This post is a chapter from my book 21 Days to Save My Family
I watched a couple, this week, having a perfectly normal conversation. She asked him if he wanted to go out and do something. He mumbled something without looking at her or letting go of what he was doing. At some point, he got up and got ready to go, but never said anything to her. He went back to his business. She didn’t know. He didn’t talk. The family was frustrated. Then it rained out the day. Game over.
That scenario got me thinking about interaction. In an earlier article I wrote, The Rights of Our Children, I discussed how Dr. James Dobson suggested we respond to the kids. The same principle is required for our wives. Give her the freedom to interrupt. Give her the right to step in and interrupt whatever you are doing. Make her more important than whatever you are focused on.
I realized, recently, how I had trained my family. Sometimes, we still have some tension in the house. With very few exceptions, it comes back to me. They are still responding to things based on how I have reacted or responded over the last twenty years. They still expect the “old Erik” to come at them. It’s heartbreaking to realize that’s what happened.
My kids had gotten used to talking to my back or having to work for some attention. It kinda weirds them out when I have stopped and focused completely on them sometimes. I still see some hesitancy to keep talking. My wife is the same sometimes. She comes in to tell me something and suddenly she’s on stage, giving a presentation to a captive audience. I can see it in their eyes. It wasn’t what they expected.
They are used to me getting upset easy. Maybe even yelling at them. They saw my tantrums where I threw things when I got really upset. They even saw me punch holes in walls, slam doors, say things that couldn’t be taken back. They still expect to see the incredible hulking toddler come after them.
If I am not paying attention, I still get frustrated by some of our conversations. I didn’t yell. I didn’t get upset. I AM paying attention. I did hear what you said. Why are you upset with me when I didn’t even do anything wrong?!?
Well. They are still programmed to deal with an immature, overbearing, disrespectful, selfish, self-centered, arrogant jerk. Me. That’s why some of our interactions are so frustrating. The same way my twisted mind had always assumed the worst, they were trained to expect the worst.
They all knew their places. The TV, the car, the motorcycle, the game, the yard, the project… Whatever I was working on was more important than what they needed. It was the same with other people. Whoever I was talking to was more important than them. Have you ever stood outside church, long after service was over, still talking with someone while your family sat in the car, waiting for you? You are training them like I did. Everything in my life required my wife and kids to shut up and wait. I trained them.
So now, sometimes, it’s still hard to convince them that I am really here. They still seem shocked that I am paying attention or changing my plans for them. When they ask for something and I actually listen and move, it freaks them out a little.
Joel and Kathy Davisson explained the long term process to me.
From the time I decide to be a good husband, something in my brain starts changing. Everything in my mind resist these changes, old habits die hard. I am literally forcing my brain to accept new concepts and create new habits. It’s not easy or quick. They said, once I had committed to it, it would take about three years for it all to seem natural. If I stay focused and committed, three years. Longer if I allow myself to slip back or play games with this stuff.
At first, three years sounded like eternity. But, I figure I had to be somewhere in three years. It’s better to be in a happy marriage. Take the plan. Don’t let three years scare you. It goes faster than you think.
Later, I realized that I wasn’t the only one on this three year program. All of us were. My while family was going to have to accept that these changes were really happening and adjust. It’s not three years for them. It’s three years after they honestly believe the changes are real. Apparently, they will be running six months to a year behind us. Depending on our progress.
So, back to our couple from the beginning.
They are a young couple. Only married a few years. They are still in the early stages of all this. Changes in this stage are pretty easy, if you catch them. When it goes on for years, then it’s a lot harder.
Maybe this is you. Your wife wants to go to to a movie. She asks, “do you want to go to a movie?” You respond with a grunt or, “sure.” Technically, all she asked was if you wanted something. You responded, she should be satisfied. Right? Nope. And you know better. You know what she wants. She wants your opinion, followed by some action.
“Sure, what movie were you thinking about?” Then check show times and make a plan. She is your mission. This is how it works. Watch for these opportunities. If you miss enough, they stop happening.
Our hero didn’t do this. He made another training session out of it. He refused to respond the way she needed him to. He took another opportunity to strengthen his marriage, love his wife and enjoy life with her… And wasted it. He messed up. He has no idea how that evening might have ended. If he had taken her out, had fun, made her the center of attention.
It ended with another night in front of the TV.
I want you guys to begin retraining your family. Start proving yourself all over again. Watch for opportunities to be the hero and save the day. Take your mission serious.
Quit telling them to wait.
Quit pushing them aside.
Quit ignoring them.
Quit resisting their desire to have a family.
Quit demanding everyone work around you.
Quit making them tiptoe around you.
Quit forcing your family to do everything on your terms.
Quit being a jerk.
Quit missing opportunities to be a part of your own family.
Start watching for opportunities to be a good man. Listen and hear. Make them know you are all there. Love them.
This is your mission.
Should you accept it, eventually you will have a strong family that produces another generation of strong healthy families.
Should you reject it, you will eventually lose them. Either physically or emotionally. You will never experience a truly happy home.