Reconciliation? When the Answer Is “No”

Marriages can survive serious disagreements.

“Just wait a minute! I’m not ready to go to bed with you! I’m not even sure I want to be married to you!”

I heard myself say those words after my husband’s enthusiastic invitation to go back to the hotel and make love shortly after meeting my plane in the Sydney (Australia) airport — after 5 weeks apart.

I had almost forgotten this experience until a subscriber sent me this:

“What do you say after the answer is no? How can people learn to deal with the “risks” of clear communication? How can they develop an appropriate response to “No” that does not discount either of the participants?”

She described a situation in which both people communicated very clearly and appropriately. One asked for what she wanted and the answer was a non-negotiable “No”.

(Now, back to Sydney) I was still hurt and angry — even after 20 or so hours of pampering in first class on a trans-Pacific flight. He had arranged the upgrade to soften me up and make up for leaving me for weeks while he went to learn some totally optional new skills studying with a good friend in Australia.

Normally I wouldn’t have opposed his taking such a trip. In 1992, we had been married for 32 years and had made a commitment to our own and each other’s growth. We had a history of attending training programs both together and separately as part of our professional lives.

After 20 years in business together practicing and teaching about psychotherapy, we had a very strong relationship and a strong business. Covering for each other was nothing new.

But 1992 was different. I had lost both my parents within nine months of each other, we had just hired a new and untested office manager, I was deeply into independent work on my Ph.D., I was menopausal, and, after numerous trips to assist my parents, I was exhausted.

I told him that I did not want him to go. He decided to go anyway.

I was to manage things myself for five weeks and join him for a short vacation and a professional conference — and there I was, in the Sydney airport.

If he had not taken the time to listen to how hurt and angry I felt and how hard it had been to manage without him, I would have had a very hard time forgiving him. And I didn’t forgive him right away.

Flowers and candy (and first class travel) were not enough to heal the damage. Listening and empathizing were not enough either. But combining all of those things with keeping agreements to take on a lot of the workload when we returned home made the difference.

We will soon celebrate our 60th anniversary.

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