Monday, January 15, 2018

Going on the defensive.

Just yesterday my closest girlfriend and I were chatting. Well, instant messaging, as one does when they live 5K miles away from their support system, but you get the picture. We were swapping crazy husband stories, complaints, praise, observations, and general anecdotes about marriage and life with our husbands--who were clearly switched at birth, because they are literally just like each other. It was a conversation in which we were buoying each other up in a way that only a true friend can. We talked about how we could improve our relationships with our husbands we love so much--because we do. They're pretty darn awesome--and how we could go about implementing change with two men who don't necessarily embrace big changes.

I suggested that when we have conversations with our husbands where we are discussing changes that we would like to see, maybe we should ask them what changes they'd like to see in us. I figured it might make the conversations that all married couples have in which the husband's eyes glaze over and he starts watching an old football game in his mind, rather than listening to what the wife is actually saying (or maybe that's just my hubby?)more tolerable if the husband can have the floor as well. He can bring up some changes and/or improvements he thinks would benefit the marriage, too.

Although, my friend and I are both so darn perfect, I can't imagine what they might want us to change. I mean, come on....

So when you're done laughing....

So anyway, my friend said the following, after I made that suggestion:

"That's a good idea. More of a sharing moment than a bashing moment. Not that we're bashing each other, but explaining how we feel. Why is that so hard sometimes? It's so easy to get on the defensive rather than listen to what someone is trying to tell you."

And I had a hallelujah moment. I really did!

Sometimes my best friend is so smart, it baffles me that she's not president, or something. Truly one of the kindest, most patient, most supportive people ever. I love her! She really hit the nail on the head with that one IM. Sometimes when we talk to people about changes that we need to make, or things that they might not want to hear, they wind up feeling ganged up on, or attacked, and they miss the entire point of the entire conversation! Gah! So frustrating!

I'm guilty of it, too. If I feel attacked, I have a bad (but admittedly necessary) habit of shutting down, walking away, and closing the door on people. I've had enough therapy to know that it's my defense mechanism. If someone hurts me, I shut them out. If I suspect they will hurt me in the future, I shut them out. I do it before they can do it, because I am tough and strong and....

Emotionally fragile. *hangs head in embarrassment*

So last night I made a pact that I am going to work hard at trying to better understand the people who are still in my life, or might come along in the future. Friends, coworkers, neighbors...and especially my husband and kids. Maybe if I can better understand what it is they're trying to tell me, rather than being angry and defensive, I can start working on improving myself, so as to make them more comfortable and happy when we're together...instead of shutting them out as a defense mechanism. Not that it isn't okay to shut abusive people out. But when it comes to my husband and children, I should always work hard at being the best me I can be. Amirite?

It will likely take me a while to implement this change. Bear with me. I'm a slow learner, a slow grower. Like a friggin' Chinese maple.

Notoriously slow growers.

I also really appreciated my friend's wise words because I recently had an experience in my life when I spoke to a person with only the best of intentions, and it completely blew up in my face. My daughter was being put in an unhealthy and unbearably uncomfortable position, and she asked me to ask the adult involved to back up and give her some personal space. Being her mom, it was my job to support her, so I did it--knowing full well that I'd been put into a lose/lose situation where I was either going to tick off and potentially lose a friend, or potentially let down my daughter and let her remain in an unmanageable situation. There was literally no winning in this scenario.

So I put on my big girl pants, and I told this adult as kindly as humanly possible that her actions were making my daughter uncomfortable, that she was coming across as very intense, and that it needed to get better. The conversation did not go well. In fact, it imploded. The woman got on the defensive, and just couldn't seem to humble herself enough to see or understand anything except her own feeling of being offended. She called me a liar, shut me out, wouldn't return messages, and eventually told me she could only be friendly to me in person from now on.

So what did I do? Well, I shut her out, of course. It's what I do.

(But really, who admits to someone that they're only going to be nice to you when there's an audience? And what self-respecting person would actually tolerate being told that? I mean, come on.)

But still...this was a perfect example of what my friend from 5K miles away said: It's so easy to get on the defensive rather than listen to what someone is trying to tell you. So through this conversation with my bestie, I was able to find two ways that going on the defensive with people has impacted my life. Both through my actions, and through the actions of others. It made me take a long look at my own choices, and assess whether or not I was actually listening to what people were saying to me, or was I fixating on my own hurt? I was also able to fully understand what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such behavior.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I always find that when God has a lesson for me to learn, He knows that I'll never grasp it unless I am put into a situation where I am forced to live through it and grow from it. Hi, my name is Brooke, and I am a frequent guest here in the Refiner's Fire. They should make a punch card or something.

Oddly enough, I'm grateful for these experiences. All of them, even the crappy expat experience we're on the home stretch of. Nothing forces a person to grow and stretch more than being pile driven by life.

Actual footage of what expat life did to me....and my family.