One day I was talking on the phone with Jerry, who was angrily complaining about how his wife had been inconsiderate and irresponsible in making some purchase—bought the wrong thing, didn't keep the receipt, and so on. In the few minutes I listened, he repeated at least four times what she had done and what he thought about it.
I finally interrupted: "Jerry, do you realize that in just a few minutes, you have now told me four times about the purchase Myra [his wife] made?"
"Oh, I don't think it was that many times," he said.
"Trust me, it was. I wrote them down. I have a question: Do you think I'm retarded?"
"Kind of you to say. No, I'm not retarded. So why would you have to repeat anything to me four times? There are only a few explanations. First, you think I'm retarded. We've already dealt with that one. OR, second, YOU are retarded and can't help yourself as you repeat the same thing over and over. Are you retarded?"
"Not intellectually, no, but perhaps emotionally. Third, with your repetition you are trying—unconsciously, to be sure—to convince me that you're right and your wife is wrong. You want to justify your anger toward her. I'm not criticizing you here. This justification of anger is common with almost everyone."
"I was just explaining—"
I rudely interrupted. "No, you were not explaining. If you tell me something once, that is explaining. If you tell me multiple times, that is nagging and justifying and convincing. And I can promise that if you do this with me, you do it with Myra, and she hates it."
"She has told me more than once that I tend to repeat myself."
"Yes, nagging, and it's affecting your relationship in very negative ways. By the way, that last sentence you spoke was a nice example of telling the truth about yourself."
Jerry learned a valuable lesson. We repeat ourselves much more than we realize, for the purpose of attacking, justifying, and convincing, and mostly we are quite unaware of what we're doing. We must pay more attention to what we say—and, more importantly, how we say it and how often—so we can avoid being unloving and hurting our relationships.
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