It wasn’t a major issue, but they had been quarreling about it for three days. Let me tell you what it was all about.
John had met with his attorney, who also represented his wife. In the course of their business meeting, they got to speaking about inheritance taxes. John was told that by setting up trust funds, he and his wife could avoid taxes on more than a million dollars. It was clearly the prudent thing to do, so he told his attorney to start the process. He intended to tell his wife about it, but it slipped his mind. Three or four days later, he casually mentioned that he had instructed their attorney to begin setting up trust funds, which would enable them to capitalize on new tax regulations.
To his surprise, Mary Jo became indignant. She said, “[I] felt taken for granted and discounted. I would never have told our attorney to do that without first talking to you about it.”
“I’m the man of the family,” he insisted. “It was the right thing to do financially and it enables us to give more to our children.”
“That isn’t the issue. The fact is that I wasn’t consulted.”
I could go on at great length about their conflict, but I’m sure you’ve already got the picture and recognize that their argument had little to do with right or wrong and a great deal more to do with emotions.
Mary Jo knew full well that what John instructed the attorney to do was something she totally agreed with. In her own words, “You don’t have to be a nuclear scientist to know that what you did was correct, but not telling me was insulting and reflects the way you’ve treated me throughout our marriage.” In essence, their argument was needless, but it would have continued for G-d knows how long, if they had not scheduled an appointment with me.
The question they and each of you have to ask yourselves is, “How many arguments of a similar nature have you engaged in and perpetuated to the point that your old hurt and resentment surfaced and caused you to distance yourself from a partner whose love you wanted, but couldn’t ask for. Why? Because the reason most arguments between spouses occur stems from feelings of not being loved or valued. The purpose of the resultant conflict is to hurt back, to declare yourself strong and independent. For example, John wanted to be perceived as a male authority figure, someone who had the last word and his family’s respect.
Mary Jo, on the other hand, didn’t want to be a Stepford wife. Similar to John, she wanted to be loved and valued, but arguing doesn’t get you those emotions. If Mary Jo truly felt emotionally independent, she would have realized the extent to which he genuinely loves her and wants to be her “knight in shining armor.” As a result, she never would have engaged in their argument, in the first place. She, instead, would have said, “John, I know you care and that what you did was good for both of us and our children. So, I’m not going to argue about it. Nor am I going to beg for respect. If you can’t give it to me, the problem is yours, not mine.”
John, on the other hand, absolutely knew that all he had to do was say, “Mary Jo, I love you. I never want to hurt, discount or demean you in any way. In the future, I’ll try my best not ever to do it again.” It would have assuaged all of her hurt. Mary Jo and John are smart, intelligent people, but the kid inside them was in total control of their actions, and little emotional kids don’t know how to fight fairly or constructively. They are controlled solely by their emotions, which leads them into needless conflicts that can cause good marriages to turn bad.
The best explanation I can give you is one that came from a very intelligent friend, who wrote me a note regarding my article, “Not Letting Dirty Feet Run Through Your Mind.” Her statement was, “How you are treated – their mantra; how you respond – your mantra.” It’s a simple formula, one that I’d have you memorize and utilize throughout the rest of your life. Had John and Mary Jo been able to do so, they would’ve recognized that the first question each of them needed to ask themselves is, “Where am I coming from; i.e., what’s my mantra?” – rather than implying that “the way you treat me is what causes me to act this way.”
You don’t need a degree in psychology to know that despite all of John’s accomplishments, his emotions still stem from the feelings he had during his childhood. Nothing he ever did was good enough for his military-oriented father, and his mother controlled him by threatening him with father’s wrath. It helps you to understand why it was so important for him to tell his attorney to do something without consultation. Nor should it be a surprise that Mary Jo was a middle child, with four siblings, all of whom perceived her to be a nuisance, who constantly strived to get their acceptance.
Think about John and Mary Jo and realize that each of you come with your own unique orientations, which determine the types of quarrels you get into, the anger you feel and the “mantra” that governs you. I want you to recognize that the only mantra you can ever change is your own.
Accordingly, the statement that you need to make to those you love is, “I won’t always like or agree with what you do. Sometimes, I’ll find you hurtful and demeaning, but I want you to know ‘I love you.’ You are more important to me than anyone else in my world. I’m going to do my best to show you how much I care and appreciate you, because I want you to love me back. If you can’t change or recognize how much I care, and still continue to hurt me, I’ll have to, reluctantly, go my own way. It’s not what I want, but it’s something I’ll have to do. That’s a bridge I never want to cross. For now, I have one goal, to give and get your love and to make our relationship meaningful, enjoyable and purposeful for the rest of our lives. I can do this because I know how you treat me is your mantra. How I respond is my mantra.”