Finding My Way After Losing It
I’m pretty good at being married. I wrote a post about it recently, when we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary (“Our Secret to a Happy Marriage”).
Which is why it was so upsetting that I got into an argument with my husband this week. We don’t argue that much anymore. We do disagree about things, and we can be testy with one another. But we’ve both learned the value of not jumping to conclusions and of seeing things from the other person’s perspective, so our disagreements and bad moods don’t often escalate into arguments.
But there we were, having dinner as a family, and our daughter’s best friend had joined us. In the course of conversation, my husband disagreed with me about something. I thought he was being condescending, so I pushed back. Hard. I said something rude to him.
I didn’t think I was “being rude,” though. I thought I was defending myself.
Then he had to defend himself, not only against my rude comment, but against my belief that he had been rude to begin with. It was the classic “You started it!” “No, you started it!” squabble, from childhood. It wasn’t until the next morning that I moved out of childhood and back into adulthood, when I remembered something Byron Katie says, “Self-defense is the first act of war.”
With that, the squabble was resolved: Oh. It was me. I was the one who started it, when I defended myself.
Better Than Self Defense
Rather than “push back” when my husband disagreed with me, I could have said, “You may be right.” This phrase, also from Byron Katie, is a game-changer. (I first wrote about it in “The Four Words That Cracked My Marriage Open”).
It works this way: when someone disagrees with or criticizes you, instead of fighting back, you say, “You may be right.” Then you go within yourself and really look for where your antagonist may be right. If you find some truth to what they say, you’re wiser for it. You can even thank them for offering the correction or feedback. In addition to finding where they are right, you will also see where they are not right, and you will no more have to argue with them about it than you will have to argue about the color of the sky. You can, instead, calmly correct or offer feedback.
In other words, “You may be right” facilitates listening. People want to be heard. If you want to be heard, first learn to listen.
Had I listened to my husband that night, I would have noticed he was not attacking me. I would have noticed that he was tired, a touch cranky, and that the topic was one about which we have very different feelings. I would have noticed that I was performing a little for our dinner guest, so when my husband disagreed with me in front of her, I was embarrassed. I was rude to him because I was trying to save face.
Practice, Not Perfection
I use “You may be right” all the time. Why did I forget it that night?
Well, I mentioned the special circumstances – my husband’s low energy, our underlying disagreement, our guest – which I think are good to understand. But what’s more important is to not expect perfection.
Don’t expect, for example, that, no matter how much you’ve practiced it, you’ll always remember to listen. Don’t expect that you’ll manage self-care so successfully that you’ll never have a low-energy day. Don’t expect that you’ll become so self-aware that you’ll never find yourself performing to impress someone.
And, really, don’t expect that you’ll get so good at being married that you’ll never argue with your spouse again.
There will always be moments when you lose your way. Do you know how to find it again? That’s what matters.
My way, for what it’s worth, is self-care, physiologic self-regulation, and The Work. I just wrote a series of blog posts about each element of my practice. Check them out!
“Regulate Your State of Arousal”