One night a couple of weeks ago I told my husband about my morning with our son as I bustled around getting ready for bed. My son goes to preschool two days a week and lately he hasn’t been thrilled about going, especially after his 5-day “weekend.”
My son told me on the way to school that he didn’t want to go, that he’d rather stay home and play with me. I told him I had appointments to keep so he had to go to school. When we got there, we walked outside to the playground and found his friends and his teachers.
“He just walked away from me then,” I told my husband. “Like he knew I wasn’t going to help him so he was resigned to his fate.”
My husband’s immediate response? “Is that really how you want to think about leaving him at school?”
My first thought was: Don’t try to coach me.
Then I thought: Why can’t you just listen for a few seconds before you start problem-solving?
I didn’t say anything else. I had been on a roll, planning to tell him how when I picked our son up he wanted to stay longer, and what a good day he had. But I just stopped talking. I shut down.
I didn’t do it consciously, but I realized later I made myself emotionally unavailable to my husband—because he said something I didn’t like.
I continued to think about that moment, because it was really annoying and I don’t often feel annoyed these days so I wanted to figure out why I was so annoyed.
The question my husband asked was a really good question. I just didn’t want to hear it in that moment.
I wish I had said something like: “Can you listen for a few minutes before you coach me?”
Or: “I’d just like to wallow for a minute. Can you listen to it?”(And accepted his answer, whether it was “yes,” or “no.”)
But I didn’t. I got really quiet, stewed about it, then tried to figure out why I was so upset.
Now it’s a couple of weeks later and I don’t wish that conversation had gone differently than it did because I learned so much from it.
I learned that when my husband interrupts my story with a question about how I could have done something differently, I jump to the conclusion that he thinks I’m wrong—and then I jump to the conclusion that I am wrong or I did something wrong. All of these thoughts feel lousy.
When I feel lousy, I withdraw into myself.
I also learned that I don’t have to believe I’m wrong when he asks me a question. I could think a million thoughts in response to his question. I get to choose.
After coaching myself about this small moment in my daily life, I feel more at peace with the world and my husband. I’m more aware of some of my “automatic” thoughts in response to other people’s comments.
I’m more aware of my reaction to my husband’s—and others’—words, and more able to decide, in the moment, how I truly want to respond, rather than just reacting (usually defensively).
When do you react rather than respond to the people around you?