It’s always somebody’s turn to be the bigger person
On our way home from a spectacularly great weekend, one without the kids that included a three-hour couples spa treatment, my husband and I got into a really stupid fight at the airport. As it was happening, I knew it was unnecessary and immature and getting more blown out of proportion by the minute. I also felt powerless to stop it - and there’s where I was wrong.
The truth is that I was being stubborn. We both were. I could have - if I’d taken three deep breaths - thought of at least four ways to change the conversation, to defuse the situation, but in that moment, I didn’t feel like being the bigger person.
Things did not improve hours later when I decided to revisit the conversation. I offered a half-hearted apology and got even more upset when I did not receive the same. Things escalated once again and I admitted defeat. “I don’t think we’re capable of having this conversation,” I said.
Cut to: our therapist’s office, two days later.
“One of you has to climb up on the ladder and look down at the situation,” she told us.
Get tall. Get big. And look down from a place of non-judgement where everyone is safe.
Had I done this at the outset of our stupid fight, I would have seen that when I aggressively sniped at Ryan with, “I don’t understand how you can spend this much time staring at your phone. Honestly, it’s alarming,” what I meant was, “Hey. I’m bored. Can you put your phone down and talk to me?”
And when Ryan answered with, “why are you trying to pick a fight? Our flight is delayed, and I’m just sitting here. I didn’t do anything wrong,” he could have said, “I’m sorry. I guess I didn’t realize I’ve been staring at my phone this whole time. What’s up?”
It sounds so simple in hindsight - so possible. But the clarity and maturity necessary in the moment can feel unattainable.
“Sometimes you have to look around ‘the thing’ to talk about what’s actually bothering you,” said our therapist. “Otherwise ‘the thing’ becomes everything.”
In this case, the false thing was Ryan’s screen usage. That isn’t what I actually wanted to talk about in the airport that night. I really just wanted his attention. But since I focused on him and his phone - a much more volatile topic - that is exactly what we ended up fighting about. Had I just asked for the attention I wanted in a direct statement, I likely would have gotten it.
Our therapist reminds us that humor and levity go a long way in these cases. She suggested simply tugging on his shirt and playfully whining, “heeeeyyyy… hellloooo,” as a way to snap him out of his black box.
But I was so annoyed!
Too bad. It’s still my responsibility to climb that ladder and look down on the girl who’s about to attack out of hurt feelings and remind her that she won’t get what she wants by setting her husband on the defensive. It has never worked. It never will.
Climb up. Be big. Even if you think you do it more often than your partner. And if you’re the one on the receiving end of a childish barb, take a breath before reacting. Try to get above the situation to see what’s really going on, and respond from there.
I now know there are steps I can take to change how I think, to find the true me again. That is why I am going to take better care of myself this year. In fact, that’s the only resolution I care to make. For both my own health, and as an important example to my kids, this year, I'm resolving to practice a kindness that starts from within.