What could possibly go wrong in a couple who makes you want to puke? Everything's perfect, right?

This is a post for those of you who are in relationships with other humans: friendship, familial, domestic, marital, even occupational.  You now, one human interacting with another human.  It is also for those of you who are NOT in a relationship of any kind with another human.  Maybe especially for you.

In my work, I see a lot of dysfunctional occupational relationships.  In my non-work, I see people who care deeply for one another damage their relationships, sometimes past the point of repair.  In my marriage, I experience two highly sensitive, self-centered adults loving each other madly yet occasionally acting like they’re playing “Whack-a-Mole.”  Have you ever played it?  I first encountered it at Chuck E. Cheese’s, a place a lot like I imagine Hell to be: full of screaming children, soggy pizza, overwrought parents, and flashing lights.  In Whack-a-Mole, the gamer uses an actual mallet to beat the heads of pop-up “moles,” which sends the poor moles scurrying back into underground hiding.

I’m going to focus on the Whack-a-Mole game in our house and relationship, mainly because Eric is a willing fall guy for my writing.  But I want to stress that these points apply across every type of relationship, not just to couples who make you want to puke, like us.

Every day and every interaction is a fresh chance for us to see the world differently.  Luckily, for Eric and me, most of the time we are simpatico.  Sometimes, though, one of us gets our sensitive little feelings hurt.  And then, the most shocking turn of events occurs:  we immediately process and recall the exact same events in a slightly different manner.  This is when Whack-a-Mole starts.  Consider this (unfortunately) real life example.

Me (riding a bicycle, in front of Eric):  I feel fat.

Eric:  Honey, think of how far you’ve come and be proud of yourself.  You look great.  You don’t even have those fat little places behind your knees anymore.  I can see your handlebars on either side of your butt.

Everyone of you can hear the screech of the needle across the record at his words, can’t you?  At this moment, I had a choice.  I could look at what he said from his perspective, giving him the benefit of the doubt and remembering he loves me and is a nice person, or I could take his poorly considered and horrifically worded statement and club him over the head with it.

Outcome A:

Me:  What do you mean by that?  Because it sounds like you are saying I was really fat and I’m less fat now, and that hurts my feelings.

Eric:  No, I meant look at how far you have come in our triathlon training.  You’re not fat.  You’re beautiful, and you’re strong.  And you know how when anyone gets out of shape, that place behind their knees gets flabby?  Well, yours isn’t.  It’s tight.  Your hips are tight, too.  How can you possibly think you’re fat when you’re in such good shape?

Me:  (sniffling)  I don’t know.  Maybe I’m pms’ing.  It’s just that when I lean over on a bike I can feel my stomach roll over.  I can’t help feeling this way.

Eric:  Well, it’s all in your head.  You look great to me, all the time, not just now.

We have had a million conversations that went just like that.  I know that is truly how he feels.  However, on this day, it did not go well.  Instead, I took another path.

Outcome B:

Me:  What fat little places behind my knees?  How long have you been forced to endure the hell of having a wife who had fat little places behind her knees?  And an ass that was so big it blocked out the sun?  {WHACK}

Eric:  That wasn’t what I meant.

Me:  You know what?  I don’t want to talk to you.  Leave me alone.  {WHACK}

Eric:  I’m sorry, honey, I think you’re beautiful, and you’re not fat.

Me:  I said leave me alone.  {WHACK}

Eric (after a long pause):  Whatever.  You’re being completely irrational.  {WHACK}

I didn’t speak to him for three hours, until we pulled up to the car, and then I spewed out three hours of anger-self-justifying thought-poison all over him.  He informed me that I had lost my mind and he had done nothing wrong, and, by the way, that wasn’t even what he said.  We had an epic verbal throw down on the side Farm to Market Road 1488 outside Waller, Texas.   We whacked those poor little moles so far down into their holes they came out on the other side in China.

Years later, even hours later, the mediator in me could step back and see the interchange for what it was.  Ah, physician, heal thyself. Had Eric said something dumb?  Undoubtedly.  Was Eric an asshole who thought I was fat, wanted to hut me, and who was lying about me misquoting him?  No.  Was I completely out of left field to have my feelings hurt, and was I a liar for restating his words in a way he did not agree was factually accurate?  No.  We were two humans who saw the same event from his and her own perspective, and the further away in time and emotion we got from it without closure, the more we polarized to our corners, justifying our feelings with distorted memories and discarding the one great truth in favor of our versions.

What was the one great truth?

That we were both good people who cared about each other, with a long history of positivity and caring.

Had I but filtered Eric’s ham-handed statement through the assumption that whatever he meant, he meant from a place of love, and consistent with what I knew to be his true feelings and beliefs, I could never have concluded that he intended to cause me pain or even that he thought I was a hippopotamus on two (dangerously laden, totally squished) wheels.  Had he filtered my reaction through the assumption that I was sincerely hurt by his words, that I honestly misunderstood what he meant, he could never have concluded that I was a nutjob who was deliberately twisting his words.

And we would not have wasted precious energy and hours angry with each other, ripping at the fabric of our relationship, adding a bad memory to our wonderful story, driving our inner moles underground and into hiding from each other and our relationship.  We laugh now about the fat little knees and ass that blocks out the sun moment.  But it took us a long time to get over the hangover from our fight, like a bad tequila binge.  Those little moles were scared to come out.  Little moles on bad tequila, an ugly combination.  And not a great intimacy or relationship builder.

Think for a moment about someone who is in (or used to be in) your life, someone with whom you have had issues.  Have you ever found yourself getting further apart instead of closer as you tried to resolve them?  Have you ever reached the point where, despite knowing mountains of good evidence about the person and your relationship, you decided that he or she was ________ [fill in the blank: a liar? a bad person? a jerk?]?

Could you have substituted a greater truth instead?

Maybe the other person was no greater a _________ [fill in the blank: liar, bad person, jerk] than you, maybe instead s/he was simply a human naturally polarizing into memories and feelings that supported a position, JUST LIKE YOU?

So what is true?  You have one truth, your compatriot has another.  You both have invested mightily in your truth being the one truth; you believe your truth.  By now, though — SUCK IT UP AND HEAR ME WELL, PEOPLE — those two truths are neither true.  There was a truth, there is a truth, but it is just often not what either combatant espouses.  And there is a greater truth — the body of truth at the core of the relationship.  That deep well of memories to draw from, the fresh water to dump on the smoldering heap of dog poo that you’ve pushed back and forth at each other.

So, my friends, today I challenge you.  Is there a smoldering heap of dog poo in your life?  A game of Whack-a-mole?  Get the cool well water, drop the mallet.  Dump the self justifications.  Find the truth.  Mend.  Heal.  See the best.  Whatever you believe you will see, well, there it will be.  Choose to see the best, and you will find it is the truth.

You will live happier for it.  You might even win the lottery.  {OK, you won’t win the lottery}

Negativity kills.

And I know that much is true. For reals.

Have a good one,

Pamelot

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24 Responses to Two true.

  1. Eric Hutchins says:

    Really excellent words and thoughts to live by, and hard to practice in the heat of the moment. All comes back to never losing sight of what is really important. We are getting so much better at that but, its always a work in progress.

    What fat part behind your knees????? I would never say something that stupid.
    :)

    • Pamela says:

      {snort}
      but thank you.
      i think we are getting better at it too.
      i remember a man once told me that as you get older you learn to pick your battles, vis a vis his wonderful relationship with his wife and his horrible relationship with his first wife in his younger years. i think this is what he was talking about.
      i know that i have mellowed with age, and that it gets easier (not easy, but easier) for me.
      and, having so much to lose by damaging our relationship is a powerful motivator to BE NICE :)

  2. Thanks for a great post and a totally awesome reminder. I appreciate it. I think it’s cool that you ended off your post with “for reals”…that totally reminds me of Amanda. She says that all the time.

    Darryl

  3. LBDDiaries says:

    Oh my gosh, “fresh water to dump on the smoldering heap of dog poo” – so true and so funny. Such a wonderful way to state that truth. Leland and I were just dealing with this recently and realizing that even after all these years, we don’t always see the truth in an expression of love. I might take for granted he can build anything and say “thanks” when he is actually saying, “I LOVE YOU” and thinks he’s saying it to me because he builds me anything I want. Now I understand but that huge pile of poo sure had to be washed away with a pressure washer.

    And you guys are right, it does get easier. I tend to make more jokes now, rather than simmer, boild and explode all over him like a pressure cooker opened too soon! GREAT post.

    • Pamela says:

      Thanks, Nan. Isn’t it easy to fall into a self-centric perspective that justifies feelings unrelated to the actions of the other person? Ugh. You know what I also do sometimes? I reflect whatever I am reading or watching. If it’s a happy movie, I’m happy. If it’s a depressing book, I’m depressed. If I”m relating to a put-upon hero, I am put-upon. It’s almost like Multiple Personality Disorder. But the change is in me, not in Eric. Yet he walks in and I filter him thru a lens specific to whatever I’m immersed in. He finds this challenging. 😉

      • LBDDiaries says:

        Oh yeah, I can relate. The ladies at (former) work always spent lunch talking trash about their mates & by the end of lunch, were super angry. So I’d take that attitude home with me. Once he pointed that out – that I was channeling their anger when he hadn’t done anything wrong, or bad to me. I quit eating lunch with them – changed everything. That is something I watch out for now – not “filter him thru a lens specific to whatever I’m immersed in.” Well, except when we are all focused on 30 days of intimacy – he likes that filter!

        • Pamela says:

          GET THE NEGATIVITY OUT OF YOUR LIFE
          I believe in this hugely
          If someone is draining your energy and adding no positivity, why are they in your life
          It’s a question all of us should examine
          And knowingly make the decision
          Good job you

  4. –Pamalot,
    I swear, I’ve had these same little “YOU HURT MY FEELINGS” conversations w/ Mr. Liverpool.
    He says “I cannot win with you Kim.” … Cuz I guess I take things the wrong way. Espcecially about weight…
    Why do woman do that? Loved the post. xx

  5. Eric Hutchins says:

    For me it also ties back to another “theme” of yours in your relationship blogs that is so important and that is to first look at yourself and what you are bringing to the interaction. To not just automatically pound on the other person for misunderstanding you, but instead really look at your delivery, the words you used in your message and decide if you could have done better.
    I sure know that I could have done a lot better on the bike that day :).
    In general it makes people uncomfortable to look at themselves, its better to find a reason to blame the other.

    • Pamela says:

      We’ve went over this kind of stuff a lot when we spent 6 months on that intimacy book, and it is WAY easier to blame someone else, whether for your own actions or for your feelings. And I blamed my FEELINGS on you, when I really knew better. I didn’t marry you b/c you were the world’s greatest verbal (or written) communicator :) I married you b/c of your heart, and because I trusted your love for me. So, if each person looks inward, there’s lots of room for improvement.

      • LBDDiaries says:

        Ah, there’s the rub: “because I trusted your love for me” – when we were first married, I didn’t trust his love for me. I mean, I knew he loved me but did he?? Would it last? Would something I do change it? As time passed by, I learned to trust it more and more – and guess what? Less and less hurt feelings and ummm – heavy discussions!

  6. Ally says:

    Most of the time, even if I initially get offended, I can stop and remember that (though possibly insensitively worded) he didn’t mean something the way he said it. (When things really go to hell is when this happens while I’m PMSing and am seeing the world through those hormone tinted glasses. Poor guy!)

    That said, I do wish I could stop, or retrain, that automatic assumption that he’s trying to hurt me. Even when I catch myself, why would I ASSUME that someone who has loved me without fail for 19 years would try to hurt me with his words? That would be my own closet insecurities, I suppose. Definitely something to work on!

  7. Sandy says:

    I just loved this! One perceived hurtful comment can start an entire downward spiral. TJ & I had our fair share of stupid arguments like that….and I fight dirty, it is so not attractive. I have sworn that I when/if I get back in a relationship I will not waste precious time fighting or not talking. Life is too short.

    On a lighter note…fat behind knees?! I can’t wait to get home from work & look in the mirror at the back of my knees. God help me if I find chubby fat there too!!!

    • Pamela says:

      Oh man I’ve spent so much time with a hand mirror looking at the back of my knees. When I was hurt and didn’t run for 1.5 years, I noticed them losing tone and it was panic city. I’ve NEVER thought about this before in my life until he said it. He is not happy when he sees me with the mirror 😉

  8. Eric Hutchins says:

    UGH
    I have created a monster, and in my daze I was trying to tell her how great she looked.

    • Pamela says:

      But the beauty of it is that I know you were. Even if I didn’t act like it then. And even if I am now on a permanent “fat little places behind the knees” vigil. It’s all good.

  9. JennyBean says:

    PAMELA, you’ve now got me examining the backs of my knees, and I think I’ve discovered FAT!

  10. Excellent post! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said the wrong thing or made the wrong facial gesture to my partner, and feelings got hurt. If your partner is extra-sensitive to those things, you have to tread lightly and for me, it’s not easy sometimes. I do a lot of apologizing. Me and my big mouth. I need to think more and talk less. Really good post. Got me to thinking…..

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