James and Lori had been enduring a barely tolerable marriage for a long time. I taught them how to love each other, but we kept encountering the obstacle that James had a profound need to be right. When we believe we’re right, we cannot be taught anything new.
Each time James spoke with me, he would tell me how great he was doing. Everything was fine. By his account, he was kind, gentle, and loving toward Lori. And yet Lori reported that she continued to feel distant toward him, which he could feel—and complained about.
I arranged a conference call with both of them and asked Lori why she didn’t feel close to James. “I’m not blaming him,” she said, the truth of which was confirmed by her tone of voice. “I’m just saying that I find it difficult to feel close to him when he’s condescending and critical so often. If I were more loving, it might not bother me, but I’m just learning how to feel confident that I’m loved, so I’m a bit weak, and his behavior does bother me.”
This is a beautiful example of telling the truth about another person. Lori didn’t blame James. She simply described why—as a flawed and imperfectly loving person—she found it difficult to feel loved by her husband or loving toward him.
“James,” I said, “you really do tend to be critical and condescending. I’ve heard you do it with Lori, and you’ve done it with me on several occasions.”
“But I—” he began.
I interrupted. “James, this is the principal reason your marriage is not improving. You ARE behaving in ways that are not loving toward Lori. The instant you defend yourself on that subject—as you were about to do just now—instead of actually listening, you’re guaranteed to continue your unproductive behaviors. Now you have a simple choice. Do you want a happier marriage or not? This is a Yes or No question.”
“Then you’d have to take advantage of a huge gift that you have in Lori. I can teach you how to be loving all day, but until you stop the unloving behaviors, you will not progress toward the goal you claim to have. You need to have your unloving behaviors pointed out to you right while you’re doing them. Later in the day, you won’t remember them, or you will already have justified them. You need immediate feedback from someone who is WITH you at the time. Lori can do that.”
“But what if she tells me I’m being condescending when I’m not?”
“That’s an understandable concern, but you can let go of it for two reasons: First, what is the likelihood that you would be bathing Lori in the love she’s always wanted, which she would adore, but then she’d interrupt that bliss by claiming that you’re being condescending? Almost a zero likelihood. Second, she’s simply the best you’ve got, so if she makes an occasional mistake, who cares? She’s still the best immediate feedback you can get. Now, the real question is, are you willing to take the feedback?”
“I guess I don’t really know how,” James said.
“No, you really don’t, so let me teach you. If Lori feels that you’re being condescending, for example, she will simply say, ‘James, you’re being condescending.’ Notice that she is not telling you to stop, or that you’re a bad person, just informing you about what you’re doing. Lori, are you clear about that?”
“Yep,” she said.
“Now, James,” I began, “how can you respond to that? You only have two choices. First, if you can recognize that what she’s saying is true, you respond with, ‘Yes, I am. Thanks for telling me.’ And you will have received an invaluable piece of feedback. Second choice: if you do not recognize your behavior, you say, ‘I need help. Describe what you’re seeing, so I can recognize it.’ Again, you get valuable information. Under no circumstances do you argue with her or defend yourself. Take the information and learn from it.”
If you’re not entirely happy—and who is?—you ARE behaving in ways that are fearful or unloving. If you don’t recognize what you’re doing, enlist the help of someone—or several people—around you. This takes great courage, but the rewards are enormous. Other people often can see your behaviors better than you can, because you’re blinded by fear or familiarity. And they FEEL your unloving behaviors better than you would. Ask someone to point out when you’re being fearful, critical, angry, unkind, or whatever. If they agree, and if you are humble and teachable, you will receive quite a gift.
Find genuine happiness now and forever.
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