Every judgement/feeling about an action, reaction, spoken word, or event is based on our own personal perception. It’s up to us to discern the best way to approach the issue if it happens to evoke negative emotions in us. We can choose to approach other parties involved with accusatory statements about their intention prior to clarifying their intentions or we can choose to give them the benefit of the doubt. We can accept, especially when the issue is small, that the person is not out to get us.
Not one of us on this planet is all-knowing so how are we to determine if someone’s intent is malicious? Why do some of us err on the side of assuming malice rather than giving the benefit of the doubt?
Accusatory statements lead the accused to get defensive and shut down. No matter what happens, we are responsible for the emotions we feel and ultimately how we react. Although words and actions elicit an initial emotional response, we can choose to remain angry, sad, happy, or joyful. It is our perception that causes the disconnect in the first place. So then, how can we blame someone else for “making” us feel a certain way, when they can’t control how we perceive what they do?
I feel like I’m coming off a bit preachy. If you think I am, I apologize. The struggle is real.
In the linked article on Psychology Today, Suzanne Lachmann, Psy. D states:
The struggle usually starts in childhood. In a classic article for the journal Child Development, Martin Hoffman showed that powerful parents can create feelings of powerlessness in their children. Children can also feel powerless when they are not understood, supported, or protected by the adults in their lives, resulting in a chaotic environment. (Of course, this experience is different than the confident parent who is loving, but stern and consistent, which fosters a safer more predictable environment for children.) Hoffman defines power as “…the potential for compelling unmotivated behavior in another person.” He extends this definition to encompass emotion — from childhood through adulthood, your sense of power is partly shaped by recognizing that you can alter the mood of those around you, by understanding that you have the ability to determine outcomes, both physical and emotional.
Here’s the thing: by acknowledging, understanding and respecting the power you’ve grown into, you will be able to more clearly recognize the extent to which you impact your relationship – otherwise, you may overcompensate for your childhood powerlessness with intense, heightened, exaggerated, or at times punitive actions toward your partner. You may create unrealistic expectations and irrational demands on the relationship. To prove his or her power, this tyrannical adult may overpower the relationship’s emotional energy.
Yesterday, at different times in the day both SC and I said things that had the potential to lead to an argument. One statement led to an argument, the other, did not. The difference? One party gave the other the benefit of the doubt, the other ran wild with accusations based on nothing more than opinion.
SC invited me into the kitchen to share something with me. He gave it to me and said, in a bit of an annoyed tone, “You’re gonna have to put in on this next time.” Did I get defensive or did I give him the benefit of the doubt? Let’s see, shall we?
Financially, our relationship was out of balance, until about a week ago, due to some unexpected high dollar expenses SC incurred over a short period of time. If we tally up what I actually should contribute, it’s nothing. On the low end, he’d need to give me at least 3/4 of his next paycheck before I’d “have to put in” on anything. I don’t trip about it because I willingly chose to contribute and it will balance out over time. To be clear, the dollar amount he’s referring to is about 1/8 of what I’ve shared with him.
My initial reaction was negative. I thought, “What did I do? How dare he talk to me that way!” That being said, I know what it’s like to look at your resources, food, water, laundry detergent, etc. after living alone for so long and think, “This person is consuming everything and contributing nothing.”
In my head his statement translated to, “I have a lot less than I normally do at this point because I’m sharing with you. Can you contribute some funds next time?” I made the choice to believe his intent was not malicious, I simply said, “Sure.” Could he have said the words above? Yes, but it seems like too small of an issue to police his choice of words.
I could have expressed offense at his tone, but I don’t know if there was a tone, only the tone I perceived. Was my perception really based on the tone or did his words trigger something in me? I know he’s not out to cause harm, so I erred on the side of trust.
I woke up from a nap. SC was still sleeping. I poured myself a glass of bourbon and sat down to watch the first episode of American Gods. Right after I sat down SC plopped down next to me on the couch, told me his friend was coming over in 45 minutes, and that we needed a few things from the supermarket so he could cook for us. The fridge is full and so are the cabinets, but we all have those moments where we want something other than what we have in the house and we needed more produce, anyway.
SC didn’t want to go. He wanted me to go. We’ve played this same exact game before and I knew he’d take offense at my “tone” if I said no, so I went. In reality, there is no tone, only something he doesn’t want to hear.
Going was a mistake, on my part, because he knew I was agitated when I left. I also knew it wasn’t worth the fight. I just realized he never thanked me for running his errand.
Later on I asked him to provide me with a way for me to say no in that situation that would not elicit anger.
Instead of providing guidelines on how to rectify the situation, I received a lecture that contained a load of your tone is always combative (Always, really? Or just when I say something he doesn’t want to hear?), you do this and you do that, you’re this type of person, which sent me into a spiral, followed by more attacks on my character. He never came around to answering my question and it turned into a full blown argument.
He had a choice. He could look at himself and figure out why he perceives a no as an attack and he can give me the benefit of the doubt. He could’ve given me the benefit of the doubt when I asked for a solution. Instead, it was all about him. Once I was verbally attacked for fifteen minutes at a pop, I put myself first and we became two opposing forces.
And that, dear readers, is the crux of the issue. In any relationship, it’s not all about us and our egos, and that is especially true in a marriage. It’s not just about you. It’s not just about me. I’m not saying it’s easy to put ego aside. It is not. I’m saying in those situations, sometimes we need to push our ego aside and put our partner first. Some triggers are unavoidable, however, we can a) learn each other’s triggers, and b) learn how to conduct ourselves when we are triggered.
I was triggered when he said I had to contribute, but I didn’t let it get in the way of where he was actually coming from. He is triggered by the word no, and chose to take it as a slight against him. The challenge for me is the only things I have control over are myself and my reactions. I want to figure out the best way to approach. I want to remember that it’s okay for me to say no and remember when he’s triggered by something as simple as a no, if there is nothing I can do to change it, then it actually has nothing to do with me. I want to remember to not engage. It’s not going to change him, but it will change how I feel. And at the end of the day, I am in control of how I feel.
Originally, I griped below about my fears surrounding the outcomes of my words or actions when I get home today, but after carefully re-reading the article quoted above, I have a different thought.
I thought I was powerless when I was raised by my parents. I was, but, SC’s family was far worse to him. In addition, I’m 8 years older than him. I remember being in a similar place at his age, the stage where I realized my power, but hadn’t yet worked through my issues with my folks. I was still angry at them and in need of an apology that never came. I needed to assert myself to avoid being treated poorly, even when I was being treated well. I’m sure, if I look closely enough, that bled into my behavior in relationships and my exaggerated reactions to every word I perceived as a threat.
I have since made peace with my childhood, warts and all. I wouldn’t be who I am if my life had unfolded any other way. There’s always work to do and to date I’ve done enough to understand that they did their best, although their best was far from enough.
I have no plans to share any of these articles with him. He has work to do, however, he needs to realize that he does. Besides, we always come to an amicable resolution that involves some sort of compromise on both ends. Fingers crossed that the pattern remains.