Sometime in our late thirties, my husband Art and I were having a conversation over a difference of opinion. It was nothing major““I don’t even recall the topic, but I certainly remember our then-teen-age daughter stating, she didn’t like it when we fought. I responded we were merely talking about options, and if we don’t occasionally have different opinions, one of us wasn’t thinking. I wanted her to understand that everyone has the right to an opinion and to have that opinion heard. We were’t fighting, but she thought we were. Perhpas that’s because we were generally agreeable and had seldom expressed anger““at least in front of the kids.
And perhaps that’s because, as a young woman, I saw my role as keeping the peace in any situation. That meant soothing over mishaps, managing everything perfectly and usually going along with what others wanted. My husband was also a peacekeeper so our relationship was placid, calm and outwardly loving. The problem was““this kept us from being totally honest with one another.
Although he didn’t say much when something went wrong according to his bible, I felt the discontent in his body language. He appeared uptight, shook his head vehemently or lapsed into silence. Being particularly tuned into body language, I immediately felt guilty or secretly angry and blamed him for my discomfort.
Sometime along the line I finally realized¦
…I am not the keeper of the world’s contentment.
…I can manage only my emotions and feelings.
…I’m not to blame when someone reacts negatively to an event.
…I will sometimes mess up, but the world probably will not end because of it.
Our relationship has grown over many years of marriage, and I think the above conclusions have made a tremendous contribution to that growth.
However, when Art first retired, we were still playing a version of the game, Peace At Any Cost, but it wasn’t working so well now that we were together 24/7. He was slightly frustrated over the state of retirement““and I was frustrated by his frustration. Eventually we knew we had to confront the situation. When we did, we learned more about ourselves and one another than we could possibly have imagined.
Why I thought he blamed me for his frustration is beyond my comprehension now that we’ve sorted things out and can only guess that my tendency to feel guilty about his initial retirement unhappiness was assisted by my female genes. On Art’s part““he saw that he could practice more patience and tolerance over events that don’t really matter. When those events do matter, however, he expresses his feeling verbally rather than withdrawing or showing annoyed body language.
The freedom and joy this change has brought is astronomical. I still do my share of messing up, but I’m no longer afraid of doing it. When it happens, I say, oops, and move on. If it bothers him, he’ll generally talk about it. If instead he backtracks to negative body language, I demand to know what he sees as the problem. Either way we have good conversations that make us feel ok with the situation, with ourselves and with one another.
Today I know that honesty with ourselves and others makes life better because we learn to accept our foibles and realize that we’re not as bad, clumsy, dumb…you fill in the blanks…as we thought we were. How much more I can give to the world now that I don’t spend my days trying to sooth over everyone’s feelings.
It took me more than a few years to internalize what I told my daughter many years ago, but I’m happy to have finally““and fully““come to that realization.
Editor’s Note: Visit Nora’s Blog at www.surviveyourhusbandsretirement.com