Vow of Chastising

This past weekend I attended Dave and Diane’s wedding. After over half a lifetime of searching, these two people finally found their soul-mate in each other. The love they share is palpable. Very cool. Anyway, I bring this up because one word in their self-written vows jumped out at me during the ceremony. The word: Chastise. Within the context of the vow: To chastise you when necessary.

Very interesting, I thought. And I thought and thought some more about this. I tried to put the word into the context of my relationship with Steve to see if it fit, but kept butting up against the harshness of the word. How about using the words reprove or chide instead? Does it matter?

Anyway, once I waded through the semantics part of my thought process, I was able to clearly see that yes, no matter what synonym is used, Steve and I do “scold” each other. I’ll get back to this.

When we are kids, we have our parents and siblings there to keep us in line. When I did something idiotic as a kid, my siblings happily and quickly reproached me. When I made bigger mistakes, my parents and I had a “sit down” serious scolding session. As I grew up and away from my family, my friends took over taking me to task for unbecoming behavior. By this time, my guffaws were few and far between because of what I learned from the discipline my parents and siblings dished out. However, I am the first to admit, I still made plenty of mistakes.

Once I got married, thank God, I stopped making mistakes. It’s a good thing, too, because I wasn’t living with the people whose job it was to correct me.

Ridiculous, right? So why is it then, when our spouse corrects us, chides us, reproaches us, or chastises us, we blanch? We call foul!, and get defensive instead of contrite? Why do we go on the attack, and start pointing out the other’s mistakes?

Because it isn’t our partner’s job to scold! Right? Hhmmm….If it isn’t our parent’s or sibling’s (although if you are still close to your siblings as an adult – you find yourself still filling this role) or friend’s job anymore to call us on our mistakes…whose job is it? Who is the person usually most affected by our mistakes; who is the one living with you to see those mistakes? Could it be? Could it be part of a partner’s duty to correct one another?

I say YES. A thousand times, yes. Sometimes I hate it, and it hurts, and when I am in the middle of swallowing my pride, I really wish Steve would just drop it, but deep down, I know it is a good thing. If you are on a journey in life toward self-actualization, then it is imperative, I believe, to have someone there to help you fix whatever needs fixing. This is true for the simple fact that we cannot see ourselves clearly until we are fully self-actualized. I don’t know anyone who’s gotten there (perhaps Ghandi or Mother Theresa, but I bet they wouldn’t have said so). I know that I have a long way to go.

Back to Steve and me: I had learned, some where, that it was o.k., when having an argument, to go global in order to make a point. You probably know this tactic: “You always do this, Steve!” or “Why don’t you ever do that?” Now, of course these statements weren’t true, and at any other time, when we weren’t arguing, I would never say these things. Anyway, very early on in our marriage, he called me on it. He just stopped me cold: “Pauline, I do not accept what you are saying. You cannot put that on me. What you are saying isn’t true. You know it’s not.” And I would come back with, “You know what I mean, of course it isn’t always, but still….” He wouldn’t even let me get away with that.

Soon, just as it happened while growing up, I changed my behavior. I can’t recall the last time I went global with any statement to or about Steve. And I thank him for teaching me this, and many other things. This goes both ways: I have taken Steve to task time and time and time again (o.k., not that much) and he has changed right along with me.

There are also times we “scold” each other outside of our relationship. Steve may say something hurtful in a social situation, and later I’ll alert him to this fact. We then discuss how he could have handled it differently. Sometimes, in situations where Steve isn’t even present, if I feel that I’ve said something inappropriate, I’ll later bring it to him to help me figure out what I did wrong.

So, how can we successfully do all of this? I believe there are a couple of keys: trust that the other really truly loves and likes you, and a willingness to let go of your ego. Our ego is the monster that pushes us to “win” a fight even when we are in the wrong, or when it doesn’t even flippin’ matter who is right. To battle this monster can be tough, but it’s the good fight. If you can approach your discussion or argument with a conscious effort to sidestep your ego, it’s amazing how much more you can really hear your partner.

Quite often accepting your mistake can be a painful experience. It’s really hard to have these things pointed out. And it’s really, really hard sometimes to hear it from someone who is supposed to love you, warts and all. If he sees your faults (and points them out!), does he love you less? No. No. No – this is not what should be on the line! In order to accept censure from anyone, you have got to believe deep down that he or she really digs you, really loves you no matter what. Please, do not allow any criticism to bring love into question.

CAUTION! This is a must: NO shaming. No yelling. No blaming. Be tender and loving in your approach. Be kind.

Most of all, believe that your partner wants you to be the best you can be. Steve and I heard this loud and clear in Dave and Diane’s vows. It reminded both of us that we depend on the other’s guidance to help reach our full potential as human beings (NO NEED TO GO OVERBOARD, though, honey).

Good Luck!

This concludes another view from my married life.