Thought of the Week: Them’s Fightin’ Words

I sort of need to make it abundantly clear from the outset tonight that I love my wife very much. Just so you know, sweetie.

My wife and I have known each other for almost ten years. It’s the longest either of us have been in a relationship, which is either very encouraging, or incredibly depressing (depending on how you look at it). There’s a lot we’ve learned together, not the least of which was how to raise a child. I’ll boast a little here and say I’ve probably done most of the learning: I’ve learned to cook (badly), I’ve learned to clean (badly), I’ve learned not to leave the toilet seat up (mostly), and I’ve learned it’s not okay to steal the covers back in the middle of the night, even in February.

My wife has learned that I can be a real jerk (too often).

I’ve learned that my wife should matter more than myself (she already knew that). I’ve also learned that shoulds aren’t necessarily dos, and that there’s a lot more learning to go. I should wipe the stove; I should turn the lights out when I leave the room; I should massage her feet every night.

I should.

And hey – there are times I do these things. Usually I don’t do them very well (except for the light thing, that’s kind of black and white (ha!)), but I do try to do them. Now trying, of course, just isn’t good enough, as my wife knows, so I’ll keep trying harder. Some day I may actually succeed!

Yet…I feel there is one thing I have not learned, and – sorry for this, sweetie – I don’t think she’s learned either, which is this: to not take each other’s frustrations personally. We fight, we do. We fight a lot. I kind of don’t have much of a reference for this, but I hear that most people don’t quite fight so much. And I start wondering why.

I am usually exceptionally good at understanding other people, establishing empathy and predicting their behavior. I am, by my trade, an excellent listener and verbal communicator. I can express concepts simply and clearly, and I can make people feel good about bad situations.

So why do my words fail me with my wife? Why do I end up screaming at the top of my lungs at the person I should love above all others, about…freakin’ blinds?

(Why, for that matter, do my powers of self-analysis equally fail me when I try to figure these things out?)

All I can think is this: when my wife says something critical of me, I feel hurt; I feel devastated. When someone at work says the same thing, I am able to take it at face value, respond in kind, and learn from the experience. With my wife…I either imitate a hedgehog or the Incredible Hulk.

The irony is that I believe she gets frustrated just as equally, but at something entirely different: my lack of ability to listen to, and act upon, her critiques. Can anyone see the cycle here yet? It is a personal affront to her – an insult, even – for me to forget to take out the garbage when I told you to last night! If you see what I mean.

So where to go? What to do? I love her; she (should) know that. She loves me, and I (should) know that, also. But when I piss her off, her response pisses me off, and that response pisses her off, and before you know it we’re in a free-for-all piss-fight and I explode out of my shirt and leap through the roof (in actuality, I can be quite scary).

I suppose ultimately, I just want to feel listened to. Uh…I guess she probably feels the same.

So when can we talk?