There are so many jokes and cartoons about these situations. I love trawling through them, trying to find if someone has created the perfect answer, the one answer that rules them all… so far, no one has. Usually the poor husband is bearing the brunt of the situation and is on a hiding to nothing, but that is the nature of humour, I guess.
I have a tendency to be a little defensive when there are things to talk about that involve my imperfections being exposed. I know this is only me, and no-one else would ever be so immature, but I’m going to kick this around a bit anyway, just for fun. Who knows, maybe you know someone who should read this!
I guess it is safe to say that I didn’t come into my marriage perfect. I had a lot of time to prepare (only got married at 39) but funnily, I spent my days thinking I was pretty much just fine. A little quirky, maybe, but fine. What happened with my marriage, is that for the very first time ever, I had to let someone get close enough to me, to see me for absolutely who I was. No window dressing, no smoke and mirrors, no excuses.
I wasn’t ready for that. Sudden total exposure is pretty bleak, I have to tell you. Especially when the honest feedback comes. And it will. It must…
So how to handle someone being so close that there is nowhere to hide? And how to handle it when they have an opinion about how the marriage can be better – and it involves some changes – with you – and they are right, darn it?
The first thing I had to resist was the desire to do a “tit-for-tat” – the bit where I would say “Yeah, well what about when you do this, and that, and I don’t say anything to YOU…” All wrapped up in that sentence is how they are not qualified to speak and how much better I am than them, because I held my tongue, and I am just so tolerant and righteous it even takes my own breath away…
The second thing I had to resist was the temptation to silent anger. You know, the bit where I turn away with a stiff back and give her the silent treatment. Maybe I self-righteously get busy with some chores as well, so I have a legitimate reason to ignore her…(when you are absolutely in the wrong, this feels good for about 3 seconds, but after that you are just digging an even deeper hole to get out of later)
The third thing I had to resist was the not-so-silent anger. The one where I get verbally frustrated and angry and cause a scene and make sure that the emotions are running so high that I can ignore the real reason for what’s going on, and take comfort in the fact that SHE made me angry so its ok to be angry…
The problem is, none of this is ok. This is a marriage, and facing facts is part of life, and part of building something meaningful and beautiful. Realising that feedback is good, even when it hurts, is a big win. Even bigger than that, is learning to accept feedback from the person who has made you frustrated to start with.
Often we are OK with impartial feedback, but the real challenge for me in my marriage was learning to be OK with – and respond positively to – feedback from my wife. The very person who causing my frustration, and heck, well, she’s not that perfect either!
So, in the interests of becoming the best person I can be, and having the best marriage I can have, this is what I try to do now:
- I lose my ego, and my pretense that I am good enough and deserve at least some credit.
- Remember that she married me, she loves me, I love her, and we both want a good marriage. So we are on the same page.
- Listen carefully to her and reflect back to her to make sure I got it right.
- Say sorry, and do it without playing “tit-for-tat”. (Any issues I may have with her can be discussed another time, another place. The priority is not to win the battle of being right, but to win the war against my own ego, for the sake of my marriage)
- Make changes immediately that show her I have heard her and respect what she has said.
- Work like crazy to break bad habits that could catch me out and cause the same issue to resurface.
I’m not saying I get it right all the time. I’m just saying I try.