Defusing a Small Crisis With Humor

My wife and I had a bunch of friends over for dinner last week. My wife spent a lot of time setting the table and getting the food ready. My job, which I do really well, is to be the best helper she could ever possibly hope for. At an event like this, which involves our friends and is a part of our social life, she is the manager of the entire occasion. I am not the co-manager or even the assistant manager. I am strictly her helper and go into a very pro-active mode of cooperating with her and making her life as easy as possible so that we can both be proud.

I don't sit around not paying attention and waiting for her to tell me what to do. I ask her what she needs often, and also just look around and identify what needs doing and then just do it. So, I wash a lot of dishes, put stuff away, check in with our guests often around drinks, etc.

When I first understood what my role was in these situations, I had a hard time accepting it. After all, I'm a big boy too and how come I'm only a helper? It seemed demeaning. I found it hard to accept the fact that she gave orders and I had to do things her way.

Two things enabled me to wholeheartedly take on the role of "helper". The first was understanding and accepting that our social life is not my responsibility -- it's her's. I have plenty of areas in my life where I am in charge and have complete control. I literally don't need to control her areas. The second was deciding that if I was going to be a helper, then I would be the best damned helper anyone ever saw, and that I would be proud of my job. Then I let her know it. I had to let her know it, because she didn't understand herself what our roles were. She actually thought that our social life should be 50/50 and was always mad at me for not taking charge of social events. She was always grousing that, "You never take responsibility for anything--I have to always think for both of us."

I finally had to tell her one day that it was her job to be in charge of the social aspect of our relationship, and that it was my job to help her. But I let her know in no uncertain terms that I was the best damned helper she could ever have and that I was proud of the work I did on our behalf and that I would no longer put up with her putting me down. That worked! From that point on, I never heard a complaint from her. On the contrary, I now get nothing but praise. Not only does she tell me directly how much she appreciates all I do, but I hear her boasting about me to her friends over the phone.

So here we are at the dinner the other day. Things are going along well, and my wife is happily bustling about the kitchen and our guests are at the table chatting and eating in the dining area. I'm washing dishes. So she comes in and suddenly she's upset:: "Damn it! Where's my knife? I was just using it a minute ago."

I turned around and looked at her. She's glaring at me.

"You're going to drive me nuts! I can't put anything down without you moving it. Why can't you leave my things alone?"

I could have gone almost anywhere with this situation. We could have had an argument. But I decided to use humor to deflect it. I knew I could do that, because I am not afraid of my wife. She may be yelling, but she is not upsetting me. I have no need to get defensive! I know from past experience that she puts herself under tremendous pressure when we have guests in the house to have everything go smoothly. So I said:"Look. I know that you get upset like you are right now when I put away something that you are using, but I also know that you get a lot more upset when I don't clean things up and put them away".

She said, "Yeah. You're right. I do that."

So I said, "So, basically, I'm wrong whatever I do."

She said, "Yeah. I guess I do that too."

And she started to get a little sheepish and began to realize how unreasonable that was.

But I took her hands, looked her in the eye and said, "It's okay, babe. At least I get to choose how I lose.".

She cracked up and so did I, and we laughed ourselves silly right there in the kitchen. The incident was over, and we went back and sat down with our guests.

©2008, Irv Engel

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One's life has value so long as one attributes values to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion., - Simone de Beauvoir

Irv Engel is a successful salesman, builder, husband, father, grandfather and friend. He loves to sing, dance and is currently taking an art class to learn water color painting. He is the creator and coordinator of the Relationship Training Course for Men. This book, The Real Deal: A Guide to Achieving Successful and Real Relationships, is the result of hundreds of hours spent writing down the lessons learned in a lifetime of marriage, divorce, re-marriage and raising four kids. He hosts free telephone conference coaching sessions in the evening or on weekends.The conference is a good way to find out about relationship coaching and to ask any personal questions around your own relationships without risk to your money or your privacy. E-mail him for phone number, access code and schedule. Irv and Monica live in Lake Forest, Calif. They have eleven grandchildren. They have celebrated their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary.

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