Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Let It Go

Negotiating for what you want in marriage can be a very delicate and tricky business!  Sometimes, for myself, I will just resolve to accept things the way they are rather than go through the difficulty and sometimes agony of voicing my desires and risking having those rejected.  I often finding myself weighing the risk/reward factor when it comes to changes I wish to make. 

There is a couple that I know that fight about EVERYTHING!  I have witnessed arguments between them over things that I would consider trivial and unimportant but in the moment, to them, things can get quite heated.  For myself, I know there are small things that, for some reason, bother me.  For instance, I can't handle a picture being hung slightly crocked.  However, a cluttered mess can sit on my dresser for months without it causing me the least bit of annoyance.  In that same line of thinking, there can be some behaviors (such as the cluttered mess on my dresser) that might seriously irk my spouse.  One little thing that slightly bothers me is the loading of dishes in the dishwasher.  I like them to be a particular way and there are certain things I want in a specific place.  It bothers me when my husband puts the garlic press in with the silverware because it's then closed and no matter how well our dishwasher works it will never get the left over garlic out of the closed press. 

So what do I do when I open the dishwasher and discover the garlic press all mashed together with the forks and knives?  I really have 2 choices.  1)  I can talk to my husband and tell him that this bothers me and ask him to change or, 2)  I can let it go. 

This might seem like a very trivial issue that doesn't make a difference in marriage at all and you would be correct.  However, the way we handle little issues also reflects how we handle the big ones so finding a workable solution for small issues can be really helpful when something truly significant comes along.

So how do we decide how we will react to these problems?  You might think I missed secret option #3 in my choices.  I know a lot of people (such as the aforementioned couple) that would have a huge, blow out fight about that garlic press.  Isn't getting angry an option too?  I would say no.  Being angry is a reaction but it isn't an option.  That would be more of a method of delivering choice #1.  It never proven to be a very effective method for me though. 

The first thing that I do when deciding how to react to an issue is figure out how big a deal the issue is to me.  So, the garlic press, not such a big deal but it could have a pretty simple solution.  After all, if I just explain to my husband why I would rather he put it in a different location then he might understand the logic and change his behavior.  So that's what I did.  I told him, when you put the garlic press in the dishwasher closed like that there is no way that it can get clean.  He agreed with me and could see the validity of my argument so I thought, perfect, problem solved.  That is until the next time he put the garlic press in the dishwasher, closed, in with the silverware again.  So I'm back at the start again with my two choices.  Do I tell him again or just let it go.

This is often the time when a little issue becomes a big one.  It seems like such a trivial little problem, especially in the grand scheme of things but when you express yourself clearly to someone and they even agree with you but don't change the behavior it can be extremely frustrating.  That frustration builds up until you realize you are furious and fighting over something that's completely insignificant.  Really the issue isn't the garlic press, it's that you can not control someone else's behavior.  I get upset because even though he sees the logic in what I have told him, I can't make him take it more seriously and I can't force him to act in a manner that I want him to. 

The next choice it, once again to figure out how big a deal this is to me.  If I attempt to let the problem go can I do so without becoming angry and resentful each time he puts the garlic press in the dishwasher "wrong"?  For me the answer was yes.  It really isn't a big deal and it takes me about 2 seconds to move it when I see it in the wrong place.  Even if I miss it and it doesn't get totally cleaned out it's not a big deal for me to rinse it out by hand or just put it back in the dishwasher again.  I also chose to focus on the fact that he is being helpful in the first place by even loading the dishes into the dishwasher instead of getting irritated by his placement of them.  I can choose to remember the good things he does instead of the small parts that he doesn't do the same way I would do them.  The other thing that helps me to not be annoyed by my husbands little "faults" is keeping in mind all of my own faults.  I know I do quite a number of things that irritate him, such as my propensity towards mess.  Knowing that it bothers him does little to change my habitual untidiness, I'm sure, much to his chagrin.  I appreciate his willingness to let his annoyances go, therefor I try to do my best to offer him the same kindness. 

Of course there are much bigger problems than the washing of a garlic press in every marriage but no matter how big or small those problems are there is still only two choices of how to deal with them.  The bigger the problem though, the harder it is to let it go.  Also, the bigger the problem, the more likelihood of it being harder to change. 

One of these bigger problems I am still dealing with is the issue of smoking.  My husband had just given up smoking when we started dating and he didn't smoke throughout our entire dating relationship.  Once the stress started to flow into our marriage in the form of issues in the bedroom, stressful years with kids and financially tight times, smoking became a stress relieve that he turned to in order to decompress.  With the addictiveness of nicotine, it is, unfortunately, a habit that has persisted.

I have had discussions with him about how much it bothers me.  He knows that I find the smell repulsive.  I have also expressed to him that I feel rejected when he turns to cigarettes when he's feeling overwhelmed instead of looking to me for support.  He does understand how hurtful it is to him physically and how there are really no benefit to the behavior but he is still reluctant to quit.  He does get a bit of a high from smoking and it does relieve some of the stressful emotions he feels so, to him the "reward" of still smoking outweighs the extreme difficulty of quitting.

Since I know that smoking is extremely addictive and very hard to quit I have been attempting to be understanding and let it go.  Sometime that is more difficult to do than other times and I struggle with keeping a balance between my frustration and not wanting to be a nag or push him further into it.  I know that the more I push him to quit the more he will resist and push back but I also don't want to just completely let it go and give him the impression that I accept it.  I have also thought over ultimatums but there is a lot of danger in something like that backfiring.  Say for example, I tell him I won't kiss him until he quits.  I then run the risk of him being resentful of the position I put him in and choosing smoking over me.  Then, not only will I be upset about the smoking but I would be rejected in favour of the behavior.  That could cause much bigger problems in the marriage and create a lot of anger between us that could cause irreparable damage to our relationship.

It's taken me a long time to get to this point and I have made a lot of negative comments and had some frustrated outbursts but I have come to the conclusion that my best option in this matter is to let it go.  All I can do is pray that he will have the desire and determination required to quit, that the addiction and dependence will be broken and that he will make the decision to turn to me with his stress and frustration rather than getting a brief high from cigarettes. 

I must admit that I still get angry and frustrated when he comes home smelling like an ashtray.  I still feel annoyed when he thinks that brushing his teeth removes all trace of the smoke smell from him even though I can still taste it on his breath when we kiss.  I have stopped mentioning it though because I have learned from experience that if I keep bringing it up and harping on it every time I smell the faintest whiff of smoke he will only become irritated with me and push me farther away rather than be judged every time he slips up. 

He was attempting to quit a few months ago and it was not going overly well.  Pretty much his only reason for quitting was that I was insistent that he should.  The withdrawal was making him moody and grumpy and he was being gruff and snippy with me.  He eventually revealed that he was feeling resentful of me for "making him" quit so rather than continuing to push for what I wanted (even though it is actually what is best for him) I decided to not mention it any more.  He went back to smoking because he wasn't ready to quit and didn't have the proper motivation and I resolved to redouble my prayer efforts for him.  At that time I was feeling like my anger towards him was justified.  Like it was even righteous since his smoking is harmful to him.  I mentioned this to a friend and she pointed out to me that my thinking was flawed.  When we do things that are wrong and harmful to us God doesn't get angry at us for messing up.  He loves us just the same, even though we are constantly missing the mark.  The best tactic I can take with my husband is to simply love him through it.  He already knows that I don't like his smoking, mentioning it every day doesn't change anything.  I can't force him to change any more than God forces us to do the right thing.  All I can do is move forward with love and pray for change.  I place it in God's hands to give him the motivation. 

Not all situations are all or nothing like that one though.  With some issues there can be many different solutions in order to give each of you a little more of what you would like.  For instance, if your husband is working a lot of hours and you hardly have any time with him.  He might feel it is necessary because of financial concerns but you might feel you would rather cut back some of the household spending in order to remove some of the need to work as many hours.  Expressing your position on the topic in a positive way, like "I would love to be able to spend a little more time with you but I know that money is tight.  Is there a way that we can work with our budget to put less stress on you so you could be home a little more?" will get far better results than an accusatory, "you're never home anymore.  I'm so sick of how much you've been working."  Then you and you're partner can negotiate some type of compromise that gets you both a little more of what you want rather than both of you being annoyed by your circumstances. 

What I have discovered in my years of negotiating for change is that really the best option for approaching a situation is both 1 and 2.  Once I let someone know (in the kindest and gentlest way possible) about something that bothers me I then need to let it go and leave it up to them to change or not.  If they change, fantastic but if they don't then really my only option is to let it go or risk ruining the relationship.  Believe me, I have pushed too hard plenty of times and ruined a few friendships because of my stubbornness.  I don't want to do the same with my marriage, so it's time to let it go.  There aren't many issues that would be worth divorcing over so if I want to stay together that's the choice I need to make.  Knowing how much I've failed and been forgiven by God definitely makes that choice easier. 

You're Wearing That?

There's a fairly new song on the radio that I'm sure you have heard.  It's by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera, Say Something.  I really love this song even though I find it quite sad and it usually makes me cry.  It reminds me of the desperation, uncertainty and heartbreak I was experiencing at some of the most difficult points of my marriage. 

There is one part of this song that I really dislike though.  Is says,
"I will swallow my pride.  You're the one that I love and I'm saying goodbye."
That line, to me, doesn't seem to fit the tone of the song.  Most of the song seems like a last ditch effort to restore what they once had, a desperate plea for their partner to open up to them.  The confession that they are still "the one that I love" doesn't fit with saying goodbye.  Most of it seems to be crying out for the renewal of the intimacy they once experienced and a hope that if they were to be able to talk it out then they could get back to that place.  Saying goodbye is giving up and surrendering their hope.  That doesn't encourage their partner to trust and become vulnerable enough to "say something".  I feel like that one line ruins all the effort of the rest of the song. 

I remember the times when I felt this desperate myself.  My husband is not the most vocal person about the things that are bothering him and his thoughts and feelings.  I felt like I was constantly walking a tightrope of marriage and the slightest breeze would topple our relationship.  I was unsure of if I could stay with this man, or even if I wanted to, but the one thing I could never voice to him was my uncertainty.  I believe if I would have even hinted at the idea that I couldn't do it anymore that would have broken all his trust in me.  Giving him cause to doubt my dedication to our marriage would have given him every excuse he needed to close himself off even more than he already did.  Saying goodbye would not have shaken him up to fight for us, it would have shown him that it was already too late and caused him to give up. 

Another song that you might have heard recently is by Pink and Nate Ruess, Just Give Me a Reason.

I love the line, "Just give me a reason, just a little bit's enough.  Just a second, we're not broken, just bent and we can learn to love again."  To me this is such a hopeful statement of reconciliation.  It says that even when things go wrong and there are problems that they aren't irreparably broken, they just need a little TLC to fix.  What I get from this line is that loving someone is a choice we make to see our problems as just little snags along the way, instead of insurmountable obstacles. 
There is a part of this song that I find extremely funny though.  That might seem strange for me to say, seeing as this is a pretty serious song but at one point Pink says, "You've been talking in your sleep.  Things you never say to me.  Tell me that you've had enough of our love."  The answer that Nate Ruess has to this is, "I'm sorry I don't understand where all of this is coming from.  I thought that we were fine.  You're head is running wild again.  My dear, we still have everything and It's all in you're mind."  I feel sorry for this guy here.  He's just moving along, thinking everything is great but apparently he talks in his sleep, something he has absolutely no control over, she hears something questionable and is convinced that things are almost over.
I'm not trying to be sexist here but I think this is something that we women do have a tendency to do.  We get in a bit of a mood, our guy says something unintentionally stupid (guys don't always understand the subtle nuances we read into the things they say) and we blow it out of proportion.  I think the important part of Pink's line that she should have listened to herself was, "things you never say to me."  The words he says in his sleep are not a repetition of things he says all the time.  They are out of context and don't seem characteristic of the way he is when he's awake.  Maybe she should have paid a bit more attention to that fact than to his sleep talking.   
This reminds me of a story that Sheila shares on her blog at "To Love Honor and Vacuum".  She talks about how her husband started buying her flowers quite regularly and the longer and longer it went on the angrier and angrier she got.  It might seem strange to get angry when your husband starts to do something loving like that but she explains that he used to buy her chocolates and then switched to flowers.  She made an assumption from that switch that he thought she was fat and didn't want to contribute to that so he sent flowers instead.  He had just thought that flowers would be a nice gesture and had committed himself, without her knowing, to giving her flowers twice a month for 6 months.  So here he was, thinking he was doing something good and wondering why his wife was not having the reaction he expected.
I think this can be quite common in marriage.  I know sometimes I can end up making a mountain out of a mole hill too.   For example, one morning I had gotten ready for church and was sitting at the kitchen table.  My husband comes downstairs, looks at me and says, "Is that what you're wearing to church?"  It Definitely wasn't my dressiest outfit but I had on some skinny jeans and a plaid shirt and I thought I looked fairly trendy and nice.  Instantly I doubted my choice while at the same time got quite defensive.  "What's wrong with it?" I said in a somewhat hurt and dejected voice.  At this point I think he realized how what he said had sounded.  He then pointed out that he had put on a very similar looking plaid shirt and didn't want us to look like twins.  I had been hurt and offended by what I saw as a criticism of how I looked but all he was really saying is that he didn't think I would want us to be so matchy (and he was right). 
It's like in the song "Just Give Me a Reason".  Pink hears him talking in his sleep.  Who knows what he would have been dreaming about.  He probably doesn't remember and it might not have even had anything to do with their relationship but she decides, from these few words that he has no control over, that they have some big problems.  This poor guy is slapped upside the head with it and sent spinning.  His reaction, "I thought that we were fine!"  He's just moving along with his life thinking every thing's good and all of a sudden an assumption about something he has said almost derails them. 
Why do we do this?  Why do we women have such a tendency to read so much into what our men say and do?  For the most part guys are far simpler than that and usually the simplest explanation is the best.  I have now been attempting to see the actions and reactions of my husband this way.  I try not to read to much into the simple statements he makes and if something he says confuses me, rather than assuming what he means and jumping to a conclusion because of that, I am attempting to ask questions for clarification and trying to get all the facts before getting upset.  Sometimes I still jump to upset before I sort out the real meaning behind what is happening but it is getting easier and easier to understand the mind of my husband now that I have reset my filter to giving him the benefit of the doubt instead of the mistrust I approached him with before. 
It's true that men and women tend to see things quite differently so the more we try to understand things from our partners perspective the easier it will be fix the issues that will continue to come up throughout our marriages.  It might not take a lot to "bend" a relationship but an attitude of understanding and compassion can make it much, much harder to "break", and most bends are pretty easy to fix.  We CAN learn to love again.