July 22, 2008

"Will You?" vs. "Want To?"

Early on in my marriage, a certain something my wife would do would get to me a little bit. She would say something like, “Before you get on the internet, do you want to fold the laundry for me?” Or she would ask, “Do you want to go to the store with me this afternoon?”

These “want to” questions really irritated me because my honest answer was always “No!” I mean, of course I didn’t want to fold the laundry, I would much rather do something more fun. And I would always answer her the same way: “I don’t want to do that, but I will.” And though that answer might sound honorable, my mood was always affected. I just couldn’t understand why she would ask me to do something in that way.

Around that time I learned a truth that has really affected many different aspects of life: How you ask is just as important as what you ask. I realized that whenever my wife said, “Will you go to store with me?” that I didn’t get irritated with her like I did when she asked if I wanted to. All of a sudden it didn’t feel like a loaded question. The answer was simple: “Of course I will.” When we sat down and talked about this together, things got much better.

Understanding the difference between asking the questions “Will you?” vs. “Want to?” is important for both husband and wife to grasp. When a husband realizes that he could do more for his wife – and do so more willingly – simply by having her rephrase the way she asks, there will be less tension and less letdown. When a wife understands that her husband is always willing to help, even though he might not desire to help, more things get done and there are less hurt feelings.

There’s a difference between desire and will, and tapping into that difference in how we communicate can make both sides feel like they’re accomplishing something.


  1. This has been a significant source of frustration for me as well. I have never been able to grasp why women ask if you WANT to do something when they really mean WILL you do it. A female friend of mine told me once that it's not something women intentionally do to frustrate men. Rather, women who are raise to be polite and lady-like see asking for acceptance of something they want rather than telling you to do something as a more passive, polite way to do it.

  2. I'd agree with this post. The way you ask in anything is extremely important.

    I've caught myself actually saying out loud: No, I don't want to, but I will.

    And that just makes it worse! :)

  3. Sorry, don't take this as a big criticism because I love your blog and what you say always makes a lot of sense, but if your wife phrases things as "do you want" (which, let's face it, they all do) it's incumbent upon you to do the mental translation to "will you" silently in your head. To ask your wife to please rephrase seems petty to me when you know exactly what she means. I would chalk this up to just one of those things that makes your wife so darn cute...

  4. I think I speak for more than just myself when I say that it is not a quality I'd call 'cute'. People, regardless of sex, shouldn't have to do translations in their head every time someone talks to them. If everyone would say what they mean to and cut out the need for a decoder ring, a large majority of miscommunications and fights could be avoided.

  5. I couldn't disagree more. You hardly need a decoder ring to translate "would you like" to "will you". Show your wife she's worth at least the half ounce of effort to do the translation without asking her to change something that appears to be innate to the fairer sex.

  6. I'm wired like you-- I tend to hear what's said and respond to what's said, even if I know that it was supposed to be "will you."

    I also think you handled it right-- if you can't do what Readmore said than rather then let if continue to be a point of irritation, you should talk about it and work on developing "will you" instead of "want to".

  7. I agree with the last Anonymous comment. The point of this post is clear communication. Hints don't work. If you want someone to do something you should ask them directly.

    The Author is definitely more gracious than I. In fact, if I were asked "Do you wan to do the laundry for me?" I'd just say "no" flat out if I didn't want to.

    BTW, OpenId isn't working so hot on your site...

  8. I do this to my boyfriend all the time. Not on purpose - it's just the way I was raised. I was told never to ask someone to do something for me - always ask them IF THEY WANT to do something for me. It doesn't seem to bother him (at least, he has never said that it does) but I am going to try to make an effort to rephrase it, to see if makes any difference in our lives.

    Actually, the more I think about it, I think my boyfriend actually does prefer me to ask if he wants to do something. That way if he says no, he doesn't sound like a lazy jerk. If I ask him "Will you" he'll feel bad about saying no, whereas if I ask him if he wants to, he can say yes and be Boyfriend of the Year or No and it's okay too. Just a thought...

    I think this is something every couple handles differently.

  9. My point is just that I don't see the reason to complicate things more than they have to be.

    On a similar note, my wife (as well as anyone else's I know) always tend to play this telepathy game whenever questions like, "What do you want for dinner?" come up. She'll have an idea in her head but won't say it. Then, no matter what I suggest (sometimes going through multiple suggestions) the answer is always, "No how about ____?" Why can't she just start off by saying, "I am in the mood for _____ for dinner, what do you think?"!?

  10. In response, I call upon husbands to actually DO it when you say you will help.

  11. My wife asks if I want to do something, and I appreciate this. What she's asking is "Do you want to help me?" and of course I do - even if the task is not something I'm crazy about. I prefer her way of asking to "will you..." as this sounds almost nagging to me. But I agree with what someone else said - it's going to be different strokes for different folks.

  12. I will definitely be the first person to say that what I write here does not apply to everyone. I'm glad a few of you have expressed that you actually prefer the other way around. That just goes to show that we are all different people. In fact, the reason why some people say, "Do you want to" is because that is how they were brought up, as one of the anonymous commentators pointed out. It is not necessarily because they are trying to be sneaky or want you to decode the secret meaning, it's just how they ask.

    There doesn't have to be a secret meaning. It's just that we are all different, and what is kind and polite to one person ("Do you want") comes off almost offensive to another.

    Interesting stuff, guys. I appreciate the comments.

  13. My wife has always used the "will you" language. I kind of took it for granted until I read this last night. At that point I called her over, showed her the blog entry, thanked her, and gave her a hug. :)

  14. I use want to, because my hubs wants to help me. But If I use "will you" he feels like its a demand on him.

    This "irritation" was just a symptom of a problem. I mean, you got irritated but it was happening because neither of you were working on your communication skills.

    For example... Hubs woke up one morning to his soap in the garbage. He got mad and thought I was just being a brat. Well, what wasn't communicated was that I, as somewhat of a germaphob, was grossed out by all the hairs and fuzzies imbedded in his soap. I assumed he would know and He never realized it was a problem.

    Once the issue was in the air, we had a good laugh and now he rinses the groddies off his soap.

  15. This is a very interesting subject. After reading this I turned to my hubby and asked if he had any issue with me saying "want to" vs. "will you", and he looked very puzzled by the question, as if it had never even occurred to him. I think this scenario, like many personality quirks or pet peeves, comes down to which spouse is going to take on the less selfish role, or which spouse is going to be humble enough to modify their behavior for the love of their husband or wife. For us, the difference between "want" vs. "will" might be a non-issue, but we have others that bring up a similar debate in our household. For me, tone of voice is a huge deal. When my hubby is in "task mode," as he calls it, he tends to bark instead of speaking sweetly, even though he doesn't mean it as barking. He feels there is no difference in his tone of voice, and that I should be less sensitive to his tone, and just expect that he will speak more "to the point" when he's focused than when he's not. I, on the other hand, feel that he should adjust his tone for me, knowing that I am sensitive to it. The issue here is the same. Which of us is humble enough to adjust our behavior to accomodate the other person? Will I try to be less sensitive to tone? Will he try to bark less when he is in "task mode"? In the same way, which spouse will get over themselves in the "want to" vs. "will you" scenario?


  16. I say, all this will you?, can you? Do you want to? is like an episode of seinfeld,( which I liked)is to much for my wee brain. I no longer ask for help from hubby because I already know he does not want to do anything. I just suck it up and do it myself. :)

  17. Ladies, here's a tip...
    "Honey, it would mean a lot to me if you (insert request here)."
    This gives your man the opportunity to do what we like best - WIN!

    (I got this from a book - The One Minute Goddess)

    Good men actually love to serve women who inspire them, but we mostly dislike being told what to do.

  18. I think it does matter to some degree how something is asked, BUT...The important thing I see in this act of communication is the ability to express what you need/being open. The communication of a frustration/pet peeve and being understood even more so than this being done all the time is the key. It stinks to feel emotionally isolated in any way, and the action of doing that for either spouse is damaging and repeating for both.
    So... I think that expressing how either spouse feels, the communication, is important, but spouses should not hold to it as a rule to measure performance but use it as an opportunity to know and understand the other and seek to come along side the other but not feel guilt ridden to have to do so.
    I've seen in my own relationship how the silence continued can be more harmful than just opening up and talking about it. It's always meant more to us just that I was able to express it even if it doesn't result in her changing how she asks. And although it's nice when she does, it's not nearly as important as the ability to communicate the feeling/thought. And how and when we express things are important too. So this concept of communication is not meant to allow us to just unload on each other. That's very important to note.

  19. This post is pretty old, but I came across it randomly and I just have to say:

    If you don't WANT to do things like help out around the house because something else would "be more fun" then you are the one who needs to address the real issue at hand- which is you having a rather immature attitude about what it means to be a married adult with responsibilities. Your wife probably asks you if you want to do these things because she wants to be married to someone who wants to do them- not to someone who just does what they are asked. She is not your mother, she doesn't want to have to feel like she needs to make you do simple things. Chances are high that she isn't exactly ass crazy about doing a lot of the things she does, but she is an adult who accepts the fact that she has chores that need to be done, and that everything isn't always about "having fun." Stop blaming her because you feel bad every time she brings to your attention that you don't want to do anything that's "no fun" or give her a break and go live with your mommy. Or even better, just go ahead and retire to a filthy cave somewhere so you can be alone and free to live a life where you no longer have to find ways to blame someone else for your inadequacies.