Over a decade ago, I stumbled upon a life-changing article in Oprah magazine (still killin’ it to this day, Opes). I nervously tore it out, knowing it would necessitate repetitive reading and slipped it into my purse when no one was looking. I then waited for the nurse to open the door and beckon me in, feeling every bit a criminal. I'm soooo bad. Alas, I still have the paper, likely folded and stowed away into a tiny corner of a drawer or bin somewhere, but four moves later, I wouldn’t know where to begin looking, so you’ll have to bear with my memory. It’s subpar at best.
The article was written by a woman who became a therapist later in life, after a failed marriage to a man and a subsequent successful marriage as a lesbian. It happens, right.
It’s an article I think of often, because it’s wisdom is indispensable to growth and understanding in long-term relationships, not just with a husband but family and friends as well.
She was treating a couple and assigned them a special task. They were to take turns not speaking for one day. In other words, the husband could speak for 24 hours but his wife was not allowed to talk or respond to him at all and vice versa.
For the husband’s go around, his wife felt extremely insecure without the presence of his commentary, causing her to create her own version of what she thought he’d say to her in each moment. All day she narrated her behavior with things like “I just know what you’re thinking…” and then would assert what she assumed to be his judgment of her. When the sun went down, and the husband was freed from his vow of silence, he was able to share that all of her assumptions were completely inaccurate. He’d thought none of the things she’d put in his mouth, and the negativity she’d ascribed to him was also flawed.
The moral of the story is that over time we all evolve, inevitably learning and metamorphosing. But, often in marriage or within families, we remember who a person was when they were younger or when we first met. We don’t mentally allow for the growth that has eventuated, thus parents talking to adult children like they haven’t aged a day since moving out, forgetting their worldly experiences beyond the walls of their childhood homes, or wives saying to their husbands “you'll always” and “you'll never.”
Within each of us, an often invisible transformation is constantly unfolding. When I say to my husband “you’re not confident enough to…” I call forth a man who no longer exists, and in doing so inadvertently shame the man who is, effectively nullifying years of personal work towards progression.
When my husband avoids subjects that may incite conflict, because he thinks I’ll impulsively lose it, he doesn’t honor the massive efforts I’ve put into controlling my visceral reactions.
And, I so desperately want to be better for him.
We are dynamic creatures, and internal renovation is a constant. It’s happening within each of us right now. Something is shifting, and it may not yet be apparent to anyone but us.
For a long time, only I was privy to my desire to gain control over my hot-headed temper and biting tongue. That appetite for growth was the first step towards change. But, my husband couldn’t see my mental shift. His awareness was limited to what his eyes perceived.
Slowly, I’ve been able to confront that agenda and manipulate my behavior to match my desires. But, the part of me that was ashamed of my temper, the part that my husband knew well, had difficulty letting go. Knowing what he assumed about me, what reaction he expected, made it all the more challenging. I can’t fault him for this. We interpret our lives through what we’ve learned to be true via past interactions.
We can’t start over with different partners every time we want to make ourselves anew. And, we also can’t forget the past. But, we can bite our tongues and assume a position of optimism. When we verbally remind one another of all the ways we fall short, we invoke more of the same. Believing in our partner's ability and desire to always be more, to constantly be better, gives them the space to begin that most difficult separation from those undesirable behaviors. Labeling one another only creates an injustice, a war not worth waging, because the improved version of you won’t ever be seen if you’re invariably living in the shadow of she who was.
So, I try to remind myself that my husband, my family, my friends are full of love, for themselves and others. And that love propels an internal battle, an aspiration to step out of the shadows of ineffective behaviors. We walk that path together, and if we can quietly assume the best of one another, gently setting aside previous expectations, knowing our earthly challenges coupled with the fervor of our souls' desires to advance, we give one another wings, empowering an instinctive and beautiful expansion.