Winning in Marriage
“Marriage is our last, best chance to grow up.”
Bill, a coaching client of mine, recently told me of a victory in his marriage. It was not a victory over his wife, mind you, because in marriage, your spouse is never your real opponent. No, Bill was talking about a victory over the real enemy of marriage, Resentment.
His wife had cooked a meal for the family, then headed out the door to an exercise class. Bill and his son were swamped with school and work that night, so they came up for air, grabbed a bite of her dinner, and then dove back in to their respective tasks. Uncharacteristically, they left a very unclean kitchen behind them. Normally, if you don’t cook in their family, you clean up afterwards; this was an off night.
Upon her return, Bill’s wife was not pleased. After a few passive-aggressive sighs, she finally let out: “You know, I don’t ask for much around here…but this is the thanks I get?”
That’s when Resentment started to pay them a visit. Bill noticed it in his wife’s voice, and felt it pull on his own puppet strings as well. He thought of several times he had felt underappreciated lately. He started to conjure up his own pet means of passive-aggression (the silent treatment). But then he paused. Bill’s been practicing lately, and the work is paying off. He knows he’s been working very hard to say thank you more, but he also knows he just ate a meal he didn’t cook, and left a mess he didn’t clean.
So, what should Bill do? He had already started to wash the dishes, but his wife was still looking at him after her complaint. The moment was anxious, and Resentment is usually relentless.
Bill decided to represent both of his thoughts at the same time: “You know, Honey, I’ve been working hard to show my appreciation lately, and I hope you’ve felt that—but I can see how coming home to this mess, without me even picking my head up from the laptop to say hello, could leave you feeling taken for granted.”
Bill 1, Resentment 0.
P.S. When I asked him what happened next, Bill couldn’t hold back a sheepish grin: “Let’s just say…it was a good night.”