Ok, that is a classic joke/insensitive way to ask someone how the REST of their life is when they are going through tough times. It is silly, hurtful, and hopefully never uttered to the first lady or anyone in her shoes. Yet, it IS uttered everyday in a different form. It is one of four destructive ways that we respond poorly to emotional hurts. We don’t do them on purpose and they are tied to a lot of things in our own life. We have been conditioned to and have learned the ways that we respond to people who are hurting (very often, hurt by us). We have our excuses if not reasons for responding this way but it does not change the fact that these responses to hurt…hurt.
Allow me to use a very stereotypical example to make the analogy simple. A man comes home from work for what was supposed to be a special dinner. He is an hour late, dinner is cold, he didn’t call. The wife says, “Honey, I am hurt by your actions today. By being late I became really worried that you might not be ok. I began to worry that something was really wrong and when you didn’t call my mind began to wonder. The fact that you are ok and you didn’t call really makes me feel disrespected and not important to you. I made a special dinner for you which is now cold and ruined. I feel so unappreciated. I’m just really hurt.” I do realize that this type of explaining a hurt is rare but we are focusing on the responses today. We’ll get to how to express a hurt another day.
The first poor emotional response category is being “critical”. Responding this way the husband says, “That’s the problem with you. You are always worried about yourself. You haven’t even asked me how my day was. You don’t know anything about me or anything else that isn’t you. The world revolves around you in your little world. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. You are way too sensitive and frankly, you’re acting like a child. Grow up.” Needless to say (I hope) this doesn’t help the situation. This does not address her hurts. It does not help the wife to not feel alone. It certainly does not promote healing.
The second poor emotional response category is “selfish”. Here, the husband says, “You are hurt? Wait until you hear about my day! First of all, my boss was on me all day. Nothing I did was good enough and he was over my shoulder all day. He really doesn’t respect me. I swear he’s going to fire me. Furthermore, everyone on my team left early and I was left finishing all of THEIR assignments. Nobody there appreciates me. I broke my phone on my way out the door. If that wasn’t enough I got a speeding ticket on my way home trying to get to you. I have no idea how we can afford that ticket let alone replace my phone even if I don’t get fired. Then, I walk in the door to this?” While this response (again, we’re assuming that it’s true but even if he is embellishing) may communicate his hurts does it address hers? They are still there. Does it help her feel less alone? Does it promote healing? No, and in fact it makes things worse.
The third poor emotional response is the one I employ the most. It is called, “facts, logic and reason.” The husband quickly and curtly explains to his wife, “Honey, you know I didn’t mean to make you feel that way. Of course I remembered that tonight’s dinner was special. I got swamped at work and just buried my head to get it done. Then, as I was walking out the door to come home for this dinner that I was so excited about, my boss dumps a huge assignment on me that I had to get to right away. I busted my rear end to even get out of there when I did. Then, on my way out the door I dropped my phone when I went to call you and it broke. I then got pulled over on my way home which made me later.” Ah yes, all bases are covered. Is she still hurt? Does she still feel alone? Are they still broken in the moment? Yes.
Lastly, some of us choose a fourth poor emotional response. It is called “ignoring.” Here the husband simply says in response to his wife’s hurts, “So, what’s for dinner?” Yeah, you didn’t need me to tell you that the healing hasn’t been promoted by this chosen response. However, many still respond this way, literally and figuratively.
So, what is the proper way to respond to emotional hurts? Clearly, I’m not going to leave you convicted but not equipped right? Oh, by the way, make sure you are not just realizing how others respond to you as you read this but how you respond to others as well. Hmmmm, I hate to make such a long post but I’d like to give you some tools.
Ok, here we go. Seek to understand and not so much to be forgiven. To focus on understanding, you are addressing their hurts and feeling of being alone. To seek forgiveness makes it about you. Try to see how you’ve hurt the other person, regardless of the reason. They are not saying that you are a bad person or are evil, seeking their demise. They are trying to say how your actions have hurt them. It doesn’t matter WHY they are hurting. All that matter is THAT they are hurting. In the example above, the wife is feeling insecure (he was late and didn’t call), she is feeling a lack of respect (he didn’t call), and is feeling unappreciated (she made a special dinner and he was late).
The husband should have said, “Honey, for me to be late and not call was wrong. I can see how my actions, or lack of action, has left you feeling worried, disrespected and unappreciated. Is there any other way my actions made you feel?” That question is essential as it now gives them permission to open up to you and will keep other hurts from leaking out later. He should continue, “I am sorry and hope that you could forgive me.”
I am aware that NO ONE talks like this. Yet, we should. Watch yourself, catch yourself, the four poor emotional responses are prevalent in all of our relationships. You probably identify with one or at most two as your chosen methods. By now you have clearly identified the one your closest loved ones employ. Go slow as you point it out to them and don’t do it in the fire of explaining a hurt to them. Rather, have them read this and discuss it outside of any conflict cycle. I hope and pray that you will begin to understand each other rather than just pretend to forgive each other, fearing and waiting to be hurt again.