Let’s Live Together: Part 2 Being Responsive

When my wife and I retired, we decided to go ahead, bite the bullet, and live together. During the working years it often seemed we just cohabited, sharing a dwelling and a daughter, but very often pulled in different directions. Retirement changed all that. Suddenly we were together, day in and day out. Fortunately, that change has worked well for us—it doesn’t always for many retired couples. My wife and I couldn’t help but wonder why. We think three things are key: Respect, Response, and Romance. In my last post I spoke of Being Respectful. This time let’s take up Being Responsive.

Daniel Boone

Within one particular stand-up display in New Orleans was an oddity that struck me. One person depicted was a Daniel Boone type, wearing buckskins and a coonskin hat and carrying a musket. (1)

The second person wore the togs of a Louis XV court personage: thigh-high hose, a three-quarter-length waistcoat, and a shirt ruffled at the cuffs and tied with a cravat at the collar. His hat had a plume feather, and he carried a walking stick. (2)

Interesting contrast, yes? These two individuals lived side by side in New Orleans in the 18th century. How do you suppose that worked out?

Often all around the country at retirement time two people with similarly vast differences face off in their living rooms. Wife wants more time with the grandkids and to travel to see them frequently. Husband wants to do more fishing and reading and to travel to Europe.

Who or what do you root for: Grandkids or fishing? Plumed hat or coonskin cap?

Living together in retirement means we have to decide what to do with our different “hats.”

Let’s talk about being responsive.

There is a very funny story going around about a retired couple. It seems that hubby wanted to be helpful and, not having anything better to do, he organized all the cans and bottles in the cupboard alphabetically. His wife decided to be helpful in return and arranged all his tools in the garage by size.

Neither project was considered a success.

Why? Because neither project was born out of a response to the other’s real needs. The can notion came more from dissatisfaction with the available activity options. The tool notion was probably motivated more by revenge.

Responsiveness is not just being “helpful,” and it is certainly not a product of dissatisfaction or of revenge.

According to a lecture entitled “What Makes Relationships Succeed or Fail?” Mark Leary, a professor at Duke University, being responsive means supporting and promoting your partner’s welfare. Successful supporting habits include

· Providing help

· Endorsing the partner’s goals

· Supporting the partner’s goals with time/resources

· Paying attention

· Listening

· Celebrating accomplishments 3

These illustrate things you can do in response to your partner. Often this response is to a verbal request.

Guys, here is how this is supposed to work. When your wife asks you to do something, three things need to happen:

• First, you need to answer her; let her know you really are listening. “Uh huh” is not a real response.

• Second, you need to agree to do it. She is not likely to be asking for something she could do herself or by herself. She is counting on you.

• Finally, when you agree to do it, do it.

Some of you may have already discovered what happens when you miss one or more of the three steps: Your wife becomes a nag, and you become nagged. Do you want that? I don’t. I don’t want it for her, and I certainly don’t want that for me.

Responsiveness, it seems, is born out of respect. She can’t become someone of worth if she is busy nagging you. So honor your promises.

Ladies, you may have a harder time of it. Some men are the “strong silent type.” Asking for help is not one of a man’s endearing qualities. In other words, it will be a cold day in… before you get a request for help.

I realize that this whole man vs. woman scenario may sound sexist. It is definitely true to my experience, however. Please bear with me. Take ladders for an example…

Luckily ladies, most of you are little more observant than are some men. So, don’t be surprised if you find your man standing on the topmost rung of the stepladder doing something precarious that might have been prevented if both of you had gotten into the act.

You are much more likely to receive requests to go somewhere or do something before you’ll get a clear request for help.

However, honor those appeals in the same manner as you would like him to honor your requests:

• First, you need to answer him; let him know you really are listening. “You want to do what?” is not a good first response.

• Second, you need to consider honoring the request. You might not care about the sport or the teams, wilderness, cooking, sewing, or ironing. In that case negotiate an alternative. There are other places you both would enjoy, laundries that do ironing, and so on.

• Finally, make the trip or activity a priority.

Responsiveness hinges on paying attention. You can’t be responsive if you don’t know what is going on.

Apparently, being responsive is a tough game to win. Dr. Leary points out that we only notice two-thirds of the things done that were intended to be responsive. You do A. You do B. You do C. Your partner completely misses C. Oops. (3)

To me that means you have to keep trying.

But for my money you both win when you are responsive. Not only do you get the help you need or get to do things together, you get the feeling that there is someone out there who cares. Caring is invaluable because it smoothes the paths to trust.

You may never feel comfortable in the other person’s “hat.” But you can feel comfortable together with caring and trust borne out of mutual responsiveness.

Hang on. Next time we get to talk about the third big R: Romance.

Ed Zinkiewicz

…the retired guy

(1) Daily Mail: A modern day adventurer followed Daniel Boone’s 240 mile track to Kentucky. This is a picture from the web page: Explorer: Daniel Boone and his band of axe men had carved out Boone Trace in the 1700s. The path became an important early artery for settlers heading westward.

(2) The image of the early 1700’s gentleman from Wikipedia: By Cornelis Troost – : Home : Info : Pic, Public Domain,

(3) The Teaching Company published a series of Dr. Mark Leary’s lectures entitled Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior (Copyright © 2012). The comments used here are from a lecture entitled “What Makes Relationships Succeed or Fail?”