At the end of my last article, I promised that I would follow through on discussing the language of love. I said that the language of love doesn’t change from individual to individual. That, unlike facts, which are determined by DNA, situational factors and the way we were raised by our parents, emotions or feelings only come from one place. If you will, the heart. They express the emotions that are inside us, which we need to recognize and articulate, if we seriously desire to learn to speak the language of love.
I added that, when we deal with “facts”, each of us comes from a different place, because our facts differ in accordance with the situations we experience. The problem is that we believe that our facts are universal and have more credibility, accuracy and validity than anyone else’s. The irony is that we’re right. Our facts are true for us. Conversely, others’ facts are true for them. As a result, what frequently occurs in homes where conflict prevails is that the same conversations are held over and over again, but never resolved, because each person clings to their own set of facts, all the while doing their best to convince their partner that they’re right. I’d like you to consider a statement you’ve probably heard numerous times in your life, “Let’s agree to disagree.” Hopefully, you might see how it applies in this situation. What if people were able to say to one another, “I know you see it this way. I know this is the what you believe, and I know this is the way you’ve done it all your life. But it differs from the way I see it and the way I behave. Therefore, let’s agree to disagree. That way, each of us can have our own truth.”
The best example I can share with you is a story I heard a long time ago, about a woman who learned from her mother how to make the ultimate brisket. What she did was cut the brisket into two pieces - one 3/4 the length and one 1/4 the length, then cooked both pieces in the pan. Well, her husband disagreed. His mother never cut the brisket when she roasted it. They fought and fought about it. Finally, she went to her mother and said, “Mom, Bruce and I are arguing over and over again about how to roast a brisket. Every year I do it just like you did. I cut it in two pieces, smother it in onions, cover it with sauce, and roast it at 350º. Bruce insists I shouldn’t cut it in two pieces.” And her mother said, “Well I don’t know why you’re cutting it in two pieces. I only did it because the roasting pan I had wasn’t big enough to put it in whole.” Ask yourself, what size roasting pan do you have? Where did you learn the rules for how you behave? And are you flexible enough to alter your behavior in order to improve the way you act?
You see, our problems aren’t where the thermostat is set, whether there are little piles of mail and reading material around, or who takes out the garbage, cooks, cleans, or how you roast a brisket. Those are only insignificant issues people argue about. They aren’t the essential factors in our marriages or relationships. There is always something else of an emotional nature at the seat of our conflicts. When you discover what it is, all the minor issues take care of themselves.
I’d like to share a personal experience with you that may help you to better understand what I’m trying to convey. For years, Harriet and I argued about the door from our garage to our house. The door has a key lock in the doorknob, and a deadbolt. For fifteen years, I would come home and find both of them locked. Although it would have been easy enough to open them, it infuriated me each time I did. So much so, that I would walk in the house livid, resentful, and angry because they were locked. After all, I argued, (here come the facts), we live in a complex that is protected by gates at the entrance. If someone were to get through the gates, they would then have to break through the garage door, and then through the door to the house and if they were that insistent on coming in, the deadbolt wouldn’t stop them from entering. Therefore, why wasn’t one lock sufficient? I even went so far as to suggest that I could tell what her feelings were toward me by virtue of whether or not both locks were locked, one lock was locked, or neither lock was engaged. On a bad day, both locks. On a medium day, one lock, and on a good day, when she was happy with me, no locks.
Her defense was that she was home alone, and what was the big deal if it made her feel safe? Those were the facts. But we never resolved the problem. Some fourteen years later, I came to the door one evening and became so enraged that I literally wanted to bust the door down. The anger I felt inside was so intense that there was no way even I could justify it. It forced me to look at myself and ask, “What in the world are you reacting to? Yes, the door is locked, but that can’t be the reason for your reaction.” But I couldn’t go beyond that point.
Several days later, I listened to a young man in therapy telling me how his mother gave each of his brothers the bedrooms on the second floor and put his bed on the landing at the top of the stairs. As he began sobbing, I suddenly recalled that every day, at age four and half, my mother would feed me breakfast and send me outside on a little porch with stoop steps, and say, “come back for lunch”. Then the door closed and the next thing I heard was the deadbolt being locked. Let me pause to allow you to recognize that the feelings I responded to for fourteen years had nothing to do with my wife and everything to do with me and my unconscious feelings of abandonment which never dissipated and obviously radically affected the way I reacted and felt.
To make an already too long story short, once the realization materialized several days later, I was able to summon sufficient courage to share this story with Harriet. Then, everything changed. Why? Because I spoke a different language. I spoke about what I felt when I had to unlock the deadbolt. I spoke about the feelings of being locked out, and how it undoubtedly hurt far more than I ever realized. We didn’t beat this dead horse to death. But ever since then, when I call from the office before I leave for home, nine times out of ten, the door isn’t locked. It’s often left ajar, or she’s standing there when I arrive.
You see, when you speak the language of love, you share who you are, what you feel, and where you’re coming from. You don’t accuse, you don’t blame, you don’t punish, because you know that it isn’t the other person’s fault, it’s your problem. I should add that those few times when she may be in the middle of something and the door is locked, it no longer bothers me to unlock them, because emotionally I know that tomorrow or the day after, that door will be open and she’ll be standing there.
Please give some thought to this story. Then I want to place the onus on each of you. Look inside and recognize the “facts” you use to justify your inappropriate reactions. Search for the underlying emotions that explain your anger or depression, your desperate desire for attention, your inordinate need to control, your inability to accept criticism, or to admit you’re wrong, or your fear of failure, etc., which cause you to procrastinate and to avoid risk at any price. Because it’s only after you discover what’s driving you emotionally that you can honestly share your feelings. Even then, the ability to share the real you with another person isn’t easy. It is, perhaps, one of the most difficult, but at the same time, most rewarding behaviors that you can engage in. It is the height of loving that compensates for the pain you experienced by looking inside self and recognizing your hurts and insecurities. All of which you need to do in order to experience true intimacy, i.e., to share you - not the facts, but your person and feelings - with another human being.