There it was, lying in the middle of my path—a stumbling block. I could either do the same thing or do something different. This time I saw an opportunity to practice a new behavior.
Husband #2 and I were dealing with an old relationship issue via phone call. He wanted to tell me about something that upset him, something that I innocently said in email that caused him pain. Yet he couldn’t get the words out. I didn’t know what was going on, only that my buttons were being pushed. He was frustrated but voicing his feelings was not possible.
I don’t know what it was that prompted me to change the subject, but I did. The only thing I knew is that I wasn’t going to stumble and fall on the half-buried emotional rock in front of me.
The conversation was turned to happy subjects, like our upcoming cruise travel and a future dinner date. The phone call continued for 50 more minutes and we said our goodbyes.
We have our dances of habit. Husband #2 and I have predictable ways of interacting when we start spiraling downward. This time was different. I noticed the edge of the vortex before tripping over it and falling flat on my face into the depths. This time, I just stubbed my toe on the edge and decided to walk around the pit instead.
Two steps forward, one step back…
I wonder if personal growth looks like that from above. Cutout footprints that show the steps, kind of like you see in dance classes. Left foot here, right foot there. One, two, one, two. One, two, three, four. Move to the beat. Follow the flow of the music.
The shapes of steps on the dance floor are there to lead the novice. Those cutouts are used to guide the learner and teach the correct way to step. Personal growth isn’t like that. The steps aren’t so clear and sometimes even the dance is a mystery.
Cha cha cha…
Husband #2 called me later the same day to tell me of his distress. This took place 5 hours later.
At first I was discouraged. Once again, something happened to upset him (it really doesn’t matter what, there was no ulterior motive, the slight was unintentional) and rather than speak up, he kept his upset inside. The status quo. Keep it inside for days, weeks, forever and withhold true feelings.
One step back…
Then I stepped back and decided to shift my perspective. He didn’t withhold his true feelings forever, for weeks, or even for days. Husband #2 spoke up about his feelings after only a few hours of gathering up the courage to approach me.
Two steps forward…
I changed my response to Husband #2 as well. In the past, I would have explained how my remark was not intended to hurt him, maybe he was too sensitive. But this time I listened and asked for more information and thanked him for sharing.
After a couple of days, I called him. I shared my feelings of initial frustration. I shared with him my change of attitude toward his delayed proclamation. I shared with him my sense of accomplishment over 1) not falling into the same patterns of behavior during our first phone call and 2) empathetically listening to his point of view during the second phone call. I also told him how I noticed him speaking up about his feelings of hurt.
I can’t say that things were rosy and warm during that latest phone conversation, but I got out what I wanted to say and wished him a good day.
Two steps forward…
At this rate, I may end up trying the tango.