The poison of always and never
Monday, March 03, 2014
My husband and I are passionate people who get along wonderfully until that unfortunate moment when we aren't getting along. We will never be one of those couples who says, "Oh, we never argue about anything!" We are both stubborn and convinced that we are right.
But one of the things we have tried to do over the years is to learn to fight fairly. To use "I" language, to step back when discussion turns into yelling, to trust that if one of us says, "I need a minute to calm down" that doesn't mean "I'm going to stomp off and fume and not speak to you anymore."
And to deal with "always" and "never" language. We are both given to hyperbole. And high emotion in our worst moments. And so at one point we would readily throw around those two words: "You always assume I'm trying to control you!" "You never show me any respect!" These statements had nothing to do with reality, and everything to do with the mental state we were in at that moment, where the world narrows down to the grievance at hand.
But once the disagreement at hand was resolved, there would be a secondary tension based on the accused hurt at being told that he or she was "always" or "never" doing something that they knew was unfair. And that lower-key tension could be carried as a deep hurt for hours or even days, waiting its moment to erupt into an echoing argument, leaving the other person--who had generally forgotten entirely about the moment--suddenly blindsided with hurt that felt like it was coming out of nowhere. And, frankly, ridiculous to the one party while monumental to the other.
So we reached an agreement. We would both do our best to stay away from "always" and "never."
And you know what? We both fail at it dismally.
In the midst of a disagreement, those terrible words still erupt from our mouths on occasion. But there is a big difference now. Usually, we are aware enough to catch ourselves doing it. And if the other of us points out what we've said, we take a step back, acknowledge that we are in error, and start again with calmer, more realistic language.
But even if we don't manage that, we each know that the other didn't mean it and we don't carry it around with us for days. Our dialogue is healthier for it.
And now? I'm working at removing those dreaded words from my internal dialogue. We are our own harshest critics, and we say things to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to our friends. Example: last night at the Oscar party I ate WAY too much junk food. I woke up this morning feeling bloated and logy. In my head, I started scolding myself: you always do this. You never have any self-control around snack food.
And then I made me stop. It was a party. I had fun. I have plenty of self-control, in that these snack foods only enter my house about 4 times a year, but I'm at the grocery store every week and I don't buy them. I am, in fact, a competent person who is capable of taking good care of myself. I deserve my own love and respect.
Here's the one always I need to internalize: I am always worthy.