The Path Rarely Taken
Let’s begin with a question: How do you normally feel coming home from work? For most, the answer lies somewhere sluggishly between tired and hungry.
We come back from work, walk up to the house, turn the key, and chances are if one expectation falls short, we can expect a red alert!
Before you know it, you fire off the passive-aggressive “house looks really clean today!” even though, in your mind, it seems like the government just shut down. Not surprisingly, your spouse picks up on your signal, and shoots right back: “Well someone is in just a great mood today.”
Now, you have the makings of what we call an opportunity.
Let’s travel down two paths and follow them to their logical conclusion.
Path One: The Path Most Traveled
Let’s return to our scene. You’re now in the middle of a passive-aggressive battlefield before either of you have even said hello to each other.
It’s your turn now. She really hit a button here. But you can’t help it. You fire back. “You ALWAYS leave this place a mess, I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!”
So here we are. You’ve now just let loose two of the massive no-no’s.
Massive no-no #1: “Always”
The word “always” is the trigger word. First, it categorizes your beloved into a box. With one word, you’ve sealed the box shut and scribbled “you are XYZ” on all sides. And the worst part about it, because it’s “always”, you’ve now made him/her aware that you believe they have little hope of ever changing.
Massive no-no #2: Attaching the Family
With your quick comment, you’ve dug in the following message: not only are you unfixable, but your flaw roots run deep - your family is unfixable too. No wonder you are the way you are.
By swiftly throwing the popular “always” and family background stabs into your passive-aggressive comebacks, you’ve now backed your spouse into a corner they can not leave, and you, the person they married because you were so encouraging at first, are now the central topic of the next five therapy sessions.
And you know what they say...
Unfortunately, often times these passive-aggressive roads can push so far past the red line that it produces one of the two spouses to cry out those four dreadful words: I want a divorce.
If it gets this far, the entire marriage now gets placed on the table. Those words can never be rescinded - not now, not ever. In a deeper way, a part of the relationship dies as soon of those words are uttered.
However far down the rabbit hole a passive-aggressive argument can take you, is up to you. But there’s always the decision to not step foot down that hole in the first place. There’s always the decision, when you open that door, to take the other path — the path less traveled.
Path Two: The High Road
Tip #1: Self Control
Self-control is the most powerful tool we have.
There you are, still in the doorway of your house, tired and hungry. And there it is in front of you - the dreaded mess staring you in the face. Your last straw.
But this time, instead of that passive aggressive comment you had all loaded up, you pause, hold your tongue, take a deep breath, and think about the long term.
Tip #2: Give
Now that you can see a bit more clearly, jump at the opportunity to build up the marriage. Take action.
You hear the following words come out of your mouth: “Honey, I missed you all day. It looks like today may have been a rough one. Give me ten minutes and I will try to take care of the house while you put your feet up.”
Immediately, you completely avoid the potential destructive passive-aggressive battle and your relationship is elevated to a reinforced version of caring for the other.
By taking the path less traveled, at that moment, the couple has now transformed into one that cares about the other person’s reality and, in doing so, has also changed their own.
When self-control and giving are exercised, we immediately elevate closer to the actualized version of ourselves we spend all day dreaming of becoming.
And the Path Less Traveled doesn’t need to be restricted to our messy-houses greeting our grumpy-attitudes. In all areas of our marriage, whenever we think a certain expectation isn’t being met, and we feel heat rising in our chest — if we can just take a breath and find an opportunity to give, the entire marriage will be elevated.
Simple as it is, but difficult by every metric, this is a moment by moment exercise we should all actively strive for. The more we practice self-control, the more it will become second nature. Just like a muscle, the ability to practice self-control and giving will grow, and with it, inevitably, so too our marriage.