What can I do? Please, what can I do?
HUSBAND: I really don’t understand my wife. She has me completely baffled. Take the other morning for instance.
I was rudely awoken from a badly needed sleep by the children’s fighting. So I got up and walked into this pile of sheets. I just asked my wife what the sheets were doing in the corridor and reminded her that I had wanted to sleep a bit longer.
She was hurrying the children along in a rather loud voice so I simply suggested that it would be nice to have a happy and fun get-up time. She screamed at me, accusing me of criticizing her and then she ran to our room.
What did I do? I was just trying to be helpful. Why do women get so emotional over nothing?
Anyway, after a bit she came back into the kids’ room and offered to read to them after breakfast if there was time. The children started fighting over which book she would read. I wanted to help dress the children but their clothes were spread all over the floor and I couldn’t tell which was whose. So I asked her how the children could find their clothes. My wife went ballistic. She told me how she had got up so early to make this a good morning. Well, I ask you, isn’t it obvious that if you get up so early you’re bound to be over tired? People are always emotionally edgy when they are over tired. My wife went all quiet and icy and I went off to daven.
What I really don’t understand is what she has against my helpful comments. When people give me helpful suggestions, I thank them. Why? It shows that they care enough about me to try to help me. Yet my wife accuses me of criticizing her in front of the children. What nonsense. I would never do that!
“Pointing out” and raised voice; being helpful and feelings of misery are spiraling this couple into a vicious circle that is destroying their marriage. As a narrative therapist, I know that problems take on a life of their own, making their victims into puppets who inadvertently do the problems’ bidding. If the victim can be allowed to see the real nature of the problem and its effect on the marriage, then husband, wife and therapist can form a team to work together against the problem.
So let’s try something different. What if only the wife told her version of that morning, whilst her husband was listening to her? Listening, really listening with all his attention focused on her, with all his caring just for her. What might he answer if he was asked about what in her story rang a bell with him?
“I suppose we really both want the same thing. You know, a pleasant wake-up with happy chatter and fun and no raised voices.”
I might ask about raised voices to get that villain more in perspective: “What happens when ‘raised voices’ joins your conversations?”
“Raised voices are so infectious. Once one of us raises the volume it’s normally just a matter of a minute until we’re both hollering.”
“What might happen if you had a signal to catch the volume before it climbs too high?”
“Yeah, how about holding up a picture of a loud speaker?”
“What about just putting our fingers in our ears? No, the kids might start copying us.”
“We could just pretend to be turning the volume down.”
“Perhaps I’ll hold up a picture of a teacher in front of her class when you give me helpful comments.”
“I could show you a ‘be happy’ sign when you get too serious.”
“We could stop talking altogether and just use sign language.”
Once the problem and its ways become clear; once the jointly held values for the marriage become clear, then the couple can prepare their own “solvent.” Perhaps they can use humor like this couple did. Perhaps they will also decide to set aside a ‘pointing out” time over a cup of coffee and a slice of chocolate cake. The whole idea is that both spouses realize they are on the same side, planning and working out together their strategies for dealing with their “impurities.”