Berating Your Beloved
There are so many times when we believe the person we committed our life to should do something but doesn't. It happens even in the best of marriages.
After Brenda bought Christmas gifts for all of Gary's nieces and nephews, she was dumbfounded that he refused to even accompany her to her cousin's caroling party.
When Gillian grew up, all the men in the neighborhood raked leaves on Saturdays in the fall. Giovanni watched football instead. She knew the deadline for the town's pickup was coming up soon, and she was panicked.
Bart thought it was not at all unreasonable to expect sex with his wife, Monica, at least once a week, but she had a different excuse every time he tried.
When Rashid's wife went out, leaving him with the baby, he wanted to know exactly when to expect her back. Even when she was willing to name a time, it seemed to mean nothing to her. She came home when she was good and ready. By then, he was seething.
Our beliefs about what should happen are every bit as responsible for our anger as their actions. Those actions would not upset us if it were not for what we expected should happen.
Unless we are open to the possibility that our expectations are wrong, we are in great danger of berating our beloved for wrong actions. First we expect them to see things our way, then we expect them to understand that our meanness and wiser-than-you attitude are warranted by breaking rules they knew nothing about.
Brenda's Gary sees buying gifts and attending parties as things you do if you feel like doing them, not as obligations. Why would he feel obligated to do something he won't enjoy just because Brenda did something she felt like doing? The berating will come as an unhappy surprise to him, and it will surely get tacked onto his feelings about her cousin.
In Giovanni's neighborhood, leaves were used for compost and mulching. No one picked them up before all were on the ground. And when it was time to move the leaves, everyone from grandma to three-year-old toddlers joined in and made a fun time of it. Gillian's sulking and unkind behavior will ruin both his football game and the leaf cleanup for him.
Bart's wife does not see sex as an obligation. She says no when she doesn't feel in the mood, and she hardly ever feels in the mood since he stopped pursuing her. If he berates Monica for not punching the ticket often enough, she'll be even less interested. And she really, really misses wanting to make love to her man.
If Rashid berates his wife for being late, it will be an unpleasant surprise for her. She cannot imagine anyone who takes care of a baby even occasionally not understanding the joy of being out from under schedules and demands for a few hours.
So what can any of them, or any of us, do when we're furious about our dashed expectations? We can Assume Love.
Assume Love does not mean tell yourself, "I'm sure my beloved meant no harm." It won't work. You're working from a belief about how the world works that says in no uncertain terms that you are getting a raw deal.
What Assume Love means is to ask yourself, "What might lead a good person who loves me a lot to do this odd and annoying thing to me?" If you get really stuck and cannot think of things like the second set of stories above, try asking, with love, for the explanation.
For example, Bart might ask, "Is anything making sex less interesting for you now than it used to be?"
Gillian might ask, "I am getting anxious about the leaves, but you don't seem to be. What makes them less anxiety-provoking for you?"
Rashid might ask, "I notice you have a hard time scheduling your time away. Is the lack of a schedule something that's important to you?"
Brenda might ask, "How do you decide whether or not to attend a party? I get the feeling it's pretty different from my way, and I would like to understand it better."
Berating your beloved won't bring you closer together, and there is no set of rules that will ever make your relationship more enjoyable than it is when you feel close. Save it for a last resort, when you feel so distant that you need to set a protective boundary around yourself. Until then, Assume Love and see if you can't change your upsetting belief about what happened by getting a little closer to the truth.