it’s going to get me is an argument and a dinner date so full of attitude I’ll wish I’d never planned it in the first place. If I do, indeed, want the evening to go well and the goal is for us to go out and have a nice time together, I’m going to do what I need to do to get my wife to move a little faster so we can keep our table. First, I’ll call the restaurant and push back the reservation because, hey, the goal is to eat out with my wife and make her smile—not eat at that very specific time I initially set. Then I’m going to go into the bedroom and say nicely, “Babe, you’re not ready yet? I’m trying to surprise you—come on now, I really want to get you there. Hurry, okay?”

  That line, delivered in a kind voice with logic behind it gets Marjorie to move (a little) faster. And when she comes down the stairs, she’s going to be looking good, she’s going to have a smile on her face, and she’s going to say, “I’m sorry it took so long, baby, but I’m ready now,” and we’re going to go on off and have a nice time.

  Instead of fussing at your man, try using that approach. Say, for instance, you have some friends coming over and you need help getting the house in shape, but your man is on the computer doing whatever it is that he does on the computer. He’s not paying attention to the dishes in the sink, he’s not noticed that the guest bathroom needs freshening up and the kitchen floor needs sweeping, he doesn’t necessarily care that the TV room tables need dusting—until, that is, you start slinging stuff around and barking about how you “sure wish that people in the house other than me would help clean up what they mess up.” Your coming at him firing gunshots is not going to make him dig right in.

  If you want him to help you pull it together, go in and ask him nicely: “Babe, I got some friends coming over and you know if they see the mess in this house, they’re going to call me out on my homemaking skills, so I really could use your help straightening up. I promise you after you hook me up, I won’t bother you anymore.” Your man is going to sign up for that, for sure, because he’ll know that there’s some urgency to the request and that you sincerely need help and aren’t using anger to pass judgment on his abilities, question his cleanliness, or make assumptions about his upbringing.

  You have to use what you got to get what you want (there’s more on that in Chapter 12). Women are masters at this! You know the best way to get something out of someone is to be kind and sweet and ask nicely, and you also know full well that talking crazy to someone will get you nothing. Still, you rush in, guns blazing, trying to get what you want anyway—a move that makes you lose control over the situation and give up all of your negotiation skills. Instead, calm down, take a deep breath, and go in there and ask for what you want like you would if you were asking for something good—like a new designer bag. I guarantee you’ll get better results than you will lobbing negative, harsh talk at your man. This approach won’t change your man, but it surely will bring out the best in him.

  Marjorie is quite good at this. I’ll tell you this much: when we decided to move in together and get started on our journey through life with each other, I sat my girl down and made something very clear—I don’t do housework. I have no problem eating and leaving my plate on the table to be picked up by someone else, and I’ve been known to climb out of my clothes and leave them laying on the floor. I pay professionals to keep my house clean. I admit that there are plenty of men who don’t have access to housecleaners, but hell, I do. And so I told my intended that I would pay a gang of folks to do these things, just so I didn’t have to and she, a neat freak, wouldn’t have to be bothered by dirty dishes and clothes.

  This, of course, didn’t stop her from trying to get something entirely different from me. I’d eat dinner and push away from the table, and she’d say, “Steve, scrape your plate off and rinse it.” I’d take off a shirt and drop it inside the closet, and she’d say, “Steve, you just dropped your clothes on the floor.” And the whole time I’m reminding her that’s what the housekeeper is for. I pay them good money to handle these things—provide a job to someone to clean the house. “You want me to help them do their job? Because they’re not helping me do mine. They’re not writing jokes and holding them up for me to read while I
m up on the stage, so let them earn their money. Cleaning is what they do.”

  Except on the weekends.

  It’s then that both my closet and the kitchen start to look chaotic, because the housecleaner isn’t there to pick up the pieces. And I realized pretty quickly that piles of laundry on the floor, dirty dishes in the sink, and an unmade bed in the master bedroom affects Marjorie’s mood. When we lie down on Saturday evening, she jumps up out of the bed, insisting, “I can’t deal with this—look at this bed! It’s not made up. I have to fluff these sheets and tighten up the corners . . .”

  And now, Saturday night isn’t what it’s supposed to be because my lady is bothered by the sheets, she’s thinking about the sink full of dirty dishes downstairs, and she’s staring at the pile of underwear, T-shirts, and pants piled up in the corner. But instead of letting it fester, she simply communicated what she needed from me in order to be comfortable in our house when the housekeepers aren’t around. She didn’t throw a tantrum, she simply said, “Steve, it would make me so happy if you tried just a little harder to keep the house neater until the housekeeper comes back on Mondays.”

  It was clear that my priorities had to align with hers or there would be problems. But there was no nastiness accompanying the request. And I rose to the occasion. I’m not saying my wife changed me. But she did bring out the best in me—the concern that I have to make sure she’s happy.

  So instead of just dropping my clothes any old where, I pile them in a corner out of sight so that she can’t see them so easily. I get out of the bed on the weekends now and I actually pull the covers up tight and put the pillows (all those useless pillows that have nothing to do with nothing) onto the bed. And I make the kids load the dishwasher so their mom won’t trip.

  Then Marjorie is happy. She has no reason to nag. And I don’t have to watch my perfectly beautiful, diminutive wife turn into a 450-pound monster with a Darth Vader voice, which makes me equally happy. Of course, on occasion, we still have our issues, still have days when all is not perfect in the Harvey house. That’s the nature of being human. But the understanding we have and the care we exercise to respect each other’s boundaries, needs, and wants make life together pretty sweet—and nag-free.

  10

  Show Your Appreciation

  A Little Bit of Gratitude Goes a Long Way

  I was not expecting this—it caught me totally off guard. I wasn’t even thinking about how to put a smile on her face. Mind you, I specialize in making my wife, Marjorie, happy: I love nothing more, other than God and the Lord Jesus himself, than to see Marjorie’s beautiful eyes light up—to watch her smile spread from ear to incredible ear. But at that very moment, all I was looking for was a rare piece of quiet time in my comfy leather chair—no work, no nagging kids, no drama. Just me and a fine cigar.

  There I am, walking past the living room, headed straight for some me-time when I overhear my wife on the phone, bragging to one of her girlfriends: “Girl, I’m so fortunate. My husband is always trying to do something kind for me. He doesn’t have to do it, but he does it, and I appreciate him so. He works hard, he’s kind and thoughtful . . .”

  The little boy in me went, “Oooh, oooh, oooh! Wait! She’s talking about me! I have to do something nice for her right now because she likes that!” And even as she continued her conversation with her girlfriend, I made a beeline to my office and got on the phone and hurriedly put in a call to her favorite florist. “Listen,” I said, practically huffing from rushing to the phone, “I need an abundance of my wife’s favorite roses at the house by four this afternoon.” And before I hung up the phone, I was thinking up more ways to bring a smile to her face, just so I could get a little bit more appreciation from Marjorie.

  The truth is nothing in the world makes a man square his shoulders and hold his head up higher than when someone shows him appreciation. We men have responded in positive ways to praise and appreciation since the moment we were old enough to understand the praiseworthy words coming out of our mothers’ mouths: “Look at my little man, he’s so strong!” would make us grab four more grocery bags out of the trunk of the car, just so that we could look stronger in her eyes; “My boy watches out for his mama—won’t let me cross the street unless he’s sure I’m safe” would make us cement ourselves on the corner and look both ways forty times before we let our mothers so much as hang her pinky toe off the curb; “My boy is such a man of the house—he locks up all the doors in the house before we go to sleep every night so nobody can get in here” would make us do CIA-worthy perimeter checks on the house every night to make sure the family could sleep soundly, without anyone having to remind us to do it. It didn’t matter how puny we were or that we couldn’t flick a flea without falling on our behinds, if our mothers praised us for standing tall, we would stand taller. Because her praise—her willingness to say out loud that she appreciates us—made us feel valued, which in turn gave us joy.

  This need to feel appreciated is human. No matter if you’re a husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, or adult, teenager, or child, every last one of us looks for a stamp of approval and a simple thank-you when we lend a helping hand, get the job done, and especially when we get it right. But when you show that appreciation to a man, his response to it is immeasurable because men are so rarely thanked for what they do during the course of their days that when someone does extend a simple, “thank you, you are appreciated,” they feel as if they’ve won the lottery. His boss isn’t likely patting him on the back with a “Job well done.” He’s giving him a paycheck—that’s thanks, enough. His friends aren’t high-fiving him and saying, “You’re a great friend, man!” We’re way more casual about it, if we bother congratulating each other at all. And guess what? Rarely does that appreciation come from the women we love.

  It is the latter that hurts men most. An admirer of the work of women, I get that no one can multitask like a woman, that you are busy; in many cases, you’re working and may even be the breadwinner for the family, you take on the lion’s share of the child rearing and the household duties, and you are the keeper of the family’s social calendars. If left to men, the kids’ annual checkups would take place every lunar year, that is, hardly ever; birthdays would never be celebrated and gifts never purchased; and there’d be no family vacations. Yes, you run the households the way corporations ought to be run. But often, husbands and otherwise committed men feel like they’re near the bottom of their ladies’ list of priorities, and the only time they get any kind of feedback from you is when they’re not doing something right or falling down on the job. After a while, men can start to feel like they’re being taken for granted—that no matter how much they do to help, no matter how much they’re stretching outside of themselves to participate in the relationship in ways that aren’t necessarily natural to them, it’s never going to be enough to keep a smile on their ladies’ faces. And when a man has spent the day getting dogged out at work, or facing off against the forces that conspire to bring him down, he wants to be able to turn to his family, and especially the woman he loves, for some uplift, a kind word or two that makes him feel like he was of some use to somebody today.

  So when men get recognition from their women for getting something right, it’s like they’ve broken the code to Fort Knox. It’s as if they were stumbling through life, totally clueless about what to do to make the one person who matters most to them happy, only to discover quite accidentally that they’ve made the women they love smile and say “thank you.” And once a man knows he’s done something right, he’ll keep doing it again and again—providing you with what you want—just so he can revel in that feeling that comes when he knows he’s made you happy and you showed him appreciation for it. As I have said elsewhere, a man expresses his love in three ways—by professing his love for his lady, protecting her, and providing for her and the family they build together. His desire to profess, protect, and provide for you will only get stronger if you make him feel appreciated. Simply by saying tha
nk you to your man, you validate his decision to provide for you and encourage him to keep expressing his love for you.

  This is what I had to clue one of my friends, Gwen, in to when she complained about her husband, Rick, who began fishing for compliments after another mom praised him for helping get his young daughters ready for school in the morning. Gwen’s friend thought Rick was amazing because her own husband played absolutely no part in the morning ritual while she fixed breakfast, ironed school clothes, packed the kids’ backpacks, and got them off to the bus stop. “He barely looks up from his BlackBerry to give them a kiss as they’re heading out the door,” the woman told Gwen. “Your man is cooking eggs and ironing shirts and walking to the bus stop in the morning? I wish he would teach a thing or two to my husband and a few others, too!” she continued.

  Gwen later told me that Rick jokingly stuck his chest out and said, “See? Barely any of the other fathers do what I do!” at which point Gwen went off on the situation. “He’s supposed to help with the kids—they’re his kids too!” Gwen snapped. “Nobody stands around applauding me for cooking dinner or doing the laundry or going to the PTA meeting; why on Earth should someone clap because he exercised some responsibility and participated in the care of his children?”

  She has a point: she and her husband share the responsibility in raising the kids; this is true. But, I pointed out, it was unfair for her to assume that it comes natural to her man—heck, any man—to cook eggs and iron clothes and organize math homework in the morning in the same way a mother would. Maybe all of that is in your “How to Be the Best Mom Ever” manual, but I assure you that it doesn’t say anywhere in the universal “Manual of Manhood” that men are supposed to get up in the morning and fix breakfast and get the kids off to school. Cooking dinner and changing diapers and running baths is not something taught to us by our fathers. We certainly didn’t learn it from our mothers, who give plenty of nurturing to the boys, but save the “how-tos” of child care and nurturing for the girls. What does get hardwired into our DNA is that it’s our job to work hard to make sure there’s money to put food on the table, clothes on our children’s back, and a roof over our family’s head. We internalize from the earliest ages that everyday child care and nurturing is what women do, and if we put our hands on anything outside of putting checks in the bank and doing the more male-oriented things, like fixing the car or keeping up the lawn, then we’re going above and beyond what is expected of us. And trust me: men are more prone to go above and beyond if you encourage them when they complete tasks that don’t come naturally to them. I can almost hear the collective groans washing over these pages. I can picture you sucking your teeth and asking anyone who will listen why a woman has to applaud a man every time he does something right. As an entertainer, I know firsthand that there is nothing more gratifying than a round of applause. No matter what room I walk into—whether it’s a comedy club where I’m about to tell jokes, a charitable dinner where I’m about to introduce an organization, or a church where I’m about to enjoy Sunday service with my family—someone is clapping for me, and I value it, because it tells me that somebody cares about the joke I’m about to tell, or the charity on whose behalf I’m about to speak, or the nourishment I’m about to receive for my soul. The recognition validates my performance and I’m going to try to duplicate that performance or do even better the next time so that I can get that applause again. If, instead of clapping, people get up and walk out while I’m talking, then I know it was a bad night.

 
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