“The aim of an argument, or of a discussion, should not be victory, but progress.” Joseph Joubert
I’ve seldom let anyone inside one of our arguments. They are too painful even if we say it’s about hair, which this one was. Of course, hair is not what escalates the argument and it’s not what causes the pain. The argument and the pain escalate because of the never-ending cycle of being unheard, which is how I feel, and misunderstood, which is how John feels.
I’ve listened to enough friends talk about arguments with their spouses to know we’re having some of the same ones and with the same undercurrents. Dissecting one of ours may help all of us improve how we deal with conflict.
For a decade, I’ve cut my own hair. I shaved the back and sides with clippers and used scissors to style the front. In the fall, I decided I wanted a little length on my hair since it’s graying. I reconnected with my hairdresser from 10 years back. It took until two months ago to settle on a style I really love. She shaves the back and sides and blends in the longer hair on top. It grows fast, so it only takes days for it to look shaped instead of shaved.
What Happened At Home
John and I planned to go to dinner the same evening as my perfect haircut. I showered, styled my hair, and was ready to go when he came through the backdoor. Instead of saying what I hoped for, “You look great. I love your hair,” he just stared at me, then put down his keys and wallet.
“Why aren’t you saying anything about my hair? Don’t you like it?” I said.
“Oh, I like it, but …” and here’s where it usually turns out that he’s misunderstood and I’m not heard.
Here is what he said, “Oh, I like it, but did you want it that short? I thought you were growing it out.”
I thought, All these years I’ve worn my hair much shorter and he’s calling this short? I guess he really hated it back then.
What He Said
Instead of offering reassurance that he liked my hair, which is what I wanted, he argued …
“I didn’t want to come home to this.”
“And I didn’t want to talk about your hair. I wanted to go to dinner and have a good time. I think your hair looks fine.”
“Anyhow, why are you making a big deal over your hair now? You’ve worn it a lot shorter and I didn’t care, so why would I say anything now?”
What I Heard
“I don’t care about you or your hair. I wish you’d shut up about all of it.”
Since John prefers to ignore conversations that are unpleasant and I prefer to let him have his way, we both contributed to where we ended up this week.
Sometimes it seems less painful to halt communication. It doesn’t fix anything to ignore what’s seething below the surface, but it does keep us from having to talk about what hurts.
So, instead of healing, we’ve lived for two months with thoughts like I hope she doesn’t bring up her hair again and He hates my hair.
How To Fix It
First, let me tell you what won’t fix it. I used to tell John what he did wrong, instead of telling him how I felt. Every sentence out of my mouth started with “you.” I had no intention of telling the “enemy,” which is how I’ve labeled him when we’ve fought, anything as intimate as my emotions.
What does fix it is talking about my feelings. The more I share about how I feel, the easier it is to share and even show some emotion. That’s a lot of progress for me since I used to hate crying in front of anyone, especially John.
John concedes he wants to stop his habit since childhood of arguing and defending himself. He wants to get in touch with how he genuinely feels instead of giving into feeling sorry for himself because he thinks it’s unfair that I heard something he didn’t say. He said, “I want to learn to listen to why your feelings are hurt even if I didn’t mean to hurt them. And then I want to talk about how I feel.”
As uncomfortable as it is sometimes, when we talk about our own feelings instead of telling how the other person hurt us, we end up seeing the pain we’re causing each other. These conversations help move us toward what we pray for each night – that we are saner and softer.
What This Has To Do With A Friday Blog Post
I was in bed all day on Thursday, the day I usually post.
I got my hair cut this week. Since we had not resolved “what he said, what I heard” from two months ago, I made myself sick. Louise Hay’s book, You Can Heal Your Life, includes a chart of physical ailments along with their emotional counterparts. I’ve lived by this book for 15 years to keep from getting sick or to figure out why I am. I suffered for 24 hours with a fever (she says it indicates anger), chills (a desire to retreat), aches (longing to be held), and a cough (barking “listen to me”). Yep, every symptom I had fit every emotion I felt.
My day in bed was the culmination of our marriage-long pattern …
I think if John doesn’t want to hear what I have to say, I don’t have the right to say it.
This pattern has nearly ended our relationship. It’s made me sick more times than I’ve realized until now. It’s kept us from feeling emotionally safe and emotionally free. And this week, it’s ruined my Fitbit placement. In other words, this argument was a big deal. And it had nothing to do with my hair.
I hope untangling our latest argument helps some of you since the first step to changing lifelong patterns is understanding them. The second step is sharing what’s going on with safe people who can help. (Thank you, Jenine, for being safe, loving, and supportive. Thank you to my readers for offering the same. I hope you’ll feel free to share here if you need a place to tell what’s going on.) The third is actually making the changes.
John apologized yesterday afternoon for being hard to talk to and I apologized for not talking anyway. To make up for it, he’s taking my Fitbit to work with him and racking up some steps.
In This Together,
On the side: Joel Carter, I can’t thank you enough for allowing me to use your photography and for brightening Facebook daily with your talent.