Author Interview, Part One
Some of the advice in Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby is pretty standard stuff. Some of it, however, is not. Here, a short Q and A that follows the lessons in the book that might help clarify a few of the more nuanced suggestions.
Lesson: Change Your Story
What if my partner is regularly rude, selfish and impatient? Should I still change my story about him?
What do you mean by regularly? Does your partner treat you well most of the time? Do you usually feel good when you’re around him? Does he bring much more happiness than unhappiness to your life? Is he holding up his end of the bargain? These are the questions you need to answer. Only you.
But maybe he really is just a bad person.
He’s not a bad person. He’s just a person. Sometimes people appreciate you, and other times, they get annoyed and look for someone to blame. When you relax your character judgments, you see more clearly. You are more able to make decisions about your relationship based on your needs, your feelings and your mental health.
Lesson: Don’t Fight. Just Talk Instead.
My husband suffers from chronic depression and anxiety. It isn’t unusual for him to be in a bad mood as soon as he gets home from work. What is the best way to handle a bad temper?
First, don’t be afraid of your husband. Anger is often about control. Sometimes people yell because they feel out of control of a situation and want to merely let out the frustration they feel. Other times they yell as a way to intimidate others into letting them have their way. This is not a judgment; we all do it, and most of us do it regularly. However, anger is a sign of weakness. Yelling is the weak person’s way to feel strong. Know this, and know this with compassion.
Second, don’t respond to anger. Say nothing—nothing at all. Don’t apologize for or justify your partner’s temper, either to others or to yourself. Don’t pretend you agree with his perspective or placate him. Just let him be. Fully accept, embrace and acknowledge that this is not a good or justifiable quality, but merely a common one.
Say nothing. Let the silence be not a resentful one, though, but one that comes from a deep sense of self-respect; a caring, dignified silence.
A lot of the time, that’s what I do. I just ignore it and let it go. Other times I engage with him—either to agree with him and make him feel better or to defend myself, if the anger is directed at me.
No sometimes. Just don’t engage at all in that moment. No response, other than a blanket statement like, “I hear you,” and that only if he specifically asks for it. He will be astounded at your self-control. And self-control trumps an attempt at controlling others any day.
But then how will anything get solved? How will we work through the problem?
If the problem is just his problem—his anger problem—there is nothing at all for you to do other than offer an example of another way of being, praying for him, and suggesting he get outside help if needed. If the problem is a family or relationship one, simply wait to discuss it when neither of you are upset. It’s a lot more fun that way, and much more productive, too.
What about expressing your anger? Isn’t doing so a hugely important thing to do for your own mental health?
Admitting your anger to yourself is, I believe, hugely important. But talking about it with other people is often unnecessary (except in a self-controlled, reasonable way). Imagine being the kind of person who is able to deal with all of her negative feelings internally, who doesn’t blame others for it or play the victim. Do you like that image of yourself? Maintaining your self-respect is reason enough to observe your pain in your own quiet heart rather than exploding at your partner.
One night after dinner I asked my husband to help me with the dishes. He said he would, then started doing them, but after a little while he stopped. I finished sweeping the floor, then started getting the baby ready for her bath. Then I asked my husband if he was going to finish the dishes. He said, “You said you were going to help but never did.” I said, “Can’t you see that I’ve been cooking and cleaning for over an hour?” He never finished the dishes or apologized. Now I’m mad at him. What do I do?
Why did you ask him to help you with the dishes, if what you really wanted was for him to do the dishes? Maybe this was just a communication issue. Say exactly what you want, even if the request is less attractive that way. If you want, tell him what you will do, too. Something like, “Can you do the dishes, Hon, so I can finish sweeping up and get the baby in the bath?”
Your fight wasn’t about whether or not he did the dishes. Your fight was about your feeling unappreciated or unloved. Know the difference, and deal with the real issue first. Tell him that you don’t feel loved in this moment, and ask him to acknowledge all the work you were doing.
Remember: Always assume his motives are good. Don’t start the inner monologue about his lack of character. And don’t hear insults where insults aren’t spoken. Instead, hear need— tiredness, stress, sadness—or just his desire to feel loved, too.
Lesson: Apologize Every Chance You Get
The other day, I was a jerk. I said some things I regret, and don’t know how to forgive myself and move on. Any advice?
I know how you feel. There are a handful of slammed doors behind me, too. Did you ask your partner to forgive you yet? If not, do. Some of the tenderest moments in relationships come after fights and sincere apologies.
After that, take apart the argument. Pull the meat from the bone. What is the important stuff here? What do you need to do differently next time to avoid the argument? Do you need to renegotiate something? Time to look forward.