LIVING TOGETHER CALLS FOR CHANGES WHICH, IF WE LEARN TO MAKE, CAN HELP BUILD HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS.
“Every evening you hide yourself behind your newspaper! I’ve had a bad day at work! Why can’t you help me by at least taking care of the children, while I get the supper ready for us?” The harassed wife threw these words angrily at her husband who sat unmoved in his favorite chair.
Let our minds go back a few years when this same young couple were so much in love and newly married. In their bliss they created in their minds, consciously or unconsciously, an image of their ideal partner who was just perfect for each other, the ‘Made for each other’ kind. Whatever their faith, at the wedding they pledged themselves to each other with the conviction that theirs would indeed be a fairy tale ending – ‘and they lived happily ever after!’
Life has its’ twists and turns, hasn’t it? Soon the clouds descend. The couple comes down with a bump to SEE “that person I have married is not really the person I thought he was”. Thus, we find that a marriage that had begun with delight has often ended in disillusionment, bitterness and hostility. Stars in their eyes have turned now to be irritating sand.
Yes, it’s like having ‘sand in your sandals’. Walking along the beach, we get sand in our sandals, don’t we? The right thing for us to do is to stop and remove the sand lodged in there. However, if we happen to be in a hurry, we tend to think that somehow the sand will fall out as we continue walking. But it doesn’t! The irritation, when allowed to persist, begins to hurt your foot and your limp does not allow you to enjoy your walk anymore!
I suppose it is a human tendency to want the husband to think, feel and act the same way as the wife does. And when he doesn’t, there is a quarrel. We forget that we are two different personalities. Modern research studies are discovering that men and women are wired differently too. Living together therefore calls for changes which, if we learn to make, can help build healthy relationships. The choice is ours.
Let me share my own experience.
My husband is a Research Scientist and is often preoccupied with the various projects he is working on. In fact, even when he was young, his brothers and sister affectionately referred to him as “the absent-minded professor”. On the other hand, I am more practical and down-to-earth.
Take the example of the day when I have the floor swabbed clean. Listening for his scooter in the evening, I am eagerly expecting him home. Happy to be home, he tramps in with all the parcels he had shopped for. He is looking forward to giving me some good news. It has been raining. Somehow he has the knack of putting his feet just where the muddy puddles are. He has come in to the house with his muddy shoes! As my eyes fall on the now dirty floor, I forget everything else as I burst out angrily, “Look at the mess you have made. Can’t you wipe your shoes clean outside?” He makes an equally angry rejoinder. And what had promised to be an exciting evening turns into a hostile, frigid, hurt silence.
Or again, take a small thing like toothpaste. I have learned there are two ways of using it –– squeezing it from the bottom and working it up or just pressing it anywhere, anyhow: I belong to the former category of users and my husband the latter. Every morning I “tidy” up the toothpaste of all its dents and work it upwards. The next morning I’m again faced with a big dent right in the middle of the toothpaste. One day, two days, three days, I continue to face that offending dent. I become irritated and resentful towards him for not using the toothpaste correctly –– meaning my way! Finally one morning I shout: “Why can’t you use the toothpaste correctly?” He shouts back sarcastically, “And what is the correct way to use the toothpaste?”
Or again he seldom closes the cupboard doors after opening them. He leaves newspapers and magazines scattered around. He leaves his clothes lying all over the place too. So that it seems I’m always straightening up the home, putting things in order. Such small irritations left to simmer inside pile up resentments that become hard to handle later. Yes, like the sand in my sandals!
It took a long time for me to learn that important lesson: people matter more than things. What does it matter if the newspapers are lying around? What does it really matter if the floor gets dirty? It can be cleaned again. Are these worth quarrelling about and causing an hostile environment for the children? I do not mean that we should not try to include good habits in the home. We should, but we must watch out for the tone of voice we use, the time, the manner in which we speak in trying to rectify the mess. If we can only choose to make allowances for each other’s shortcomings with gentleness and patience, what a difference it will make in our journey together. We need to remember that often it is the small things, the small irritations that build up into big things: quarrels, separations, silence.
Talking of “silence” I am reminded of a joke I read about the Silent Couple who had not been communicating with each other for three weeks! On a Sunday afternoon, they were riding together. He spotted two mules on the other side of the fence. For the first time in three weeks he spoke to his wife: “Some of your relatives?” he asked sarcastically. She rose to the occasion and retorted: “Yes, on my husband’s side!” And back into the stewing silence they went.
Today, couples opt for divorce very easily. They think that divorce or separation is “the parachute for marital problems”. But is it? On the other hand, if we take the trouble to build communication skills and nurture interpersonal relationships, that call for change in both, it is possible to walk hand in hand through the sand!
The Serenity Prayer comes to mind:
Let me accept what I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can.
And wisdom to know the difference!”
Sand in our sandals? Shake it out as we learn to handle our small irritations before they begin to hurt our relationships. In the following months we will further explore communication skills that enable us to get along with others.
– Juliet Thomas