Monday, December 22, 2008

A Tale of Two Tales

Tale Number One:

Tony came back from the supermarket yesterday after doing the food shopping, then fired up the barbecue and made lunch for the nine of us (visiting in-laws). He gave me a hamburger as I requested, but instead of expressing my gratitude, I told him it was silly to give me half a burger with a whole bun, plus I wanted onion, and when I got the slice of onion, it was a circle rather than a semi-circle so it wouldn't fit onto my burger, plus he'd cut the onion on our wooden cutting board, which I'd told him leaves an onion taste that will transfer to any fruit we cut on the board later on. So here he had gone through all this trouble to make me happy and instead of being thankful, all I could do was come up with reasons to criticize everything he did.

Tale Number Two:

Just after the incident described above, Josie was jumping on a side table in our living room and I saw that it could be quite dangerous, especially for her little cousin who's staying with us and copying everything Josie does. So I asked Tony if there was somewhere else he could put the table that was safer for the kids. He angrily grabbed the table, threw everything off it and shoved the table into a corner. I asked in a challenging, emotional voice, why he was acting so strangely and why he couldn't just listen to me and answer my question instead of being so rude and dismissive. I told him he was being unreasonable when all I wanted to do was solve a problem. All this in front of his entire family, including the kids. I persisted in asking him to respond with some explanation until he finally just walked out of the house.

Multiple choice question. Which of the following best describes the situation above?

A) Tony was being unreasonable - all he had to do was suggest a safer place to put the table.
B) I was being ungrateful - I could have thanked him for his troubles instead of criticizing every little thing he did.
C) Tony should have listened to me instead of dismissing me and ignoring me.
D) I should have given him some space instead of haranguing him while he was feeling besieged by my criticisms.
E) All of the above.

I'm not sure which of the two stories makes me look more sympathetic and Tony look like the villain, but I pick that one, whichever it is. I'd really like to lick my wounds and have my actions vindicated. Poor Shin. Bad Tony. But that's too simple and silly.

All couples have communication challenges. Tony and I certainly have our share. I have my own communication issues now because I can't express myself as well as I'd like, due to the cancer and various side effects. One of my favorite strategies in an argument is to diffuse the tense moment with some humor or a compliment. That takes a certain control of voice, tone, a mischievous smile or flirtatious wink. I don't have many of those at my disposal these days.

But this stymied style of mine is also a reason to open my ears and think a bit more. If I had been a bit more breathless yesterday and really couldn't speak at all, I might have kept my mouth shut and given Tony the silence he needed instead of pushing him to answer me.

I wish I could say cancer has given me new wisdom and depth of understanding about myself and my relationships, but it hasn't. I'm still making mistakes and I'm still fixing them. I'm Bob the Builder. Can we fix it? Yes we can! I'm a work in progress. Aren't we all?

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