You Can’t Tell a Watch by Its Cover; Let Your Hair Down and Listen
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My partner of about six months gave me a beautiful watch for my birthday. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I know for a fact that he could not afford it; this watch retails for over $2,500. When I show concern about this or ask how he was able to acquire such an expensive item, he gets defensive and acts hurt, like I don’t appreciate it. But I suspect that he’s hiding something, because the box it was in doesn’t match the brand of the watch. I don’t know what to do.
Dr. Hurd replies,
I honestly think you need to relax. I realize you have grounds for concern. But there’s nothing you can really do, at least not right now.
Let’s say you’re right that your partner can’t afford this watch. If you’re right, the evidence will accumulate or materialize in due course. He’ll be hit with a car repair or medical bill, and he’ll tell you he’s upset about it. That’s when you ask him to reconsider the expensive watch. Tell him the thought and intention will never be forgotten, and even returning the gift would not change that. “I know that watch cost you a lot, and you could really use the money for this bill. I didn’t want to say anything at the time, because I know how much you wanted me to have it—and I love you for that. But we can still love each other and be realistic, can’t we?”
But maybe you’re wrong, and he had some money stashed away for a special purpose. Maybe he decided that you were that special purpose. Do you really want to trample on such a wonderful thing by rushing to ask him to return the watch now?
As for the different box or brand of the watch, I’m not sure what you can say about that, either. If he’s a liar and a thief—
I hope not—then this will also emerge in time. File this away in your mind, just in case. But why hurt his feelings, and hurt yourself in the process, without any hard evidence. There might be a logical explanation.
Take your time here. You can always go back and say something later, but you can’t unsay something uttered in haste. Let things unfold, enjoy the moment, and in the meantime stay alert.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I need advice on what to say to my partner of 35 years. He is in a complete snit because he’s starting to lose his hair. I couldn’t care less, and frankly I think he looks just as good either way. When I try to tell him this, he goes into a pout and continues to lament his progressing alopecia. Neither of us are spring chickens, and it just seems that my feelings about this should matter more to him. Our late-night disco days are over, but he’s acting like this is the end of the world. It’s starting to get on my nerves.
Dr. Hurd replies,
I think you’re missing the point. Your partner is feeling a sense of loss over his hair and you’re not showing empathy for it. I know you believe you are; you’re telling him, truthfully, that you don’t care about his loss of hair. That’s supposed to make it all better, but it doesn’t. In fact, it probably makes it worse. From where he sits, he’s losing his youth and his looks —and one of the most important people in his life doesn’t seem to care. I know that’s not what you mean to convey; in fact, your intentions are quite the opposite. But it’s an emotional issue for the man in your life, and that’s what you’ve got to understand.
For him, it’s more than his hair. It could be his sense of youth and maybe even the sense of freedom that many associate with youth. Seemingly trivial things like this are usually about something deeper and bigger. That’s what emotions do: They connect us to what’s more important and more valuable to us. Though the rationality of certain emotions is sometimes open to debate, that’s not the case here. Simply ask him how he feels, and try listening. Unless you can grow his hair back, nothing you say at this point is going to make him happy.
You don’t have to share his concerns, but everyone can relate to the psychology of loss. Think about something you have lost, and think about what that loss represents to you. Then imagine your partner feeling the same way. Loss is loss, and when feeling upset about it, nobody wants to be told, “That’s not important.”
It’s usually a mistake to try and talk people out of their feelings. People usually want their feelings heard before you start questioning them. So let him talk about how he feels, and you might be surprised how he may eventually reach a conclusion similar to your own. Just give him the space to get there.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office may be reached at 302-227-2829. Email Dr Hurd