How I shop with my wife: A Strategy Guide

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Lately, when I go to the store to buy something I start asking myself immediately why I didn’t just sit down at the computer order it from home. The deal is that I already knew what I wanted when I walked into the store, and now that I am in the store I just have to find it, but without the benefit of a search engine. I am an in-and-out sort of guy.

Needless to say, my wife doesn’t shop this way. She rarely leaves the house with just one thing in mind, and if she does it multiplies en route. She is more interested in exploring her options. This usually means visiting several stores. And added to this she really likes to have company while she is doing it. This is where I come in as the preferred shopping partner.

Man vs. Woman Shopping Pattern
Man vs. Woman Shopping Pattern

I didn’t always have an effective shopping strategy. Previously, I employed a two-pronged method that involved (1) hovering over her shoulder in socially awkward proximity and (2) lots of sighing. This did accelerate the shopping trip, but the fallout was her fuming, stomping off, and not talking to me for several hours/days afterwards. This was never worth the price.

I have found a better way. These are the four principles I employ:

1. Expect expansion so set a schedule.

There is a good chance with my wife that a trip to one shop will generate the desire to go to another shop. Much like eating and other activities: the more you do the more you want, and this maxim applies to shopping. Let’s say that it stimulates her shopping imagination.

I approach this by never thinking that when she says, “We are going to Gymboree to buy some clothes for Andrew” that we are going to limit our search to just one store. This just means it is the first stop. The plans will likely expand, so I expect it, and plan ahead.

I plan ahead by scheduling an activity later in the day. This gives us a hard time limit that we both need to observe. It becomes less of Evan shutting down the shopping adventure, as a natural barrier against infinite expansion. It works. It works especially well if it is something that she might be looking forward to doing or if it involves a social obligation to friends. So it can be a good idea to schedule a play date, or a get-together with friends to force an end to the shopping adventure.

2. Take an active interest

I never got anywhere standing around looking uninterested. I have a tendency to radiate irritation and impatience, so it is best to avoid these moods by finding something with which to busy myself. Since we are shopping, it is best to identify the goal and aid in its achievement.

I talk to her about what she is looking for. I try to get an idea for her parameters and preferences. This helps me to point her towards items that may be appropriate for her needs. Once I have a general understanding of what she is looking for I can actually help find it.

I try to point out options. If we are shopping for dresses, I pick a few and suggest that she try them on. I always pick a variety to fit no matter what is on sale or not – that is what the fitting rooms are for! I try to pick several options per store, especially when she starts looking overwhelmed. This actually helps her make up her mind.

3. Give real feedback

There will be a time during the shopping adventure that my wife will call on me to give an opinion. My previous responses were always a shrug and a general statement of “if you like it”. This never got me anywhere but in the dog house. She is really trying to make up her mind, and she is not asking me just to make sure I am not sleeping. So this means that an uninterested response communicates nothing except indifference. This is not something that a caring partner should do.

I use the chance for feedback wisely. If I disagree with a purchase I may be more critical. I don’t feel the need to get all analytical, the feedback can be as simple as “I don’t really like this color, I don’t know why” or “It just doesn’t flatter your figure”. If it is something that I like, I encourage her to consider it. I truly think my wife is beautiful, so when she puts on something stunning, I let her know it. Why not? She wants to look good, and I can help her find something flattering.

4. Know your limits

I do not have endless patience, and there are times I don’t want to be out shopping. To be straight, I will try to avoid being taken out shopping when I just don’t have the patience to follow my strategy. However, I really can’t opt out of it on a regular basis, and I wouldn’t want to. I enjoy spending time with my wife, and this is a chance for us to talk and spend time together doing something that is necessary for her, and sometimes for me.

It is fair to say, “I am done shopping.” After a reasonable amount of time when I find myself inching closer to her and my sighing to accelerate to an unacceptable level, I will say that I need to tap out. This is just a fact of life, and she has started to be much more understanding. In fact, if I have been actively involved in the shopping she can see that I have a reason to be tired. I have actually done some of the work! She is much more understanding if I have been helping then if I just was moping around and then start complaining that I want to go home.

In conclusion, I have started using this strategy over the past few years. It has worked surprisingly well, and much better than my hovering strategy. It is the product of both trial and error and listing to my wife describe what she envies in other couples who shop together. That is the funny thing about being willing to learn, if you are open to improvement you are much more likely to improve than by resigning yourself to gritting your teeth and bearing it.

What is your strategy? Share your experiences. I am always open to learning more.

Evan Taylor is a traveler, lawyer, and returned Peace Corps volunteer. He is a strong believer in that we need a science of morality as comprehensive as our currently understanding of the physical world. Otherwise, he an avid listener of EDM and wants to learn to dance Bachata.