Earlier in my marriage Dale and I would find ourselves fencing along the same corridor. We still have arguments that sound like same song, second verse.
Dale feels misunderstood, because I assume he’s trying to hurt me.
I feel annoyed and un-listened to because he’s assumed the requests aren’t top priority.
I’ll be full steaming ahead to make a really good point, when Dale will stop and say,
“Do you think I would have done that, said that, meant that, to hurt you?”
My husband is not the kind of person who would hurt me, not on purpose.
It’s been years since Dale’s introduced this pause into our arguments, but only recently my therapist put it more clearly, “First of all,” she said, “Remember that you’ve married a wonderful person.”
True and easy to agree with most days.
But in the fiery frustration of the moment it’s much easier to assume he left the papers out because he knew it would bother me. I mean, why else would he do it?!
To believe the worst, to imagine he’s plotting to annoy me, to think the most incriminating backstory, to fail to offer Dale the benefit of the doubt comes easily to me. It’s the rut I fall into most naturally.
But the times I’ve told him, “Okay, I know you would never do this intentionally to hurt me, but I was wondering (insert request here),” our conversation burst with mutual understanding and even a few grins thrown in.
Now, how does my friendship with Dale apply to girlfriends?
I wish I could say this lesson is easily applicable to girl friends. But I’ve known girls who hurt their friends on purpose: the longtime friend who snubs you at the reunion, the sister who pokes the sore topic, the colleague who drops casual hints that prove her higher pay grade. I once told a friend, “What you said really hurt me!”
“Good!” she returned. I was completely baffled at her outright animosity. Later, I learned she had felt hurt by me (unintentionally, but still) and was returning in-kind.
Girls do know how to hurt on purpose. But I don’t think good friends sow seeds of malicious hurt. In fact this might be a good way to distinguish a good friend from a frenemy. If they hurt me I can bank on them doing it unintentionally. For instance, I’ve had long time, safe friends confront me. They’ve hurt me, but not on purpose. Their loving, humble, careful approach in asking me to consider something, with freedom and openness to hear my side speaks louder than my hurt.
Girl friends that I will keep near me do not hurt on purpose.
A few months ago a childhood friend, call her Lavinia, told her husband about a personal failing (PF) I shared in confidence. Her husband, unaware of the secrecy of the PF relayed the story to a mutual friend, who I’d rather not know about my PF.
The day Lavinia realized what she had done, she called me.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, “What can I do to remedy this situation?”
Taking a cue from arguments with Dale, I had to ask myself questions:
- Was Lavinia trying to hurt me?
- Did this harm my ability to trust Lavinia in the future?
- Was this a pattern of Lavinia’s in the past?
To each question I had to answer no.
Lavinia is a wonderful friend, someone whose heart is true, who is for me. Someone I can gladly extend the benefit of the doubt.
So I told her so, “I know you didn’t do this to hurt me or make me look bad. Thank you for telling me what happened, for wanting to make amends. But it’s okay. I don’t see this as a make or break moment in our friendship.”
I could hear her sigh of relief into the phone. After we chatted for a few more minutes I hung up and thought about how Dale had offered me the training wheels to easily coast into this moment.
I hopped off the chair to go find him and give that wonderful guy a big hug.