Thursday, September 11, 2008

Attention Spouse! (My attempt to live Matthew 18)

Dear spouse,

Please consider the following script:

-----Scene One-----

ME: So if I hear you right, you think A. And I think B and C, right? These aren't contradictory, so together we think that A, B, and C, yes? We agree? A, B, and C?

YOU: Yep, A, B, and C.

ME: So if I communicate to Person X that you and I together think A, B, and C, I'm representing us both accurately?

YOU: Uh-huh.

ME: Great! (goes off to tell Person X and that together we think A, B and C.)

----Scene Two----

YOU: My wife thinks that A, B, and C. I, on the other hand, think that Q, P and W are better options, and/or what we should be focusing our attention on, and/or a more workable solution than what my wife mentioned.

PERSON X: Really? Fascinating.

YOU: Thank you.

----Scene Three----

ME: WHAT THE HELL? I went to a lot of trouble to PRY your friggin' opinions out of you so that I could pass along what we BOTH thought. You said A, B, and C; not Q, P and W.

YOU: I did say Q, P and W. Once, very softly. Or else I thought of Q, P, and W after our conversation. And anyway, why are you angry when Q, P and W are so obviously better than A, B, and C?

ME: (gets stabby-eyed because that is so far from the point.


I'd like to suggest to you that the frequency with which, if I'm correct, this script gets followed in our marriage is a manifestation of your sexism. Even if Q, P, and Z are genuinely better. Even if on some occasions you DO genuinely think of Q, P, and Z after I do the conversational work to pry out of you what you think.

You know how, when white people get called on their racism and they say, "Oh, but in that instance there was this particular extenuating factor that explains it all. And in that other instance there was this other extenuating factor. And in that other instance there was that other extenuating factor. And my, that's a lot of situations that seem to need an explanation, BUT IT'S OKAY because there is ALWAYS an extenuating factor." it doesn't wash?


Look, you're planting turds in my pocket, and I don't like it. And you seem to do it mostly with Christian communities -- churches and small groups. What's the deal? I am seriously considering the possibility that I can't be part of the same Christian communities as you, because you have a pattern of undermining what I say and making me look like the inept fool in our family.

I think of the Mennonite church we used to attend; I thought we had said we would approach the pastors about the sexism that we'd seen at the church, but then in conversation with them it ended up that I was complaining about the sexism (and getting patted on the head over my obviously hurt feelings) while you were bringing up your objections to the liturgy. (Which were indeed valid; again, though - not my point.)

I think of my attempts to talk frankly with our current pastor, about things I believe I had every reason to believe we were agreed on (because, as usual, I'd done the conversational work of getting out of you what you think and feel.) And then you went and talked to her later, and undermined everything I'd said.

And now with this small group that's forming. You've done it again. Now I don't feel like this is a group I can join.

Since we've been married I've noticed - and communicated to you - that my status in Christian groups seems to have plummeted. I chalked this up to the fact that Christians are generally pretty sexist and while they might be able to see a young single woman as a thinking agent they have a lot harder time with affording that respect to a mother of young kids. I also reasoned that our marriage coincided with a move to a conservative state, so that was part of the equation as well.

I now find myself wondering how much of it is just you.

Am I one hundred percent correct in all of these situations? No. I might be lots wronger than you are. I get angry in ways that give me no moral high ground. I don't always pick up on your (frankly, very subtle) cues early on that what you really want to talk about Q, P, and W rather than A, B, and C. When I get angry later I might not remember every tiny little fact correctly or get my timeframe precisely right. I might fume at you in ways that are unhelpful and prompt you to get defensive. I might have a chip on my shoulder. Sometimes I might see this pattern in operation when it's not, really. Those things are mistakes of mine; I don't pretend they're not.

Again, though, please note the presence of the pattern in the first place.

Stop it, please. I've asked you already one-on-one, and it continues. You claim to want accountability. We're not in a church community that knows how to practice mutual accountability, so I am posting this on my blog that at least one person you know reads.

I'm also disabling comments. If you know my spouse, and you want to talk to him about it, feel free to do so. I don't think anyone else need criticize him, though.