Sunday, August 20, 2006

Because of You- Part Two

The last time we talked about BLAME it was in reference to Kelly Clarkson’s music video. She blamed her anxiety on her parents’ conflictual marriage.

I used the music video as a good example of how parents who have relationship violence can impair a child’s ability to handle stress, especially conflict.

The brain develops while we’re young, and although we can change it by creating stronger neurological pathways to healthier responses (less anxious responses), the ones we learned as children can last a long time.

But other things can go to hell if your parents had a conflictual marriage besides your emotions. Some people get tougher, not more anxious and will repeat the arguments their parents modeled so well for them.

Kids remember their parents’ arguments and often repeat them, consciously or unconsciously. It just happens.

When people attack each other, they basically lay their own negative feelings onto one another. If that's what they grew up with they see it as normal and acceptable.

There is a difference between arguing to resolve problems constructively, and maintianing a conflictual relationship that functions to dilute intimacy and create distance. Intimacy is actually pretty hard.

I’ve talked about problem solving intimacy in previous posts. We get closer when we solve problems together. It would seem that to do that we have to argue.

Which is fine, but. . . .

Not if it’s going to be hurtful, right? That makes sense. So we wouldn’t say something we know is going to go straight to the jugular in an argument. We wouldn’t say something, as clever as it may sound, as RIGHT as it may be, if it’s going to make our partner cringe.

Cringe is bad.

Making your spouse cringe is bad. It’s harmful. It’s violent. This goes along with my favorite philosophy (and a patient told me there’s a rapper who preaches the same thing!):

Why? Because the loser feels bad. You don’t want your partner, the person you love and want to sleep with to feel bad.

Makes sense.

Yes, you deserve to make your point. But no, if making it means revisiting painful territory for the sake of making it, for the sake of winning a point. If it’s going to hurt, then probably don’t make the point.

Sometimes it’s okay. But usually not. The default here, is not.

Eat the point. Stuff it. Hold the thought. Instead, ask a question. Interview your spouse. Get to know your spouse instead.

Here’s an example.

Harry: I’m sorry, honey. I know I told you I’d get home earlier. I had to work late.

Sharry: Oh. Did you meet up with some girlfriend?

Harry: I told you I would never do that again. I was really working.

Sharry: Well, you cheated on me once before.

Harry: There are times I’ll have to work late. I’m sorry. I blew your trust when I had that affair but we’ve talked about it and I promised I wouldn’t do that again. You have to believe me.

Sharry: How can I?

Harry: That’s a lousy attitude.

Sharry: Well, what the hell? How am I supposed to ef’ing trust you if you come home late?

Harry: It’s not that late. You could ef’ing get a life! You’re just lazy.

Sharry: Men are all the same. Such whores.

Obviously, in this case, she’s hurt and still letting him suffer from his past indiscretion. He falls right into the trap. What makes it worse is that her father cheated on her mother so she has history, and her father and her mother had this same argument.

What should she do with her suspiciousness? How’s she supposed to not express her anger? He’s cheated before.

The fact is that even if they’re worked it out and he’s promised not to do it again and meant it, she won’t really trust him for many years.

Does this mean she has to beat him over the head with his previous mistake?

No. She has to talk to him, get to know him better. He’s a good guy. He’s trying. She needs some proof of that.

Let’s revisit the scene, same problem, handled a little differently.

Harry: I’m sorry, honey. I know I told you I’d get home earlier. I had to work late.

Sharry: Oh. Working on anything interesting?

Harry: No, same project from yesterday.

Sharry: Tell me about it.

Harry: It’s not interesting. I don’t want to talk about it. What’s for dinner?

Sharry: I’m going to be honest. When you work late I worry you’re having another affair. I’m kind of traumatized from the last time. I’m sorry. So when you tell me what you’re actually doing at work, it helps me. (WORK INTIMACY—a good thing)

Harry: Oh, sorry, honey. Okay, the proposal had to be rewritten. Then I handed it to my boss who told me that I had forgotten the Smith clause, and I had to call Al Smith and . . . (he goes on about this for a long time).

Sharry: Sounds like a major drag.

Harry: Yup. Glad to be home, seriously.

Sharry: So you don’t want to be with another woman?

Harry: Not at all.

Sharry: My parents used to fight like cats and dogs over this kind of thing.

Harry: Did he cheat on her?

Sharry: Oh, yeah.

Harry: I’m not your father, Sharry.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc

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