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Subtle Danger Signals on the Domestic Front


If you've been around long enough, you're aware of the many things that can play havoc with domestic peace, even where the parties concerned are not short of goodwill and have the best of intentions.

High up on the list of culprits here are poor communication habits, either on their own or in combination with other negative influences. This, surely, you also know. But what we often don't realize is how incredibly subtly these disruptive forces can operate, and how they slowly but surely erode the harmony of the home.

Settle back, if you will, and reflect on these two imaginary scenarios.

Scene One

Jack and Jill are not long past being newlyweds. They are a loving and devoted couple, in anybody's language.

One of Jack's special loves (apart from his new wife!) is counseling and tutoring handicapped children. With Jill's blessing and encouragement, he devotes two evenings a week to this pursuit.

Jack's stint at the children's home begins at 7:30. He knows how eagerly the kids await his arrival, and besides, he's a punctual soul by nature.

If - as happens more often than not - he has been held up by the traffic on the drive back from work, the adrenaline tends to surge a bit as he readies for the evening's outing.

Being the loving and dutiful young spouse that she is, Jill would not dream, of course, of allowing her hardworking hubby to leave the house on an empty stomach. At the bare minimum, he is expected to down a plate of warm, nourishing soup, or to imbibe a cup of steaming hot coffee.

But our hero is neither hungry nor thirsty.

He can take a bite later at the institution, if he chooses, or when he gets back home. All he wants right now is to get moving. Every muscle is on tenterhooks; quite involuntarily, he feels the blood rising in his veins.

But how can he offend Jill, who is straining every nerve to please him? And should she "rub it in" by asking his advice on some weighty matter just as he is stepping out the door, isn't she doing it to honor him?

Quite subconsciously, the resentment builds up. If only poor Jill knew

If only Jill knew? So, why doesn't he tell her?

That, indeed, is the $64,000 question.

****

Scene Two: Variation One

Now let's pay our hero and heroine another visit..

Jack works for a large company as a chemical engineer. A team that he leads has been busy for months, developing and testing a major new product. Jack has been in bright spirits of late, for the project is nearing completion and results have exceeded expectations.

But today, a senior colleague walked in and asked all sorts of peculiar questions. He begged to differ on Jack's glowing assessment of the results. He tauntingly expressed his surprise that the company had invested time and money on - in his not so humble opinion - an exercise in futility.

Jack arrives home, not in the best mood he's ever been. And how have things been going with Jill?

Pretty well, actually...at least, until an hour ago.

It was then that Jill walked out of their third floor apartment with a bag of garbage in her hand, to deposit it at the dump outside.

Her lively mind being preoccupied with a thousand and one things, the tiny tear in the bag had escaped her notice. But that public-spirited neighbor of hers on the second floor. well, nothing ever escapes HER notice!

And you've guessed it -if that good lady's eyes are sharp,her tongue is even sharper. An unsuspecting Jill is no match for her antagonist in the verbal onslaught that follows.

Jill is shaken to the core and thoroughly confused. Did she really commit such a terrible crime? But she's comforted in the knowledge that her loving and coolheaded husband will be home within the hour. Surely, he'll resolve her doubts, and give her some of her self-esteem back.

But - you've guessed it again! At best, Jack will hear her out politely and feign some interest, but his mind will be elsewhere. Worse, he'll respond with a few grunts. And worse still, he'll be visibly irritated.

Understandable, even if not justified? You may or may not think so, depending, possibly, on your own gender.

Scene Two: Variation Two

OK. But let's say that the very next day, one of Jack's bosses strolls into the lab.

He heartily pats Jack on the back and tells him that everyone at the plant is SO proud of him. All can see already that the new product's a real winner. That fellow that stormed in yesterday? Don't worry about him - he's obviously jealous...

Let's also assume that that nasty verbal exchange between Jill and her neighbor happened not yesterday, but today. Holding back her tears, Jill blurts out the story as soon as Jack walks in.

Ironically, Jack can hardly wait to share his own news...good news. But he sees how agitated his wife is, and restrains himself.

But being the astute young man that he is, Jack doesn't need to hear the whole recital before he pieces the whole thing together. Jill is only two or three sentences into her story when she is cut short:

"Relax. I think it's shocking, but what's the big deal? I'll take care of that old so-and-so!"

"Good, but you don't understand. I mean, do you realize how I feel? Do you think that she thinks that I'm just..."

"Enough, enough already. Must you go on and on? Now, have I got something to tell YOU!"

And so Jack proceeds forthwith to change the subject - callously and insensitively from Jill's point of view. But from his own perspective, his apparently unseeming impatience is well-intended enough: he can't wait to share good news with the most important person in his life...

****

Make 'em still stronger!

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions on these imaginary episodes. I just want to add one thing.

We sometimes tend to think that only relationships that are already falling apart need support and encouragement. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In one of the communities I lived in, there were courses for married couples called "Marriage Enrichment". They weren't intended for problem marriages; on the contrary, if the course leaders suspected that your marriage wasn't strong, they wouldn't let you participate.

Rather, the intention was, rather, to make strong marriages still stronger, and to fulfill the old precept: "prevention is better than cure." These courses were a resounding success.

Something to think about, isn't it?

Azriel Winnett is the creator of Hodu.com - Your Communication Skills Portal. This popular free website is devoted to helping you improve your communication and relationship skills on all levels in business and professional life, in the family unit and on the social scene.


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2005