The other day I wrote a post about letting go of expectations, and forgiving and forgetting when expectations aren’t met.
As I expected, the responses were passionate. And some of the private responses I received suggested I should demand better from my spouse and encourage others to do the same.
But how? I know, maybe issue an ultimatum.
Because those work so well!
Sarcasm aside, I’d love it if I could give you an easy five-step process to getting your husband to stop doing all those annoying, stupid and things he does, but I can’t. You can talk, you can use lots of “I” messages, you can create a checklist, you can hold regular meetings, and yes, those things will probably help, but I can’t make any guarantees. So, what options do you have?
Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’m not excusing everything your husband has ever done to make you mad. I bet some of it really was wrong. But then, what about our screw-ups, which I assure you are plentiful whether we notice them or not? How do I want to be treated when I mess up or fall down on the job or just fail to live up to what I promised to be?
Of course, knowing we’re imperfect too doesn’t mean it’s always easy to move past resentment–far from it. We are all different, and I don’t think there’s any one-size-fits-all process. But I believe you can strengthen your forgiveness muscle, if you’re willing to be open, ask yourself tough questions, and most important, just keep trying. Here are some things I find help me shift my perspective:
1) Look at the big picture.
Yes, it’s crazy-making when your significant other doesn’t clean up after himself, or forgets over and over what time the kids’ school bus comes, or overdraws the checking account, or (insert whatever irresponsible or frustrating thing he does here.)
But I have found that I tend to see the stuff that’s right in front of me, and the things in my sphere of notice tend to be: children, cleanliness of house, work.
Jon’s sphere looks different. He notices things like whether there are batteries in the house and whether I’ve updated the security on my computer and whether or not the car has gas. I might not always notice his contributions because they aren’t in my sphere of priority. But that doesn’t mean his sphere doesn’t matter, too.
Our household responsibilities are not always divided up 50/50, and I think it’s unrealistic to expect they ever will be. Life just isn’t neat and tidy like that. Instead, sometimes I give more, and sometimes he gives more. There are a lot of little ways my husband chooses to make my life easier, without complaint, and a lot of stresses he takes on to make our lives better, whether I notice them or not. Sometimes it’s good to take a minute to notice.
2) Be first to apologize.
“But why should I apologize when he’s the one who…”
Because you’ll feel better after you do. Freer. Nicer. Happier.
Because even if you truly believe he’s wrong-er, chances are good you’re at least a little bit wrong, too.
Because apologies tend to have a thawing effect on those cold little hard-packed snowballs of resentment and anger we carry around.
Because if you apologize there is a very good chance he’ll stop feeling the need to clench up and defend himself and throwing his own icy snowballs.
It’s so hard to apologize, especially when we aren’t sure the other person deserves it. But the way I look at it, the apology isn’t just for them, it’s also for me. I need to recognize and acknowledge the part I played so I can move past it.
Apologizing makes us vulnerable, and that’s hard sometimes when we’re clinging tightly to our right-ness and hiding behind our anger. But as Sarah so wisely pointed out, “The single, most important thing that has made the difference in our lives is a willingness to be vulnerable.”
3) Ask yourself if this will matter in two days, ten days, a year, or ten years.
I’m guessing 90% of the time, it won’t even matter in two hours.
4) Let your spouse be who he is today, not who he was last month, last year, or last decade.
I have an issue with one of Dr. Phil’s favorite sayings: “The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior.” He may be right in a technical, cynical sense, but constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop doesn’t allow us to give others space to change and grow, and it robs us of the ability to trust. I’m not suggesting we all stick our heads in the sand, look past truly heinous behavior, or allow abusive patterns to continue, but at some point, if somebody is obviously trying and making changes, (even small, slow ones) we have to make a choice to trust unless faced with information that suggests we shouldn’t.
I believe that when you are really in tune with your instincts, you’ll know, on a gut level, if something major is off. Otherwise, go with the information you have at hand, today, right now. Refusing to allow somebody to change, or refusing to acknowledge that change out of fear, is no way to live or share a life with another human.
5) Choose your perspective.
Nobody can make you feel like a maid unless you choose to.
Your spouse’s failure to do the dishes does not necessarily mean he disrespects you.
It’s fair to notice and point out that the dishes aren’t done, but assigning a motive, or accusing others of casting us in a role we’ve created just breeds resentment.
6) Consider the alternatives.
The real alternatives, not the fantasy ones you’ve created in your head.
So, it’s totally unfair that your spouse keeps skipping out on the laundry. You keep talking, griping, pleading; but still, the piles grow and he doesn’t even seem to notice. What are your basic choices?
- Stop doing the laundry entirely and wait to see what happens
- Get somebody else to do the laundry
- Accept that you will be the one doing the laundry for now
- Divorce him
Which of these seems most reasonable?
Which is most likely to make you happy?
If the answer is “Divorce him,” have you really thought about what that would mean? (Single people still have laundry to do…)
If you think it through carefully and the answer is still “divorce him,” I’d suggest the problem is not really the laundry. Or the unmade bed. Or the dozens of other little things we use as scapegoats for what’s really going on. Dig deeper, and head to counseling posthaste.
Again, I want to be clear that there are issues that go way deeper than small resentments. Big stuff like adultery and chronic gambling and huge heartbreaking dishonesty. It’s not my place to tell you whether you should stay married or not, or whether your spouse can change or not.
But I can promise you that keeping small things in perspective and forgiving with a free heart will make you happier. Today. Right now.
Extending grace does not equal allowing ourselves to be treated badly, but it does mean allowing our significant others to be imperfect humans and loving them anyway–with whole hearts, not the grudging, resentful kind. Not just because they deserve it, but because WE deserve it. There is no joy in resentment. So if you can’t do it for him just yet?
Do it for yourself.