The Challenge of Living Together (Part 3): On Going to Bed Angry, Changing Eachother, the List & Listening

Though I’ve counseled many couples working through the challenges of getting along, personally I’m no expert; I’ve only been married to one person (for 22 years so far).

I don’t agree with the advice of never going to bed angry. If we all did that, we wouldn’t get enough sleep and we’d be all the more irritable the next day. Sometimes, we have to let emotional levels diminish before we can talk things out. With some couples, one partner will pursue the other from room to room and down the block to continue a heated argument. This can lead to escalating anger and regretful actions. Even grown ups need time-outs.

It’s better to have a house rule to talk at a mutually agreeable time. We should talk about what we feel and why we feel that way. We should also think and talk about what we love in the other person.

We may all go to bed angry at some time, but we should wake up thankful.

To leave things better than we found them is a laudable approach to life. However, it’s not a great idea for wives intent on improving their husbands. As with the old joke, “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?, the answer is, “One, but the light bulb has to want to change.”

When we decide to live together, we have to accept our loved ones just as they are – imperfect as we are but just in a different way.

Enlightened physicians no longer use the term non-compliant when a patient doesn’t lose weight, quit smoking, take prescribed medication or exercise. If patients don’t follow our orders, it may be because the goals were ours not theirs. Progressive family physicians facilitate positive change in their patients by helping each patient choose and achieve his or her personal goals.

Some worry that the classic fairytales lead young girls to expect that they will find Prince Charming and live happily ever after. If I were to tell my boys fairytales that ended with living happily ever after, they would be about marrying princesses who didn’t have running lists of things for them to do.

A wife’s list is an almost universal phenomenon in our society. It is as undeniable as the patient’s list of problems. I have been trying to teach my colleagues to embrace the list. Our patients are complex people like we are, and most will have more than a few problems to discuss. This list has to be brought out up front at the start of each visit and negotiated as not everything can be adequately dealt with at once.

My advice to wives whose husbands are procrastinators: it could be he’s just not that into your list.

Every couple should ask, “What is the point of the list? What does it represent?” If it is your shared duties and goals, then the list should be discussed and amended as a team. You might even draft an action plan and schedule to complete the agreed upon items on the list. You may end up striking off items that you agree really aren’t important.

The subtitle of the list should not be “What You Need to Do to Make Me Happy.” We each have the capacity to make the people we live with miserable by being critical and demanding rather than positive and accommodating. We impair the tone of our relationships by expressing more hostility than affection.

Sometimes in our relationships we struggle to be heard, but when two people are screaming, no one is heard. Listening then is the essential survival skill. We each need a sounding board – someone we trust, who understands us, and is ready to listen to our concerns of the day. Some of us have friends who can listen this way. Many don’t.

It would be great if we could create an oasis at home – a shelter of respite from the cold, hard world; a place of encouragement when life doesn’t go our way or when our confidence wanes; a sanctuary of peace and unconditional love when work is harsh and demanding; and the one place where you find life’s meaning – that for which you work and live.

Finally, we all need to feel appreciated. We all need to be loved just as we are. Though we can be at our worst at home, we could instead save the best of ourselves for those we love the most, and we can choose to see and bring out the best in them.

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About Davidicus Wong

I am a family physician. I write a weekly newspaper column, Healthwise for the Vancouver Courier, Burnaby Now, Royal City Record and Richmond News.
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