As Summer Approaches

Post-Covid, I imagine many of us will be getting out-and-about once again. I thought I would offer a few short pieces, some from clients, some not, that you might find entertaining and/or enlightening.

This first is an example of a tiny example of assertiveness applied.

Jane and her husband had fallen into a mutually agreeable routine following their wedding. He hadn’t wanted her to return to work nor had she wanted to. Neither wanted children. Ten years into the marriage Jane received a job offer she accepted. But taking the job meant things would need to change at home.

Yes, any significant change for one results in change for both.

Jane’s husband, Dick, hadn’t been happy with her return to work – he much preferred that her “job” be taking care of him.

But Jane had the Ph.D. she’d never done much with, and she liked the co-workers. And did I mention she was after ten years of floating, bored to death?

For a while Jane managed her work and also taking care of all of the domestic details she had accumulated since the wedding. Dick simply ignored any changes – for example, when he needed something from her he called home, was annoyed when she didn’t answer, and left a message, It never occurred to him to call her at her new office. Denial worked for some

You won’t be surprised to learn that Jane eventually tired of working and carrying the bulk of the couple’s home responsibilities.

This dissatisfaction appeared in small ways first. Jane got tired of cooking dinner.

At first she would say, “Do you want to go out to dinner this evening?” To which he would reply “No.” and she would fume in the kitchen while he read the Wall Street Journal.

Before too long Jane realized that Dick would always say no. Then, it dawned on her that she was asking the wrong question. The next evening she said, “Do you want to go to the Red Onion for Mexican or the Whale & Ale for British?”

“Oh,” he said, “let’s do Mexican.”

Notice that Jane realized that she needed to approach, and fix, her problem as she would have with a first grader. A parent doesn’t ask, “What do you want to wear to school today?” At least not if the object is to get little Becky out the door with a minimal amount of fuss. Mom asks, “Do you want to wear the blue dress of the red one?”

Controlling the outcome by limiting the choices.

No it doesn’t always work. Occasionally Dick would say, “I don’t really want to go out, but, hey, I’ll fix something.” That might have meant opening a can of soup but Jane’s primary wish, to be off the hook re dinner, was still accomplished.

The point is that replacing passivity and passive-aggression with assertiveness is neither a onetime change nor necessarily about “big” stuff. Usually it means the passive one picking their battles to the ones that actually matter to them and then considering different approaches to the same end.

Adjustments in established relationships are always tedious and opposed. It’s why, for example, I ask clients to consider what benefits their partners get from their drinking. At first they, like their partners, will deny any exist – except they always do, even if it’s always getting to be the “good one” – which is no small benefit.

When possible, initiate change incrementally, see what benefits, your own and others, you can substitute with equally valued benefits (sex is a common contender provided you both like it) and don’t get easily discouraged. It took time to get to wherever you are, it’ll take time, effort and awareness to change.