I received a few calls and emails about last week’s blog. Most people thought that it was an interesting notion, to think that as a partner it is our duty to admonish each other. One gentleman said he would prefer not to have his wife riding herd on everything he does, that he doesn’t want to be married to his mother. I guess I didn’t explain myself well enough for this guy. Fortunately, most people “got it”. Anyway, a couple of these phone calls turned into full blown talk-fests in which the caller and I delved into the topic even further. I would like to share with you some of what crystallized from those conversations.
The main purpose to reprove one another, of course, is to teach acceptable behavior (acceptable to the culture at large or to the micro culture in your home). As I said last blog, this starts in childhood – parents teach by admonishing – and continues throughout our lives. That would mean then, that criticism is a sub-category of our education as human beings. It’s only one way in which we can learn from each other; it’s only one way in which we can learn from our partner. There are many other ways we can and do teach each other.
The most obvious way stems from our formal education, and our work lives. For instance, Steve is a professional drummer, and I am a purchaser working in the business world. I am also a singer, so there are many things that I have gratefully learned from Steve in the realm of music. He is way more accomplished than I. On the other hand, if Steve has a business letter to write, he will always ask for my help. He depends on my help to figure out how to run his studio business. We respect the other’s knowledge absolutely. I’ll call this the sharing of our “education expertise”; and for most couples, I think this comes pretty naturally and easily.
Another type of sharing is a bit more difficult. I call this the sharing of “emotional expertise”. Think of this. No really, take this in: both partners have valuable emotional knowledge to impart. And for crying out loud IT’S TIME FOR US TO START LISTENING AND LEARNING. What makes it so much harder to accept emotional education? It must be that our ego is really wrapped up in it (Yep, it’s that monster again – don’t get me wrong here, we all need ego, it is basically a good thing, but it has a tendency to get out of control. In fact, I think one of the biggest challenges to a human’s existence is to keep the ego in check).
Another reason it may be hard to hear our partner teach us emotionally is that this sort of education usually comes when we are in the middle of arguing. (Or put less delicately, we try to shove the lessons down the other’s throat!) I don’t know about you, but when I’m in the middle of a fight, it’s damn hard to do anything but support my point of view. To actually listen and digest and assimilate what Steve says is just asking too much, right? It probably is for most of us.
This is what the follow-up, calm, sit down, face-to-face, next day conversation is for: use it to EMOTIONALLY LEARN FROM EACHOTHER. If you go into this conversation truly aware and accepting of learning from the other, I guarantee, you will not start another argument. You might even move past the problem and put it behind you so you don’t have to argue about it anymore. That may be stretching things, but think about it.
So often, we begin an argument about one stupid little thing, and it turns into something else. If you’re anything like most the couples I know, it turns into one of a handful of arguments about the other’s behavior within the argument itself. For instance, you start a fight about picking up the kids. You feel that you are always the one to do this and you feel this is unfair and you bring it up to your spouse. Soon the fight is about the fact that you are so over dramatic (or bitchy or nagging) and he is so defensive (or cold or not listening). You have argued about this numerous times, and it is just so damn frustrating that you are now arguing about this instead of fixing the problem of picking up the kids. Sound familiar?
Now, during the next-day-which-you-come-to-with-an-open-mind-to-learning-conversation, you talk about what happened, and you LEARN. He has a chance to teach you how to approach him in a less dramatic way, and you have a chance to show him how his defensiveness gets in the way of listening.
Does this kind of dialogue sound impossible? IT ISN’T! Not if you both agree to come to the table open to learning from the other and respecting the FACT that the other has a wealth of emotional knowledge and experience that you do not possess. And there it is, ready for you to tap into and learn from. This is a GIFT not a curse!
It takes strength to have these conversations, and it takes swallowing pride, and it may even feel like you are losing or giving something up. However, you will find that it is so worth it. You will find, like Steve and I have, that it is truly much better to feel happy together than to feel “right” apart.
This concludes another view from my married life.