One Sunday afternoon my husband came home from spending some time with some of his friends. They had been comparing home improvement projects, and he told me about an idea they had for our floors upstairs, a project my husband and I had been thinking about.
I suddenly felt annoyed—perhaps I was tired, sick of the lingering cold weather, or just stressed out—and I snapped at my husband, saying, “Sometimes I think you talk more to your friends than you do with me.”
It was completely uncalled for, and he gave me a look of utter shock but didn’t say anything. I tried to just brush it off as the effect of being tired and didn’t say anything more about it. But it gnawed at me for the weeks that followed.
I don’t usually fight with people, but sometimes my temper is brought out by things like stress or fatigue. My family are the unfortunate victims of such uncharitable and heated remarks like the one I threw at my husband. But what makes them worse is that I never apologize for them. I’ve been conditioned not to.
My family has a very bad habit of not talking about the bad things that happen: my dad’s temper, how bad we may feel about a relative’s death, or the occasional heated argument. It’s taboo to open up about it, and so we just never talked about things like that.
But I could feel that brushing aside the hurtful comment I’d lobbed at my husband was distancing us from each other. While I’d been conditioned to ignore the bad things, I also knew it creates a gulf between people. I didn’t want to bring a terrible habit like that into our marriage. And I wanted to heal the hurt I’d caused him.
So one night a couple of days later, I apologized to him. I did it like you might tear off a bandage, just a quick, “I’m really sorry for snapping at you the other day.”
With that the dam was broken, and it was easier to talk about it. I hugged him and said, “I didn’t mean it, but you didn’t deserve what I said.” He said it was OK and that he understood. He responded so quickly that I wondered if he was simply trying to avoid talking about about it. I wanted to make sure he wouldn’t harbor any ill feelings.
“It’s OK to tell me I hurt you,” I assured him. I was hoping it would feel like the gulf between us had closed up, but it didn’t. And I had a sneaking suspicion he wasn’t as honest with me as he seemed.
My husband has been trained to ignore bad things the same way I have, and sure enough, that’s what he did with my snapping incident. A few days later he brought it up again in the way he usually does when he’s trying to say something without being hurtful—he made a joke about it. It wasn’t mean, just his way of trying to be open. “Oh, you were hurt by it!” I said miserably, and to my horror I saw tears in his eyes. He finally admitted that yes, he had been hurt.
Now that we were both being honest, we had a much more constructive talk about the incident. I told him how important it is for him to be honest with me when I hurt him and to not brush it off—I sort of had to give him permission to call me out when I need to be. I know he fears to because he wants to avoid a fight. But the alternative of not saying anything is so much worse because it will only distance us from each other, and bad feelings will fester.
I know changing a lifetime of brushing aside the bad to keep the peace will require more than one conversation. It will require kindness, patience, and encouragement. But I prefer the clean air to the gulf that ignoring bad things can build.