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Finding Common Ground

My husband and I are VERY different. VERY, VERY different. VERY, VERY, VERY different.

(Enough?)

There are a lot of my issues he just doesn’t understand. And this makes me feel even MORE insecure about my problems a lot of the time. He tries, and he often can predict my behavior or responses, but he doesn’t understand it. He says it’s his own lack of empathy. And sometimes I think that’s it, but other times I experience the same, “I JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND THAT AT ALL!” feeling towards others and I have PLENTY of empathy.

Example: He doesn’t understand the stress-fueled binge eating. In his head, you don’t binge-eat. Ever. I mean, he has days where he eats more than he should, but it’s never textbook binge-eating. He has never inhaled 6 donuts in a dark parking lot and thrown away the evidence so no one would know. He says he lacks the empathy to understand that behavior in me. And while I do believe he doesn’t empathize as well as I do, I think part of it is not having any sort of tiny experience to recall to connect in any way. You have to have some sort of similar connection to empathize, and he’s missing that more than the empathy itself. He smoked in college and just quit one day, after making the decision to do so. He wanted to lose weight to get lean for tri season and he just did it. He’ll tell you, “It wasn’t easy!” and it’s not…but he doesn’t have those waves of failure we all have. He just does it. And succeeds. So he lacks the experience of failure, or fear of failure, to relate to binge eating.

In the same way, I lack the experience to understand the Wh!t3sboro Baptist Church protesters. (I refuse to have their full name on my blog.) They protest military funerals and funerals of gay students with signs that say, “God Hat3s F@gs.” There is not any part of me that empathizes with those people because I have not one – even REMOTELY similar – experience to connect with. I can’t feel anything but hatred and disgust towards them, with the periodic twinge of sympathy when I see children in the protests.

So, while empathy is important and I definitely have the talent in BOAT LOADS compared to my husband, I think there has to be some sort of experience you have to relate to personally, in order to really empathize. And until you find that similar experience, it’s hard to connect.

We were talking this morning about the Brené Brown book I bought yesterday and empathy and what-not. I also was discussing the author’s perfectionism and how mine is not similar to hers. I told him, “YOURS is more like hers, although still not the same.” I thought about it for a beat and I told him his perfectionism manifests in polar opposite ways from my own.

He said, “You mean like how angry I got when I got a 90% on that test, knowing two people did better than me?”

“Yes,” I said, “But your response is productive.”

“Because I didn’t go eat a gallon of ice cream when I got home?”

“Yeah! Kind of…but more importantly, you didn’t freak out for days before about maybe getting a 90 on the test like I would have.”

“Okay, I see that…”

“And I would have eaten the ice cream THEN too, BEFORE the test, over the anxiety of possibly not doing well…”

“Instead of studying?”

“Exactly. The anxiety cripples me OUT of productive behavior and INTO destructive behavior!”

And that was a good moment for us. When two people are that different, and one has a truck load of issues she’s working through, those type of moments are key. The ability to relate to each other’s challenges, even if you don’t experience similar ones, is important.

Of course, part of him now thinks, “Just don’t eat the ice cream. Study instead.” But he still understands a bit more in a real-world context. He couldn’t ever see himself doing it, but he sees how the ice cream ends up being eaten and how it still relates to a similar drive to be perfect.

The difference? His perfectionism is productive. Mine is destructive. And since he understands the desire to be “perfect” in certain areas, it gives him one sliver of a connection. He may not understand the way the anxiety pushes me to do the destructive action, but he does at least understand the desire for perfection that starts the chain of events.

And the more connections he finds like that, the more he empathizes with my struggles. And that helps BOTH of us.

2 thoughts on “Finding Common Ground”

  1. I have discussed Brene Brown AT LENGTH with my therapist (she is the first one who told me about her TED Talks), and we have talked about perfectionism a LOT because I struggle with the black and white thinking of perfectionism as well (and binge eating, as I have mentioned before). I think the difference is that productive perfectionism is really just striving for excellence, and that is okay. Truly wishing to be perfect is irrational, as it is impossible, so it is destructive (like it is for you and for me). So while Donnie might consider himself a perfectionist, he is really just striving for excellence without the irrational idea that anything less than perfect is worthless. Those of us who struggle with perfectionism, on the other hand, equate anything less than perfect with something bad. I am glad you are reading her book! I love a lot of what she says, although the road to getting “there” is a lot longer and windier than the perfectionist in me wants it to be!

  2. This is such a great follow-up to yesterday’s post. I don’t think you could have possibly explained this any better. Thanks!

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