Anna had a tendency to nag her husband, Paul, without mercy. I asked her why she did this since he obviously hated it.
“I’m not nagging,” Anna said. “I’m just pointing out what I need. If I don’t, I never get it.”
“Maybe, but how would you know? You demand what you want so quickly and so insistently, how would you know what he’d do if you just left him alone? What would it be like if you simply trusted him?”
“I don’t think he knows what I want.”
“Oh, I think he’s not as stupid as you believe.”
Turning to Paul—who was sitting next to Anna—I asked, “Can you tell if Anna is afraid?”
“Sure,” he said.
“How can you tell?”
“It’s all over her face.”
“Like a billboard, yes?”
He smiled. “Yes.”
“So if you can see that she is afraid or angry or unhappy, would you know that she needs something?”
More smiling. “Yes.”
“So all you need to do is observe her. Is that right?”
“I guess so.”
“And if you can’t tell from her face what she wants, what could you do?”
“Ask her, I suppose.”
“And if she wasn’t nagging you all day, would you be more likely to actually look at her face to see whether she needs something?”
“Yes, I guess I would.”
“So, Anna, are you willing to give Paul a chance to figure out what you want, instead of nagging him? It’s infinitely more pleasant—for both of you—and when he does give you what you want, it feels a great deal more satisfying.”
Paul learned to be more observant of Anna, and he became rather adept at discerning her feelings and needs. Sure, he needed some coaching along the way, but he nonetheless succeeded, and they were both far happier for it.
One of the most loving acts you can offer in a relationship is simultaneously powerful but also quiet: simple observation. In the moment that you carefully observe another person and watch for their needs, you are caring about them. It’s an important step in the process of loving.
Find genuine happiness now and forever.
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