I do. I’m not proud of it. It’s not something I go home and write in my diary “Dear Diary, today I got to help two people end their marriage today. It was really fun.” And when I took this job, I had no idea that was one of the bennies-the pleasure of ending a commitment between two indivuals.
By the way, I’m a legal secretary. I’m the hands to the lawyer’s face. I do the nitty gritty dirty work. I’m the paper shuffler, the contact, the middle man. And I like it. It’s kind of fun, dabbling in the legal world. Righting wrongs, finding that perfect way to communicate in the legal world that you’re in trouble. I guess the Type A personality in me likes that, the precision, the routine.
But I don’t like helping two people who want to divorce. Normally, I draw up the divorce papers, stipulating who gets what, and how much, who gets the kids what weekend, who gets the house…it’s all very involved. Then after my boss reviews everything and gives me the thumbs up, I call the clients and schedule a time to come in and review the documents and then sign their marriage away. Often the couple comes in separately. But sometimes they come in together. Can we say awkward??? I come in, all professional and confident. I answer questions and try to make a very uncomfortable situation bearable. It’s really not fun. It’s kind of exhausting. And when the pen hits the paper, that’s it. It’s over. It’s final. It’s sad.
I got to thinking about all the marriages I have helped kill in a Dr. Kevorkian kind of way. I began to wonder how so many people can trek down the road together and then just…stop. What problems can have occurred that were so bad that the idea of spending life together was unbearable? I wonder if it’s because as a society, as a people, we are really not trained in how to handle conflict. We don’t have a healthy way of dealing with folks that do things we don’t like.
I realize this problem in my two daughters. They can be the best of friends, and then five minutes later the worst of enemies. There’s yelling, sometimes (if they think I’m not looking) some slapping or pushing, pouty faces, crossed arms…and they’ve gone so far down the anger road that logic or reason is lost on them. They’re just too mad to deal with the problem. Sharing Barbie isn’t the problem, it’s much deeper. And I don’t know about how others deal with their kids or teach them about conflict but I realize I am very guilty of just squashing their feelings, telling them to supress the anger, because I am too involved in my own junk to want to stop and help them to communicate their feelings.
This is a problem that needs to be figured out-how to handle people that just piss you off. How do I react when someone cuts me off in traffic, or what do I do when someone is a jerk to me? What is the right thing to do when not just a stranger, but a loved one treats me with disrespect? Do I bow up, dish it back out? Do I take it all in, and seethe inside and then maybe, give them the silent treatment?
Lance has learned all my cues. He knows that, say when we’re driving in the car, if I’m mad at him I will turn my whole body away from him. Once, I was mad and looked out my window and realized that a whole house had been built on the road that we traveled on every day. But because I usually look at him when we’re in the car cuz we’re chatting it up, I never noticed. Early in our marriage, I had to learn some fundamental things about how to handle conflict. Really these ideas can be carried over into all relationships.
1. Conflict is ok. It’s healthy. It’s allowed. It’s not ok to expect two people to be together and never disagree with each other. Differing opinions are important, it causes balance. It’s just how we handle that conflict that makes it healthy or not.
2. Communication is so important in working out issues. How can I expect the other person to know that I am offended and why if I don’t communicate it to them. We expect some people to just know, like our spouses but the reality is, sometimes they just don’t. And once it’s been laid out, it’s the other person’s responsibility to deal with it.
3. Sometimes, we just don’t need to be offended. There’s this one person that comes to mind and even driving in the car with them is misery because this person gets offended by everyone. If a car jumps out in front of us, this person feels it is their right to holler about it. Sometimes a hand gesture follows. If we’re in Walmart and there’s some really slow people in front of us, this person huffs and puffs and does their best to let the other person know how annoying they are. It’s just silly, really. Somethings you just gotta let go and not get upset. Moderation. A really slow old man in front of me in Walmart is annoying, yes, but not worth me wasting energy letting everyone else around me know how mad I am. If that same slow man pulls out a knife and tries to stab someone, then let the indignation flow! There’s a time and place, people!
4. Even Jesus was a non-offendable guy, unless he was dealing with a certain group of folks called the Pharisees. The Pharisees felt it was their right to challenge Jesus on just about everything He did. They hated that He was healing people on the Sabbath, that He and the disciples were collecting grain heads and eating them on the Sabbath, that He was performing miracles. The interesting thing is, Jesus was a cool guy. He didn’t go around shouting about how holy He was compared to the rest of all those rotten nasty sinners. He just did kind and helpful things like helped a blind guy see, fixed a man’s legs so he could walk. He fed thousands of people who were hungry and gave hope. He taught that there’s more than just what we see, that there’s a heavenly God who wants to be a daddy to those with no father, like a husband to the widowed. And yet these Pharisees could only see that He wasn’t like them, didn’t look like them, act like them, think like them. Isn’t that the root of it all? That other people think and act differently than us.
5. And this is one of the most important points. Own up to your mistakes. Apologize and accept responsibility for what you’ve done. Don’t get all defensive and hurtful. Spite never helped anyone. And it’s really ugly, actually. You’ll look ten times the man (or woman) if you’re humble. An “I’m sorry” is way more attractive and respected than a “You don’t know what you’re talking about”.
Not that I have it all together or have the perfect marriage or am even teaching my girls how to behave according to these simple principles. But I’m trying to see the forest through the trees and realize that there’s way more to life than just what happens to me. Hopefully, I’ll remember that the next time someone cuts me off in traffic because they’re on their cell phone. Perhaps I’ll cut them a break instead of flipping them off. Wouldn’t that be nice?