Joanna and I had what we would call a “healthy” discussion about what I decided to give up for Lent.
(OK, before we go on, because I know some of you are thinking it: “Why is Marv talking about Lent? We’re not Catholic.” No, but our sisters and brothers who follow the church year have much to offer. When we observe Lent, for example, we prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate Easter.)
Giving up complaining
So, I’m eating cereal and yogurt, and she’s brewing coffee on Ash Wednesday when I ask and tell: “Guess what I’m giving up for Lent this year? Complaining.”
Jo didn’t say anything. When you’ve been married almost 35 years and your spouse hears you but doesn’t answer, you know you’ve probably said something wrong. Maybe you don’t know that, but I do.
After a bit, Jo responded: “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Sometimes, complaining is venting, and you need to express frustrations. Otherwise, you hold it all in, and stress builds up, and that’s bad for you. I’m here for you, and you need to share with me.”
She had a point, and I agreed—to a point.
“You’re kinda right,” I said. “It’s good to name and describe our frustrations. Like last night, when I told you about all the pressure I feel with work. I described what’s going on and how I feel about it. I don’t think that’s really complaining. I’ll keep doing that. What I’m talking about is more like whining—griping about the weather and fussing about little irritations. I’m going to try to quit saying that stuff, because it shades my overall outlook and puts me in a bad mood.”
Jo didn’t say anything, which actually said a lot.
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“Hey, we can disagree,” I said, because my temperament hates a verbal vacuum.
Looking at things from different viewpoints
“Sure we can,” Jo said. And then she told me a story she heard on the radio. An expert on marital communication described a bit from comedian Louis CK. A guy buys his wife red roses, but she’s previously told him, repeatedly, she doesn’t like red roses. So, she gets annoyed because he doesn’t listen, and he gets aggravated because she doesn’t give him credit for trying to show her he loves her.
“The point the person on the radio made was that we get angry because we look at the same situation from different perspectives and don’t take the time to talk it out—to see the other’s viewpoint,” she said. “There’s a lot to that.”
I agreed. We’re paradoxically quite different and alike. We sometimes view things from opposite perspectives, but like most strong-minded people, we both always insist we’re right.
On that we agreed.
Not giving up on each other
Thank God, we also agree to talk things out. In fact, some of our moments of greatest growth toward each other happened as we butted heads but just kept talking until we understood each other.
“Hey, that’s one of the blessings of being married almost 35 years,” I said, remembering a podcast in which someone talked about appreciating a long-term marriage “because you know you’re not going to give up on each other.”
“And I’m not giving up on you,” Jo assured me.
Even though I’m still trying to give up complaining for Lent.