In Boundaries in Marriage: Understanding the Choices That Make or Break Loving Relationships, Dr. Henry Cloud recalls a therapy session with Caroline and Joe, a couple who sought counseling because they couldn't stop arguing.
When prompted to explain why they argued so much, Caroline said it was because Joe was angry all the time, gets mad at her, and is so mean.
Dr. Cloud responded by swinging his head over to Joe. “Why do you get so mad?” he asked.
“Because she always tries to control me and my life,” Joe responded immediately.
Dr. Cloud then whooshed his head towards Caroline, sensing he was about to witness “a game of Ping-Pong.”
“Why do you try to control him?” he asked Caroline.
“Because he is so into his own things that I can’t get his time or attention,” she replied.
On and on it went.
Back and forth. Back and forth.
“Why do YOU,” Dr. Cloud asked.
“Because HE” or “because SHE” Caroline or Joe responded.
Neither took ownership of their actions or reactions. It was always because of the other person.
Dr. Cloud “longed for Joe to say, for example, ‘I get angry at her because I’m too immature to respond to her more helpfully. I’m deeply sorry for that and need some help. I want to be able to love her correctly no matter what her behavior is. Can you help me?’”
Only 19 pages into the book and he’s already reading my mail. And helping me immensely in this path to becoming a better husband.
For years my response to any “why do you” question began with “because she.”
Why do I get mad when my wife asked me why I worked longer hours than anyone else in the office?
Because she doesn't understand. When others were getting laid off across the entire industry, I was getting busier and handling larger and larger projects. This is what you need to do to be successful and what I needed to do to take care of my family. If she would just understand, support me and leave me alone I could probably get it done faster and home sooner. But I'm so stressed out because I know she's going to be upset with me that I end up working more often.
In retrospect, the real answer was:
Because I am scared to set boundaries at work. I know she loves me and is going to unhappily tolerate being pushed down the priority list (for a while at least). But my work has made no commitment to me like she has. The job market is tough and this is the primary source of income for our family. In reality, I'm pretty freaked out by this whole “sole financial provider” thing for a growing family.
I've had this conversation dozens, if not hundreds of times.
She'd ask me why I worked so much more than the others.
I'd blame “the job market” and her.
If only I had owned the issue and initiated a healthy conversation with her about how freaked out I have been at times about the “sole financial provider” thing…
But I didn't.
And a few years later I'm writing a book called Confessions of a Terrible Husband….
I'm pretty sure there's a connection there. 🙂
There's still time to sign up to download the book for free before it goes on sale. This is an issue I explore in greater detail there. It's been one of the most enlightening and effective mind shifts since this process began. Here's how to get on the list.
Is your natural reaction to deflect? To blame others?
Do you have an action or reaction that you blame on your spouse or someone else?
What would it look like if you owned that behavior?
What's your “Because I” answer?