You’ve probably heard that said. You’ve probably even said it yourself.
Yes, I know. I didn’t have to. And, I didn’t need to. I did it because … I wanted to.
Understand the difference.
It has to do with “intent” and/or “free will” if you will. What, exactly, was my intention? And, did I have the free will to carry it out?
The implication of “you didn’t have to” is that I had no choice, therefore, I am not benevolent, I am not supportive.
There is a disconnect—a miscommunication—between what you are saying versus what you think it is that you are saying or meaning. By being creative in your choice of wording, you are essentially saying something very different than what it is you really mean.
This is a case of unclear, and possibly, indirect communication. What is it that you truly do mean?
What you may think you are saying is something along the lines of “thank you” or “I appreciate that” or “that is very kind of you”.
The other possibility could be that you really didn’t want me to do this for you. The question then is “why not?” and perhaps “Why didn’t you just say that?”
You may be thinking “I wish you didn’t do that because now you think that I owe you” or “I really did not want you to do that.”
The issue will then be “How am I supposed to know what you mean? Did you appreciate the gesture? or not?” In fact, these two things—the statement and the meaning—are opposites. They are diametrically opposed.
It may simply be a case of you trying to be clever, quick or witty in your phraseology, but instead, it leads to confusion, mistakes, and possibly even deceit or deception.
Although this likely isn’t meant to be an insult, per se, taken too literally, it could be construed as such:
“Why did you do that? I really wish you hadn’t. You don’t know what you are doing!”
All things considered, that’s probably not what you meant to say, right?
Say what you mean, mean what you say
Proper communication is clear and direct. It’s about saying what you mean and meaning what you say – and many relationships suffer because people can’t communicate their thoughts clearly and succinctly.
Case in point: an important aspect of any relationship is accepting support as it is offered.
By that I mean when someone wants to perform an act of generosity, we allow them. We don’t reject another person’s act of kindness or friendship. Many people find it difficult to allow others to do things for them, to accept help. People often view the acceptance of such assistance as a sign of weakness, but accepting support has nothing to do with admitting that you are incapable or inadequate.
It is often very difficult to accept help – not for the things that you can’t do for yourself, but for those things that you can do for yourself. Accepting support or generosity is one of those things. In part, this hearkens back to the old adage: “If you want something done right, then you must do it yourself.”
Of course, the truth is that your way isn’t necessarily “the right way”. It is simply “your way”, which means that you will likely need to accept that some things can—and should—be done for you, even if they are not specifically done the way you would do them yourself.
For instance, your mother is ill, so you make dinner for her, wash up and put away the dishes. You put some items back in the wrong place, but she allows you to do it. She might reorganize things again when she’s feeling better, but she isn’t going to call you out on such trivialities, especially when you are going to the trouble to do something nice for her.
Accepting support from others isn’t just a gift to you, it is also a gift to them. Many people give to charity, which is benevolent to the receiver, however, it is also benevolent to the giver. Even in 12-step programs, they stress how important it is to your wellbeing to “be of service” to others. Helping just makes you feel good.
It is healthy for us to know and feel that we possess compassion, empathy, and sympathy.
So, be gracious.
After all, you wouldn’t want the receiver of your charity—your generosity, your support—to respond with “You didn’t have to!” How would that make you feel?
A simple “thank you” would suffice.
As the saying goes: “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.” You see, when buying a horse, it is common to look at the teeth to determine its health (much like kicking the tires of a car) but it’s insulting to over-examine a gift.
It’s more than you had before – and I didn’t owe it to you. I gave because I was moved to do so.
You don’t have to accept what you don’t feel comfortable with
If you feel that a gift, literal or figurative, isn’t given honestly or sincerely; or that there will be too high of a price expected in return, then don’t accept it. You can say things like “No, thank you”, or “I’d rather that you didn’t”, or “please don’t.” All of these responses are reasonable. Acceptable. Understandable.
We always need to think about and be aware of what we are saying as well as how it can be interpreted by others.
You didn’t have to: this week’s challenge
This week’s challenge is for you to review and evaluate some of your own relationships, both past and present. Did you mean it when you said: “you didn’t have to”? What did you really mean by that? Could you—should you—have said it differently or better? How did you handle it when others said the same to you? did you feel the least bit put off or disheartened?
You can improve the way you communicate. You can be more clear and direct. To replace some of these common, misinterpreted platitudes, use one of the samples that I’ve given above or create your own.
Don’t forget to let me know what you discover—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and share your alternative responses with the rest of us.
Good Together: your guide to healthy, happy relationships
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