The funny thing about a long term relationship is that you get to experience the great pendulum swing that happens when two people share a space and a life for a period of time. Sometimes the pendulum swings in the direction of deep connection, humor and passion. Sometimes the pendulum swings in the other direction and it's not very much fun. Add in some financial instability, parenting and lots of daily stress and sometimes the pendulum seems to get stuck in the polar opposite of the sweet space.
Last night, the pendulum got a little stuck in that other direction. Well, more than a little stuck. More like super-glued.
The details of how an argument gets started are rarely important. A look misinterpreted; a too long pause before responding, a simple gesture taken too personally. It doesn't really matter what pulls the pendulum away from the love at the center of a relationship.
In our case, it was a plastic bag. A plastic bag filled with glass beads and other items that had been left on the coffee table. I was working on my computer and Jack picked up the bag. I asked him to leave it and that I would put it away when I was done. Jack picked it up again and then kind of crumpled it. I responded with annoyance in my tone. "Please don't, there are glass beads in there and you'll break them."
See? The details are insignificant and really dull. But the result was a heated hour that followed the case of the crumpled plastic bag with words thrown back and forth at rapid speed and with little thought. Sigh.
The thing about our relationship is that we are talkers. Or, as we've been labeled, "verbal processors." For close to 30 years we've been verbally processing and we especially love to talk when the pendulum swings in the other direction. We will talk an argument into at least five other arguments with so much speed that we have a hard time remembering with the originating argument was even about. Kind of funny and really silly.
After lots of years of this, we decided it was time to get some professional help. One of the first things our therapist told us was that we both talk too much. That was quite the moment, when our therapist, a person trained to help people like us talk through their issues, tells us that we talk too much. It was probably the only quiet moment in our time with this therapist, as we all sat there dumbfounded.
But back to the crumpled bag argument. We did realize we had lapsed into our habit of talking too much and that we were both invested in not only trying to be right, but in proving the other person wrong, a pretty universal condition of arguing.
Maybe it was because it was really late, or perhaps something inside of me had just shifted, but I blurted out, "We should begin every argument with one question - do I need to be right?" Again, not an earth-shaking realization, but in that moment, saying those words stopped these two world-class talkers in our tracks.
We asked each other that question and the answer for both of us was NO. Neither of us needed to be right and the argument could be let go of without feeling like we'd given in. There was nothing left to say.
I'll never give up being a talker, no matter what any therapist or anyone else says, and certainly not in my relationship. Our talking has taken us to the deepest places in our imagination and in our love. Our talking has shaped us as parents and in our children's high level of articulation. Our talking represents how much we care about our relationship and how hard we will fight to keep intact.
If our talking is the way we swing our relationship pendulum back toward the passion, the humor and life-long connection, as well as to the everyday center it usually settles at, then so be it.
I'm happy to give up being right. Just don't expect me to stop talking.