I am about to realize my second lifelong dream of publishing a book. I have been so gratified to hear numerous comments about how my first book has helped people prevent or resolve conflict in the workplace, and I have hope that the same will be said about this new book which deals with relationships at home. I expect the book to be available on July 1, but since Memorial Day is coming up I thought I would share a chapter with you that deals with the power of memories.
Chapter E1: Yesterday is Gone—Isn’t It?
“If you are depressed, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt rightly proclaimed that December 7 would forever be a day of infamy for us as a nation. November 3 is such a day for me, as that is the day my mother died. You never got to meet Sylvia Price. From what I hear, you would have liked her. She was said to be a devoted wife and mother, and she apparently took an active role in supporting the PTA and other of her children’s events.
My memories from those early years are woefully lacking. I do remember making trips from our home in Providence, Rhode Island, to Mass General Hospital in Boston, or to Miriam Hospital, which was located directly across the street from my elementary school.
Wow, it just dawned on me that I must have spent many moments at recess knowing my mother was being held captive and detached from me just literally feet away, yet not fully comprehending the reason why. Here I am 65 years old, and that thought still brings tears to my eyes for the young boy who so needed and missed his mother. Give me just a moment, please.
Okay, I’m back, but I actually did take a few days to come back to this chapter. That memory hit me like a proverbial ton of bricks. It came with no warning and disabled me from continuing with my task. I wrote in PLAY NICE in Your Sandbox at Work about this also occurring when I took my wife to see the movie Stepmom starring Julia Roberts, Ed Harris, and Susan Sarandon. It is a very moving story about a young mother who is dying of cancer and about to leave her two young children, who, by the way, just so happened to be about the same age as my older brother and I were when our mom died of cancer. The only part of my story missing in the movie is that my younger sister was not in it.
I had two separate breakdowns during that movie, each lasting approximately ten minutes. During the first, I was clueless as to what was occurring. I just had this overwhelming sense of sadness and grief. In the second outburst, the reason became crystal clear. I realized that while everyone else in the theater was watching Susan Sarandon die of cancer, I was watching my own mother figuratively die right before my eyes. At that moment, while I was in my late 40’s physically, emotionally I was an eight-year-old grieving the loss of my mother.
I make no apology for my outbursts and certainly feel no shame. The point I hope to drive home in this chapter is that your spouse has hurtful experiences from his or her past, memories of which can arise out of nowhere and with a ferociousness for which they will likely not be prepared. It is precisely at these moments when you, more than any other of the billions of us on the planet, can be a source of comfort, care, and healing.
When your spouse is recalling a memory of a traumatic and hurtful experience, he or she is likely not going to be very pleasant, loving, or easy to be around. He or she may snap at you, yell at you, throw a fit, or have any number of reactions comparable to those of a hurt, young child. They are not doing this on purpose, but ideally, you can purposely choose how to respond. If you choose to join them in any form of negative emotion, you might want to cancel any plans you may have had for a joyful time together, for that’s not likely going to happen.
If, on the other hand, you can somehow choose to minister to his or her pain with soft, comforting words, a gentle hug, or anything else a young child might appreciate, your chances of responding appropriatelyare increased. Please don’t talk down to your spouse as if he or she really is a child—they are not. It’s just that at that particular moment, they are hurting, and they need your comforting.
Oh, that more couples would be aware that the painful experiences of their past have a dramatic and powerful impact on their relationships today. Men, the chances are pretty high that you pay the price at times for other men who have hurt your wife in the past. That is certainly not fair, but neither is it purposeful and mean-spirited. It’s more likely that you just said or did something that she connected with an earlier memory. Wives, please note the same about your husbands. He does not mean to lash out at you at those times, but if you have just somehow reminded him—consciously or unconsciously—of a hurtful moment in his past, he will quite likely take it out on you.
These can be moments of immense healing and growth, but only if you handle them well. Fortunately, marriage provides numerous opportunities for practice. I encourage you, in those moments, to purposely choose to be extra gentle, loving and sweet to your mate. They need you and you need them, and together you really can have a wonderful marriage.
Chapter Challenge: Take some time to consider the wounds from your past and determine if they may be the cause of distress in your life and/or your marriage. If so, please don’t settle or feel you are stuck in that condition. Invest some time, money, and effort into counseling or coaching to learn how to put these memories in proper perspective. They will never go away entirely, but you can diminish their impact.