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The Only Person I Can Change is Myself

February 8, 2016

heartI’m intentionally moving slowly through the February Chapter: “Remember Love: Marriage.” Even though Gretchen focuses on her marriage relationship primarily in the chapter, the principles apply in all close relationships, particularly family, where we tend to expect more of one another.

That old axiom “Familiarity breeds contempt” may overstate the problem, but I know that it’s not unusual to speak hasty, unkind words to those closest to us we would never think of saying to strangers or acquaintances. We treat worst the people we love most.

Again, Rubin isn’t playing marriage counselor or handing out one-size-fits-all prescriptions; instead, she focuses on some of the points she’s already discovered. First, she acknowledges that she “couldn’t change anyone else.” She begins to pay attention to the little things that make a difference. One of the “Secrets of Adulthood” she repeats is that “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”

She may be right when citing experts’ research showing that the arrival of children can have a huge negative impact on a marriage, but having come through that challenge—successfully, I believe—I will point out that other life experiences pose their own challenges.

Moving, for example. All those studies that rank the effect of different stressors—death in the family, divorce, job loss—rightfully rank moving high on the list. I think moving is stressful even when it’s a conscious choice, as ours has been. We know we are getting closer to goals that will produce long-term happiness, especially since we’ll be closer to family.

In the meantime, however, we had to assess—even handle—everything we owned and decide whether to pack it to go, to throw it away, or give it away. Leaving it untouched was not an option. In our case, we had to accomplish this in a thirty-day period, during which we also had to find and buy a new home in a city six hours away. We had more to do than we could possibly do. But we did it. There was no “assigning tasks,” but whoever could do something did it.

Some tasks fell to me because no one else could have known what needed to be done. Since my husband was continuing to work through the whole moving experience, much of which he did by phone or Internet, I had more of the moving responsibilities. On the other hand, he had to work out the logistics of buying and selling, dealing with realtors, bankers, and movers—all tasks that give me the willies.

While we’re waiting for closing, most of our possessions are waiting on a moving van, while we live out of our cars, where we’ve packed what we hope will be enough clothes and necessities for a couple of weeks. We’ve spent much more “together time”—and because we both recognize the stress we’ve experienced, I hear him say, “Please” and “Thank you” frequently. He may have always said them, but they certainly mean a lot now.

A final point I’ve noted from the first part of the February chapter is that I, too, tend to want credit (or gold stars) for doing what I do. A book I highly recommend is Personality Plus by Florence Littauer. In it, she uses the four humours from medieval philosophy to describe temperament. The book includes an excellent self-test that also proved a great vocabulary exercise when I used it in class. Rarely have I seen anyone read the description of his or her type without saying, “Yes! That’s me exactly!”

I’m a classic “Sanguine” personality. In the book, she not only helps readers to understand ourselves but to look at how we interact with other types—or sometimes just as challenging—with people just like us. I did discover that a group of sanguine types can get on one another’s nerves because we all want the attention.

I also learned that the way I am isn’t the “best type.” The world’s a better place, more interesting and efficient, when various temperaments interact, each finding his or her own best role.

I think I’ll do a little review this week. I saw my mother’s copy of the book on the shelf of the guest room where we are staying a few days, awaiting our closing. I might even convince myself to forego the gold stars and just love!


One Comment leave one →
  1. April 6, 2016 5:12 pm

    I’ll just betcha that the personality test that I used with students when we studied Hamlet came from Personality Plus. I don’t think I had the book, but I’d like to have it. If I remember correctly, I tested sanguine, too. I’m not surprised!

    When we moved from Pensacola, Frank did almost all of the packing and throwing away. I was on the road all the time and could get to packing only on weekends. He did a marvelous job, and I was so thankful for his diligence. We’ll never move again, but I’m still remembering “You are not a store!”

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