R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

by Amy on December 14, 2009

I am about to make a very embarrassing confession.

Last weekend, while giving the twins a bath, I smacked my husband in the face with a sponge.  This was not a light, playful smack. It was an angry, hostile one. And yes it happened right in front of the kids, the ones I’m constantly reminding to “be gentle.”

Anthony was in the throes of a violent bath time protest.  Ron was in the middle of a monologue about why it was a bad decision to give them ice cream before bed.  I was fighting a cold.

None of these excuses justify my behavior. I felt terrible. How could I lose it like that? The old me would have retreated to bed to sleep it off, all the while knowing that the emotions would be waiting for me in the morning. The new me understands that emotional pain has a purpose. If I could get to the bottom of it, I might learn something important. Judging from how crappy I felt, I knew there had to be something big to learn.

After putting the kids to bed, I went to my office and sat there for awhile, just feeling my feelings. I was ashamed and disappointed at myself but mostly I was furious. I took out my notebook and wrote down my thoughts.  I did a stream of consciousness free-write about everything I was thinking and feeling.

I noticed something interesting.

I was not only furious at myself but also at my husband. I wrote that it was hard to keep my cool when “he calls my decisions into question.”

“Ah ha,” I thought, this has something to do with the ice cream.

There are times, I admit, when my husband calls my parenting decisions into question. Giving our two-year-olds ice cream before bed was one of those times.

Examining my thinking that night, I noticed that when he questions my decisions I tend to get very defensive. It’s a common pattern and it always pushes my buttons. Examining what will now be known between us for eternity as the “sponge incident,” I noticed I was telling myself that, when my husband questions my parenting decisions, it’s because he doesn’t respect me. And, as his wife, I absolutely need his respect.

In my coaching practice, I use a lot of Byron Katie. She has a simple series of questions called The Work that help people see beyond the false beliefs that keep them “stuck.”

The most important thing I know as a life coach is that it is always our beliefs or, put another way, the story we tell ourselves about the world, that keep us from happiness. Sometimes, on the surface, our beliefs appear to be absolutes: my husband should respect my choices. This seemed absolutely true to me. Then, using Byron Katie’s process, I questioned that belief.

Through this process I came to see that when I believe the thought that my husband should respect my decisions and he doesn’t, I am a very angry (and some might argue dangerous) person. I get defensive. I don’t listen to his suggestions. I yell at him in front of the kids. When conditions get really challenging (a cold and a 2-year-old screaming in the bathtub) and I believe the thought that he doesn’t respect me and he should, I smack him in the face with a sponge. Wow! My husband should respect me while I am smacking him in the face? How ironic.

When, on the other hand, I don’t attach to the thought that my husband should respect my decisions,  I am just a mom doing the best I can. I can give my son a bath even while he’s throwing a tantrum and listen to my husband’s thoughts without throwing my own tantrum. I can listen to his suggestions with an open mind. I can model loving and gentle behavior to my children. I can make decisions without worrying about whether or not he agrees. When I’m not preoccupied with the belief that my husband should respect me, I can show him the respect he deserves.

I’m not saying that I don’t value his respect. What I do know is that it is unhelpful for me to expect it from him.

That night, I knew I hit (please ignore pun) upon something big because as soon as that insight came,  all of those painful emotions just lifted. I left absolute relief. I marched up to my husband, gave him a hug and told him what I learned.

I came across this quote the other day by Bryon Katie and, for the first time, I think I really got it:

”

Our parents, our children, our spouses, and our friends will continue to press every button we have, until we realize what it is that we don’t want to know about ourselves yet. They will point us to our freedom every time.” Byron Katie

So how about you? Who is the guru in your family pushing your buttons and what do you think they have to teach you? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Aaron December 14, 2009 at 9:42 pm

amazing insight Amy!!
I will think about your ideas the next time I get annoyed or upset with someone

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Hadley Earabino March 18, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Isn’t this the truth? Our husbands/children/mothers are just THE BEST at pointing out our blind spots, aren’t they? My kids are like little monks that crack me in the back of the head if I ever fall asleep during meditation. Loved this post. From a fellow MBI coach. 🙂

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