When I was in fifth grade, I was part of the playground safety patrol at school. Before school and during recess, I got to wear a white safety patrol belt and stand at the northwest corner of the school and go run to get a teacher if there were any fights or boo-boo’s. I stood at the intersection of the racing lanes, hopscotch, and the monkey bars.
Early in the school year, I was out during kindergarten recess. A little girl was standing, staring at the monkey bars while she decided if she was brave enough to join all the other girls she didn’t know. She was so focused on the monkey bars that she saw and heard nothing else.
Meanwhile, a little boy was running down the racing lane. As he crossed the finish line, he turned around to taunt his friend about having won their race.
The little boy, paying attention to his friend and not to the girl ahead of him, ran smack dab into the girl, who was paying attention to the other girls and not to the boy headed her direction. They both fell down. He got a skinned knee. She got a skinned elbow.
They started blaming each other. He said it was her fault for not paying attention. She said it was his fault for not looking where he was going. They both had tears leaking from their eyes.
I pointed out to him that she hadn’t been doing anything wrong, and he responded, “But she should have been looking!” I reminded her that while he was the one who’d knocked into her, she hadn’t been paying attention to what was going on around her; she responded, “But he should have been looking!”
Did it matter whose fault it was? (Just for the record, I think it was the boy’s fault.) They both learned a lesson. He learned to pay attention to where he was going, and she improved a bit at situational awareness.
Regardless of whose fault it was, or whether it was either person’s fault, they both had to go see the school nurse.
A few days later, after their boo-boo’s had begun healing, both children admitted to me their role in the incident. He acknowledged that he should have been looking where he was going, and she admitted that she should have been paying attention to what was going on.
After their healing had begun, the actual fault no longer mattered.
At the moment when they had begun hurting, though, both children needed band-aids and comfort.
During the past year, I’ve watched my Facebook news feed explode as people pick sides on one issue or another: Ferguson, Baltimore, politics, health care, and now the Duggar family.
With all of these issues, I have friends at the extremes and in the middle. I have watched them express feelings of anger, sadness, brokenness, confusion, terror, frustration, confusion, relief, and indignation.
I have watched people shouting on Facebook about how “they” (referring to whoever it is who disagrees with them) are wrong because they just aren’t seeing the truth they think should be so obvious. Most of the people are shouting out of their own deep feelings—traumatic memories, a need for a sense of order and structure, fear of what could happen if this one thing gets out of control, and so on. Although they are not part of the situation being discussed, they feel invested in it somehow.
Different viewpoints don’t cancel each other out—yet it seems that people think that they do.
The acknowledgement of one person’s feelings should not negate the ability to acknowledge the feelings of someone who stands somewhere else in the situation.
I have been reading (at times somewhat obsessively and excessively, admittedly) about the Duggar family. What I see in the comments is exactly what I’ve seen on articles and blog posts about other highly charged visible issues: the word “but.” One person says “I support this person” and someone else responds with a comment that begins with “but”: “But they did this.” “But he did that.” “But they experienced that.”
The word “but” throws division into the mix by negating another person’s point of view. Whatever follows “but” invalidates what has come before.
Even when the word itself is not used, an attitude of “but” is often implied in these comments.
Adults on Facebook aren’t too different from the children on the playground. We offer a response that begins with “but.” We negate the hurt experienced by those who have a different viewpoint rather than moving the conversation forward in any productive way.
Spouses sometimes aren’t so different from those children, either.
Throughout much of my marriage, I had an attitude of “but.”
My husband’s viewpoint was that he felt hurt and rejected by my unwillingness to engage in sexual activity with him. My viewpoint was that I felt hurt and rejected by his unwillingness to engage in emotional connection with me.
He would say “I hurt,” and I usually responded with a sentence that began with “but”: “But you get mad when I share a feeling you don’t like.” “But you never share yourself with me.” “But you yelled at me today.”
In responding with “but,” I sent him a message that I saw his feelings as invalid. I thought if I acknowledged his pain, it would be like saying mine didn’t matter. So, I responded with “but” and wouldn’t allow myself to hear him.
He responded in similar ways to my comments, so while I was invalidating my husband’s point of view, I was also feeling that my own viewpoint was being disregarded.
We each had our own view of the truth and believed that our view canceled out the other person’s view. We negated each other’s hurt rather than moving our relationship forward.
The full truth, however, is that we were both feeling hurt and rejected.
I’ve recently received messages from husbands who have had an attitude of “but,” too. I tried to gently point out the hurt their wives might be experiencing based on the information that had been shared with me. I received responses that began with “but”: “But doesn’t she knows she’s hurting me?” “But I apologized for that years ago.” “But what does that have to do with sex?”
I hear from wives, too: “But he doesn’t spend time with me.” “But doesn’t my hurt matter?” “But he never pays me attention except when he wants sex.”
Having lived in the land of “but” for so many years, I get it.
I wanted my own hurt acknowledged—and I was afraid that acknowledging my husband’s hurt was somehow giving in or saying that my hurt didn’t matter. I was afraid it was an admission that I didn’t matter.
But . . . (see what I did there?)
. . . when we marry, we hitch ourselves to our husbands. We say vows that reflect what we are entitled to and what we are to do.
What if we were to look for ways to build connections in our marriages rather than widen the wedge that negates another point of view?
What if we were to look for places where we can use “and” instead of “but,” either in word or attitude?
What if you looked for ways to acknowledge your husband’s viewpoint as valid—without having to include your viewpoint at the same time? What if your husband said, “I hurt,” and you responded with, “I’m sorry you’re hurting” and then had a conversation about your husband’s pain?
You can always have another conversation, at a different time, about your hurt. You can even respond with, “I’m sorry you’re hurting. I’m hurting, too, and right now let’s talk about you. We’ll talk about me tomorrow.”
Acknowledging your husband’s feelings does not cancel out your feelings, nor does it cancel your right to have those feelings.
Many marriages have two hurting spouses, not just one.
The power of “and” is hard to see when what we can see is the fault in the other person.
So think about the children on the playground. Did it really matter whose fault it was?
Does it really matter whose fault it is that your marriage is struggling? Is “but” really necessary?
I wanted my husband to acknowledge my pain. I was hurt, and I wanted him to acknowledge his role in that.
In my time of hurt, I wanted to assign blame. As our marriage began to heal, though, I could see that fault no longer mattered. My husband could have done some things differently. I could have done some things differently, too. Once I’d begun to heal, what mattered wasn’t what made me hurt; what mattered was that I was starting to not hurt anymore.
Both of us were children of God, hurting and bleeding. I hurt. And he hurt.
Like those children on the playground, we were both in need of healing and comfort.
When your husband tries to share his hurt feelings with you, do you respond with a divisive attitude of “but”?
Are you willing to try a connecting attitude of “and” instead?
After our healing had begun, the actual fault no longer mattered.
And now I have someone to comfort me, kiss my boo-boo’s, and play with me on the playground.
Image credit enishadhaliwal|morgueFile.com