The Opening Argument:
I confessed a mild transgression to my wife while driving our son to preschool today.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you…,” I said. (I didn’t forget.)
“What?” my wife asked.
“I broke Mr. Pumpkin,” I said.
Mr. Pumpkin was huge ceramic, Jack-ó-lan-tern who lived on our front step from early October to late December. A beloved, inanimate member of the family, I expected my wife would take the loss hard.
My wife asked, “Why would you do that?”
“His face had several cracks in it before I picked him up. When I put my hand in his mouth to lift him, he fell apart,” I said.
The Quick Devolution of Misinterpreted Incivility:
My wife said, “Why would you put your hand in his mouth if you knew Mr. Pumpkin was cracked?”
I heard; “You dimwitted buffoon! Do you have, any, actual sense? Do you remember how much money we spent on Mr. Pumpkin? How many articles will you have to write to pay for a new Mr. Pumpkin? And, you handle money just like the rest of your family! Moron.”
“Why are you blaming me?” I asked.
My wife heard, “You’re out of your mind.”
My wife said, “It’s a nice day. Are you going to ruin it?”
I thought, “OMG! Am I going to ruin the day? She just told me that I’m a moron who doesn’t make any money writing, who is too attached to his mother! And I’m the one ruining the day?”
“No,” I said, “are you?”
My wife heard, “You’re the one ruining the day because you’re a crazy person! You’re overreacting to a nothing situation, like you always do and, this time, this time, you have finally, completely lost your mind. If I didn’t love you so much I would institutionalize you!”
“I’m not ruining anything! You do things, all the time, in a rush! It wouldn’t hurt for you to stop and think things through,” my wife said.
I heard, “Not only are you a moron with a severe Oedipus complex who can’t support his family, you’re also an impulsive simpleton who should have been medicated as a child!”
“Like you think everything through,” I said.
She heard, “You’re not just crazy, you also have no consideration for others. You’re late for everything. Everything! And, since you’re late for everything, you’re going to ruin your son’s life. Grow up!”
My wife said, “You really need to get in a better mood because your son is going to pick up on your anger.”
I heard, “Not only are you bumbling, selfish, dreamer-of-a-dingbat but you’re imposing the worst of yourself on an innocent toddler. You’re ruining your son’s life! Dufas.”
“So, it’s my fault he’s not potty trained?,” I said.
She heard, “You are a terrible mother who coddled your child into desolate isolation! If you would stop carrying him around, and put him down once in a while, maybe there’s still a chance that we won’t have to hire a nanny to potty train him in his college dormitory.”
My wife said, “Maybe if you would clean the bathroom once in a while, he might actually want to use it!”
I heard, “Not only are you a dumb-as-a-rock freeloader, you’re also a disgusting, filthy pig! I have work like a dog to cover expenses. Then I have to come home and clean this marginally inhabitable pigsty that you and your son like to desecrate. And, he gets a pass because he’s a baby!”
The Argument Ends
The downward, argumentative spiral continued for another half hour. We survived the communication-free debacle and, to the best of my knowledge, are still happily married.
I’m madly in love with my amazing wife. Fortunately, she feels the same way. Still, we perceive the world through very different lenses.
Those lenses, those acculturated habits inform our subjectivity. We rarely see things as they actually are.
I wasn’t arguing with her. I was arguing with myself.
I took her emotionally charged words and, in real time, crafted a fictional narrative. I, quite literally, made up a story that fit nicely into the negative, emotional bubble that I was living in (at that moment).
There was no way to “work the whole thing out”. There was no way to talk through our differences. We were two, temporarily deranged, irrational souls hopelessly squabbling about nothing.
We really didn’t need each other’s input because we were fighting with our worst selves.
If Only It Wasn’t All About Me
In retrospect the argument was pretty funny. Thirty minutes into the brouhaha we came to our senses, recognized the absurdity and, soon after acknowledged the unintended comicality.
We were fortunate. Others are not.
It’s easy, so frustratingly convenient to avoid the truth, especially when the truth is uncomfortable.
It takes effort, concentration and moderate self awareness to recognize and acknowledge that you’re your own problem.
In the short term, it would be so much easier if my problems with my wife were actual problems with my wife. I wouldn’t have to do anything to fix them. They would be her problems.
Yet, every problem I have with her is my problem. That means a lot more work for me today. More importantly, it means a richer, happier, more loving and more gratifying relationship with my wife tomorrow.