At some point I’ll get around to writing about my recently acquired habits. Because much to my surprise, I have! Acquired a few habits that I’d wanted, that is. But it’s past 9:30pm, I have to get up early in the morning to go teach camping, and the other chief reason I’m writing is because I’m waiting for the ground meat to cool. (Pre-cooking is a smart camping strategy.)
Tonight My Sweetie and I were out at our congregation’s semi-quarterly “Night Out,” which is part of our MarriedPeople thang. They’re fun times to chill out with other couples; we’ve met a whole bunch of different couples we wouldn’t ordinarily run into and had many happy evenings that way. Plus one of the times My Sweetie learned how to ride a Hippety-Hop… a little more alarming an experience than he was hoping for, but he didn’t break his tailbone, so all’s well that ends well, right?
“Night Out” specializes in half-serious table topics. Questions that have enough meat on them to spend some time sharing, but not so deep that new friends (acquaintances) are uncomfortable speaking about them. Tonight’s batch included
What’s the best—or strangest—marriage advice you’ve gotten?
We were quiet at the time, but talked it over in the car on the way home: neither of us remembers getting any marriage advice in our nearly 25 years of wedded-ness. Perhaps because My Sweetie had been married before? Maybe because both of us had been in therapy prior to getting married. Though that doesn’t explain the continued absence of suggestions in the years following!
As other couples were sharing their received advice with the larger group, I did think of advice I’d gotten that has profoundly affected how I do my marriage. How I do all my relationships, actually—including and particularly parenting. And guess what? No one gave me this advice. I plucked it from a work-story My Sweetie brought home during the first years of our life together. It was advice one of his division vice-presidents gave to a young person, a “fresh-out,” as we called them.
Is this the hill you want to die on?
Someday I’ll likely tell the story here, because even though I tell it second-hand it’s a great story. But for the purposes of advice-giving, and getting enough sleep before ‘camping’ all day, I’m just going to tell you how I use it.
In any relationship, there are exchanges / interchanges / conversations that go sidewise. Or plummet south. And there you are, getting angrier and angrier (if it’s going south) or more and more confused (sidewise), and you just want this person to understand… and/or do The Thing. So your inclination is to speak more forcefully. To lean in, and not in the Sheryl Sandberg way. Maybe even to start magnifying how you’re feeling, or amplifying the (negative) consequences.
Ask yourself: when this exchange is over, what do I want on the other side? What’s my preferred outcome? Will what I’m doing get me there?
Is this an issue that I feel so strongly about that, even though the exchange is about to go to a dark place, I will not budge? And the likelihood of scorched earth is immaterial to what I’m doing? Is this the hill I want to die on?
For me, there have been very few. I remember them all vividly.
I remember telling twelve-year-old A that she was absolutely not permitted to stay in the house while the rest of the family went to Houston for the weekend. That she was going to get in the minivan, and be with the rest of us while we got a McDonald’s breakfast that she did not want. She and I ended up rolling around on the kitchen floor, my arms wrapped tightly around her, her arms flailing around behind her to scratch me like an angry cat. I remember being terrified, not knowing what else I could do, but not being able to see any ways through to the other side that didn’t look like this. I outlasted her; she finally slumped in my arms, emotionally exhausted, and we climbed in the van and drove away.
That was a hill I felt I needed to die on.
Most exchanges? Not so much.
It’s much easier, I think, to figure out what truly matters and what can, after all, be flexed
if one first asks that question.