Changing Another?

My husband exudes a certain elegance. I wouldn’t call him arrogant or elitist. But it’s obvious. He simply walks with the self-confidence of someone who knows he belongs wherever he is. He can’t help it. “It’s genetic,” he explains. He may be right. Once, in attempting to describe this je ne sais quoi about him to a friend, I compared our ancestry. “He has a book that chronicles his family history back to 15th century Spain. I can only trace mine to my great grandfather born in a Moldovan shtetl.” He corrected me, “No, Karen, the 12th century.”

It may be that some sense of entitlement was coded into his DNA. When the world doesn’t conform to his pictures, he flies into anger. Like when the internet fails, his flight is delayed, or he is bogged in bureaucratic BS. Several weeks ago, he justified his short-fused nature by showing me a Wiki page about one of his predecessors, a Spanish nobleman born in 1528 who was appointed as a military leader by the Crown to the Viceroyalty of Peru, and captained some major historical battles. He has accepted his combative approach as ‘just the way he is.’

Maybe it’s genetics or just the privilege of an adored first born. Either way, it’s been my challenge not to get triggered by his angry outbursts of concha de tu madre. It rattles my nervous system. Knowing that it’s not possible to change someone else, over our 30-year marriage, I have worked to accept him as he is without resentment. At the same time, I can see that change is possible if he were committed to it. And this conversation about his lineage presented a new opening to improve the quality of our partnership.

I asked, “Are you saying that genetics precludes the possibility of change? If something is troublesome, why wouldn’t you?” This behavior wouldn’t be troublesome if he were by himself; it only appears in the space of our union. And we committed to union by promising to hold each other’s concerns as our own and by living in the question How can I love you more?

Holding him to his commitments, I prompted him to ask me how he could love me more.
It seems I put him on the spot because his initial response was, “You mean now?” After we laughed, I shared my concern for a peaceful environment. I would feel treasured if he would seriously take on mutating his angry/entitled gene. He said that he knew I would and that he had tried. But trying or intending doesn’t produce change. Change requires coaching and practices. Neither of which did he have.

Once he stopped defending himself and became dissatisfied with his behavior, he discovered that he really didn’t know what to do about it (or he would have already done it). If he would be committed to change and allow me to show him the way, I offered him the perfect practice – an angry journal in which he would write down his explosions and the circumstances surrounding them – and talk to me about it. For anyone with a serious commitment to mastery, the ability to see yourself in action is key. The journal serves as a kind of videotape that replays your performance and allows for constructive self-criticism. He committed. And it’s working. We’re both more satisfied.

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