January 30, 2015
Parenting my inner child Part 2
Remember I talked about associating Haruna's not calling me spontaneously with him not missing me or caring in my last post? If you haven't read it, pause and read it here first. Well, I found this story about a couple Martha Beck calls Tom and Jerri that relates. It shows the way they both interpret each other's actions and how it exacerbates into reoccurring conflict.
Tom and Jerri were furious at each other. On their way to my office, they'd stopped for a cup of coffee. Tom had also purchased a newspaper and flipped to the sports page, holding out the front section and asking Jerri, "Do you want to look at this?" At that point, Jerri burst into tears, all communication ceased, and the couple was officially at war.
Clearly, this had nothing to do with the newspaper. However, the coffee shop incident was an excellent "access point" for figuring out the core issues that were causing conflict. The key to this process is simply asking each person to describe, in detail, the meaning he or she gives to an event.
"He never gives me his full attention," Jerri said. "He finds anything to distract him—traffic, the sports page, whatever. And then he gives me the rest of the paper, like he thinks I'm behind on current events."
Tom's jaw dropped. The motives Jerri had ascribed to his actions had nothing to do with his real intentions. "All I wanted to do was check the baseball scores—my dad and I used to do that. I gave Jerri the rest of the paper because my mom always read it."
Likewise, when Jerri began to cry, Tom knew that, as he put it, "she was accusing me of being a bad husband, trying to control me." This could not have been further from Jerri's intent. "I needed his attention for five minutes over breakfast. If I get that, I feel close to him all day."
Like Tom and Jerri, you'll often find that the behaviour you don't like is triggering insecurities, fears, or unfinished grief. The next time you feel hatred flaring up, wait until you're no longer frothing mad, then calmly check whether the meaning you attach to events is the same as your partner's intention, listen to the response, and then suggest alternatives that might meet both your needs. This technique can turn a maddening moment into an opportunity for deeper mutual understanding and a significantly happier relationship.