Lesson #3 - Solving Conflicts with Aperol Spritz
‘Lesson from the Road’ is a series on the discoveries I made about myself both as a man and husband whilst walking 580 kms together with my wife Deborah.
Our journey followed The Way of St Francis, an ancient pilgrims’ route through central Italy. It was a beautiful and uplifting time for both of us. But along with the joy we also experienced tears. As we walked, issues came up I’d never fully addressed and could no longer push away.
I’m glad to say by the end of the pilgrimage, my twenty-five year relationship with Deborah was stronger. These stories from the road recount what I learned on the way. I hope they entertain, illuminate and even help in your relationships with the people you love.
Here is lesson three.
Navigating is the most frequently visited conflict zone in our marriage. Other big ones include preparing dinner parties, getting ready to go on holiday, and infrequent tasks like erecting a tent or moving furniture. But driving is the clear number one.
A typical scenario:
“Shouldn’t you be going that way?” I ask as we whizz past the freeway entrance.
“I’ve chosen the route I want to take, thank you,” replies Deb.
“OK,” I say.
I fidget silently for a minute but can’t contain myself.
“Google maps says going on the freeway is much faster,” I blurt.
That’s when Deb starts to get annoyed.
“Fine, but I didn’t ask you to look at any maps,” she says. “I’m driving so please just let me do it my way.”
“But according to Google your route is six minutes slower!” I say waving my smart phone at her to prove I’m right. “That’s just irrational.”
Then it goes downhill from there.
Once we cool down, Deb and I sometimes ask ourselves why we have these unhealthy interactions. I know my behaviour has deep roots in the past. As the oldest of four boys who’d just lost their mother, I learned how to survive stress at home by getting everyone to do things the ‘right’ way, particularly around eating, homework and keeping the place tidy. If it looked like we were doing things the ‘wrong’ way, I’d panic and seize control to get things back on the ‘right’ track. I could end up being pretty bossy and harsh.
I know now there is never one ‘right’ way to get anything done in life. Yet this behaviour became so hard-wired I can’t seem to stop myself.
Each time it happens I end up feeling terribly guilty. Denying Deb the freedom to do things her way makes her feel disempowered and undermined. Then she pushes back and I defend myself. It’s a vicious cycle.
These conflicts are wounding. Sometimes it can take a day for us to recover our affinity for each other.
Fortunately, out of this bleakness we had a breakthrough on the road in Italy. I hope it will change everything going forward.
As I describe in the video, we’d just had an argument over directions and were trudging along in sullen silence. But we then did two things that were so smart and outside the norm I still cannot believe we thought of them.
“Can we just forget this argument?” I asked. “Like it never happened?”
Deb looked at me puzzled.
“Whenever we fight like this,” I continued. “We spend too much time afterwards going over what happened. You become upset. I can’t stop apologising and feeling guilty. So it never makes any difference. How about I simply say sorry, then we leave it and move on?”
Deb smiled and said, “Yes. Good idea. Let’s just leave it. And celebrate later with a drink.”
What a genius!
We walked in silence for a couple more hours. At this point I’d normally be wallowing in guilt. But because we’d let it go and wiped the slate clean all the negativity evaporated. I felt free, able to enjoy the beauty of the countryside. We even held hands.
Both of us had embraced the fact I can’t stop reacting the way I do, for now. From time to time it’s likely I’ll try to force the ‘right’ way of doing things on her. Perhaps in future I’ll be free but not now. Deb seems OK with that. She’s not taking it personally.
We also both realised too much discussion is counter-productive. It’s far better to starve the argument of oxygen.
A couple of hours later we arrived at our destination. It was time to celebrate! We found our little hotel, showered and headed out to a chic looking bar across the square. We ordered a couple of Aperol Spritzs, our new favourite drink (three parts Prosecco, one part Aperol - an Italian bitter aperitif - plus sparkling water and a slice of fresh orange). We helped ourselves to snacks from the bar and settled down to watch the locals taking their evening passagiatto.
The drinks arrived and we toasted each other. Nothing needed to be said. Spritz was all that was required.
Our lives occasionally need a major clean out. Watch out for Lesson Four.