Have you ever had a fight with your spouse and then afterward thought, What on earth was that about? Energy that erupted was completely disproportionate to the circumstances. Maybe your emotions got the best of you and you said things that were unkind. You have? Me too.
It was late summer and I had just returned from taking my then 90-year-old mother to her doctor. I returned home and, as I walked up to my front door, saw a big puddle on the walkway. It had not rained in days, so I knew when I saw it the sprinkler system was leaking. I had already asked my husband multiple times to fix it (this was not the first puddle). My mind went to the weekend when we would host friends for dinner and I realized they would have to navigate the puddle, too. I was annoyed.
My husband greeted me when I came in the door, but my response was not kind. I immediately jumped on him about the puddle. My tone was sharp and contemptuous; I felt justified and angry. It was if I had thrown a match to a tank of gas and an explosion occurred. We both said angry things we didn’t mean. I stomped off to the bedroom and he to his upstairs office.
We cooled off, which took some time, and began to ask ourselves what that was all about. The explosion seemed like an ocean wave compared to a puddle on the walkway. I felt how inappropriate my big feelings were compared to the puddle. I had gone from feeling sad getting out of the car, to furious in a few short seconds. Was this really about a puddle or something else?
As I reflected—I believe God’s spirit led me—I began to realize I had a lot more going on than I even knew. I had been with my mom that morning, with whom I have a difficult relationship. For most of my life with her I have felt unheard and unseen. The last few weeks had been quite difficult for her, and mom had needed more from me. So, after being with her I was already feeling like the neglected little girl of my past. As I approached the puddle, it seemed to validate the narrative I was already telling myself: my husband has not listened to my concern with the puddle so I am not heard, therefore I am not worthy of being heard. I was not aware that the puddle represented my life to me. It felt unbearable to not be heard again, so I lashed out at the man who has heard me and loved me the most in my life. It took a big explosion for me to realize all that was going on inside me.
As for my husband, he grew up in a broken family with a mother who dealt with mental illness and an absent father. He felt responsibility even as a young child to care for his mother and of course he failed. No child can take care of their parent. He felt inadequate and unable to fix his mom and their difficult life. He also had a lot going on with his job that day. He was dealing with several issues and was already feeling stretched beyond what he can do and inadequate. He previously had tried to fix the sprinkler system several times to no avail and even called someone to come and fix it who had not responded. So he felt as if I was pointing out his failure and attacking him for his inability to fix it.
After calming down, we were able to talk and be compassionately curious about what was really going on. As we explored our feelings and stories, the explosion made more sense, and it wasn’t about a puddle. It was about two damaged and sinful people who felt the pain of their former wounds and chose to lash out at each other. We grew in compassion and understanding for each other and for ourselves. We learned more about our wounds and what kind of things trigger us, while we forgave the other for lashing out and being hurtful.
The process is ongoing. As I have learned how my husband has been hurt, it has brought me a desire to not hurt him in the same ways, and he would say the same about me. We still fight, but we are more willing to repair by looking deeply at our own stories, trying to understand and offer forgiveness and grace. And eventually we were able to fix the leak that caused the puddle!!!
Laurie has been a counselor at The Barnabas Center since 2018. She completed her Master of Christian Counseling at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in 2015 and her undergraduate degree in Human Development at UNC-Chapel Hill. Laurie is married to Michael and they have five grown children, three grandsons, and one granddaughter. In her spare time, she enjoys yoga, walking, reading, spending time with friends and family, especially playing with her grandchildren.
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