Yesterday my wife and I sat down to talk. She called the meeting as she was upset with me. As we sat down to talk my wife shared her frustrations:
a) I had made a decision – to cancel paytv – that impacted the family without consulting her;
b) I had been impatient with her in front of my mother and that had caused her pain as it had ruined a special occasion;
c) I had not done enough to win her back – to let her know that I got her pain and that I was doing everything in my power to make amends.
Well we talked. More accurately my wife talked about her upset and my insensitivity to her needs. When I mentioned that I rarely made any decisions without consulting her. It did not count. What mattered was that I had said that I was not going to renew the paytv subscription. When I said that I had been floating a kite to see her reaction. I was told that I should not play games. So I gave up and just listened to her frustration. Whilst I was listening to her criticism of me I got that when you want something from someone criticism is not the path to take. A better, much better, path is to share your pain in a way that leaves the listener touched and inspired to take action. I got that whilst I know the route to take, I rarely take it when I am focussed on myself and my concerns.
Then we got on the the major upset: my being a jerk – once – at my mothers house when my wife wanted my help in presenting her gifts to my mother. I listened to the upset and I explained that once I had realised I had been a jerk I had apologised. First I had apologised on the phone as we were in different locations. And when I came home, I apologised and given her a hug. In my wife’s world that just did not count. I had not done enough for her to get that I had gotten her pain. And importantly I had not humbled myself enough – to show that I was truly sorry. I did not react well to this initially – I mentioned all the actions I had taken since being a jerk to make up for being a jerk. In my wife’s book that simply did not count.
The more I put forward my point of view the more my wife resisted my point of view. I got that when someone wants to talk he/she wants the listener to listen. Yet the natural reaction of most listeners is to defend. By defending they invite more attack.
At this point there were two forks on the road. Continue to defend and my wife would continue to resist. Or give up my point of view and accept my wife’s point of view. I choose the second. As I started listening to my wife go over the matter again I started to feel down, really down. I was feeling down as I was feeling sorry for myself: trapped, unappreciated, misunderstood…. And the more my wife talked the more down I became. I even wondered if it was worth living – and convinced myself it was not.
Then in an instant I switched to a completely different state. A state where I felt powerful, in control, in a position to grant a request. How did I do this? I remembered a passage that I had read earlier that day. The passage had drawn my attention to the fact that one can either be a master or a slave. A master (of self) chooses his/her mood irrespective of the circumstances he/she faces. The slave is the slave because he/she reacts to circumstances – his response, his state of mind depends on external circumstances. If the circumstances are favourable then he is happy. If they are not then he is unhappy, negative, feeling oppressed and so forth.
On remembering the passage I chose to be the master of myself. I chose to be in a good mood. I chose to grant my wife her views without any resentment. I chose to give my wife a hug.
That choice brought the upset and the conversation to an end. We both walked away from the conversation content. We walked to the bedroom and I gave her a hug until she fell asleep. It turned out that all she wanted as me to listen to her powerfully and gracefully. To get her perspective – as a master not as a victim. And above all she wanted a hug – to know that I still love her. I went to sleep amazed that I had changed my state in an instant – really in a second or two.