For years I (Caron) tried to get David to understand me. At times, I ached for him to comprehend the trauma and sadness of my childhood and how it affected me as an adult. I told him my stories. And he listened attentively with as much empathy as he was capable of mustering.
But even with all my pleading he just couldn’t touch my pain in a way that fully translated “I get you.”
How could he? He came from an intact family of loving parents who enthusiastically supported his every achievement. His childhood, though not perfect, was mostly secure. He had no reference for things like divorce, a parent’s death, and abandonment. And I’m so glad he didn’t.
While the difference between our upbringings brought depth, stability and so many great things to our relationship it also fueled conflict. He wanted me to simmer down, I needed him to understand.
Both our experiences of “normal” growing up were worlds apart. And psychologists tell us we all try to recreate in our adult life what felt most familiar to us in our childhood home. In our case, that would look like two completely different worlds because what was comfortable for one was uncomfortable for the other.
Eventually, it took a crisis in our marriage and persistent willingness on both our parts to really hear what the other needed most that helped us breakthrough to the satisfying goodness, and conflict-free experience we share now.
Having lived this ”experiential divide” helps us better understand some of the dynamics at play in our current racial crisis.
One group desperately wants the other to understand their story. The other is trying like crazy to compassionately listen. Neither can comprehend the other’s life or where they’re coming from.
In a lot of marriages, this is when divorce happens.
Spouses dig in their position and see each other as enemies, aliens. They are blind to the validity of the other person’s position. They get stuck on repeat saying, ” You aren’t meeting my needs.” “You aren’t ____you never ____you always….”
But it doesn’t have to end this way.
Change is possible when at least one party decides to care about meeting the others’ needs as much as they care about getting their own needs met. It’s no longer about ‘what I’m not getting’ or ‘what you’re not giving’ but it’s a safe, mutual transaction of grace.
Success is when I want you to be happy as much as I want to experience my own happiness. It’s when your need to feel safe becomes as important to me as my own need to feel safe.
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you,
for this sums up the law and the prophets.” Jesus
And in the words of Brene Brown, “Listen with the same passion with which you want to be heard.”
Maybe, part of what it’s going to take for the anger and divisiveness to end & progress to be made is:
- A crisis. (We’ve got that.)
- And a persistent willingness on both parts to feel ( to the best of their ability) and to meet the other’s needs with the same intensity and enthusiasm they would meet their own.
Yes, we get this kind of work is exhausting and frustrating. We know we’ve been at this for decades. There’s always the alternative if it gets to be too much.
Let’s keep listening with the same passion we want to be heard.