I had a quick lesson yesterday in just how easy it is to fall back into old patterns when you are working to overcome anger and resentment. But my day was also a reminder about what it takes to keep those emotions under control, so I thought I would share it with you.
In a nutshell, our phone company notified us several months ago that they were going to change our service and we needed to either change with them or choose another carrier. My husband, being the household techie, wanted to take care of it. My only stipulations were that I wanted no interruption in the service (it is both for home and work) and that I wanted good, reliable quality.
We’ve had many calls over the last few months reminding us of the change. To be fair, my husband was working on getting the job done, but was dissatisfied with our various options. He said he had it under control, but by yesterday afternoon my main number (the one that everyone calls for both work and personal reasons) had a recording on it “This number has been disconnected.” The fastest anyone can do anything about it now is six days.
It’s a pretty sure bet that if the phone concerned had been his work and personal phone that things would never have gotten to this point – not in a million years would he let his business or personal phone service expire and end up with a disconnect recording on it! Which is why the whole episode took me straight back to the “bad old days” – those days when I seethed with anger much of the time, and felt as if I could never rely on my husband to take care of anyone but himself. I felt as I used to – the last person being thought of, and not particularly carefully, at that.
I was astounded at how quickly those feelings I thought I had overcome returned! That anger seemed to explode inside! However, I have learned a few things in the past year, and so was able to minimize the damage that his thoughtlessness could have wreaked. Here’s what I did:
First, I called him and said very calmly (or pretty calmly, at least) “I haven’t been mad at you for a long time. But I am furious with you right now. My absolute top priority was to not have my phone service interrupted. How are we going to take care of this?”
He’s smart enough to know that I don’t blow smoke anymore. So his response was “I understand. I’ll call the company right now and see what they say.” He then called to arrange the next available appointment to fix the problem (six days away), as well as pursued whether or not a recording could be put on the phone to forward people to my cell (it can’t). He also made the gracious gesture of arranging his schedule so that he would be home when the service trucks arrived, so as to not add insult to injury.
But I was still mad – no phone service is no phone service, and all those bad feelings were still churning around in there – so I knew it was time for me to take charge of my anger and diffuse it. Here’s what helped:
• He hadn’t apologized yet, which was making me even more mad, so I just asked him for an apology. He gave it (somewhat grudgingly, because he was quite nonplussed at the return of the angry me, too), and I accepted it as graciously as I could at the time.
• I actively sought ways to put the error into perspective in my mind. No one died (I reminded myself that I used to fantasize that his lack of attention would get one or both of my kids killed in a car with him – and that no phone service was a lot better than something like that). And, I reviewed the good things that had been happening between us of late, and tried to fix those in my mind.
• I made, and implemented, a plan to cover at least some of my bases. I emailed family and people I worked with to tell them to call my cell phone for the period, and called those people in the neighborhood who might try my son. I made a point of just saying “our phone is out of service until Tuesday” rather than disparage George by alluding to his complicity in the issue
• I told him that I was mad and asked him for permission to let me vent a little bit to him. He figured he deserved that, at least, and so I got a chance to verbalize to him why I was so mad. But since I had asked him first, he was able to remain calm about it – even joke a bit – which ended up making me feel better. I made a point of not taking the conversation anywhere past the specific “now” issue – no phone service. In other words, I did not throw the past at him or make personal remarks, because we have previously agreed to let the past rest in the past.
• When I was feeling mostly, but not completely, better, I suggested that perhaps a bit of intimate time together might warm up our somewhat chilly demeanors. I will admit that the invitation was not the warmest I’ve ever issued, but he recognized the olive branch (or olive whip, as he later joked) for what it was.
• Finally, I accepted that those feelings from the past are part of me, and forgave myself for experiencing them again. I am, after all, only human. But being “only human” also means choosing what responses one chooses to pursue.
I’m not proud about the fact that those negative feelings were so easy to access. On the other hand, I am happy to see that both my husband and I were able to work through them quickly (within 24 hours) and as a team. The bullets above show how effective creating and sticking with certain communication rules can be in maintaining your equilibrium. It was particularly helpful for me to not trash my husband to others, or to allow myself to dig up the past again.
Perhaps you’ll be able to adapt this experience to your own life.