I have discovered a destructive habit cultivated in marriage that has affected my relationships since.
My ex wife and I disenjoyed a fractious and tense relationship. Never more so than when she wanted money. We split everything, income and bills; we had the same. Our values were different. She would burn through hers within a few days, I didn’t.
Tired of her wanting more, I began to respond, “No,” almost instinctively. This felt like the only course of action because a softer approach was met with the sort of railroading you would rather be prepared for. This marked the beginning of the game; my ex wife would kick her persuasive efforts into overdrive and it became a case of counting the cost: losing money versus losing the modicum of peace we had.
I laid on the couch one evening. Her aunt had been discarding a couch and a couple of chairs that my ex wife wanted. It meant hiring a van, which would have been around £300 with deposit. I loved our current couch, and knew (as did she) I had about £350 in the bank until payday two weeks later, to cover food and living.
She raised the idea days before and I had said that I didn’t want to do it, mostly due to the cost of getting it home, but also our couch was comfy. This night, she was more determined. My resistance was met with rage, after shouting, then abuse, she began to hover over me. I’d never felt threatened by her, much less frightened. Yet here I found myself pulling my legs towards my chest with my right arm and covering my head with my left. She dropped and sunk her teeth into my leg. Days later, I was in the bath, and she asked me about the large bruise on my leg. We even laughed about it. It wasn’t particularly painful, at the time or later, and still I felt no fear of her moving forward.
But that wasn’t the point. The point was that we booked the van the next day, completed the swap and were left with a little over £10 to last a few days as it takes a while for deposits to be refunded. The boundaries were virtually non-existent by now.
And though the methods employed to turn a no into a yes were more severe here, it was a well-worn pattern of behaviour between us. She believes every no is a starting point for a yes. It’s not a bad thing, or a good. It is what it is, and it wasn’t right for me.
I have since realised I was never the right man for her, and that brings me peace of mind. We weren’t right for each other.
This quick-thinking, reactionary manner has devastating consequences with those not used to fighting over everything. With people that take a no at face value and an acceptable expression of self without feeling obligated to challenge it, it represents finality where it isn’t meant.
This hit home last week when, with my partner, I was in Tesco, and I picked up some chocolate. She wanted some saved for a few days later, and asked.
My immediate reaction was no:
There wasn’t much… I would have burned through it by then… I could easily buy more later… and all of these immediate, if unhelpful, emotional responses we voice internally, whilst we compose more appropriate replies.
I uttered “no;” she accepted it. I wished I could take back that word but I couldn’t.
You see, I was expecting the battle, and this was my part: a player in the back and forth until middle ground was found. It’s like the quick no served as a scanning system, to detect threats and buy time. A gap of silence in marriage would have been taken as a fatal hesitation and make no, if tendered, a less credible position.
Even with trivial matters, the meaning of the quick no transcends context; it stabs at the heart of generosity and consideration, especially when your partner isn’t a player in the game.
When I think slowly, and do less, I find myself more calm than excited, and better able to express myself according to my values. A gap of silence is a good thing; it extends the courtesy of time and attention to the other. We respect people who have boundaries, and take their time. And we respect ourselves when we behave that way.