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Jewish World Review
Feb. 15, 2007
/ 27 Shevat, 5767
Putting the brakes on poor communication
By Marybeth Hicks
Usually when I'm about to spend more than $1,500, I give the purchase some consideration. I do my research, or at least I wander around a store long enough to feel I've compared my available options. If I am going to spend this kind of cash, usually I'll be able to sit on my purchase or take it for walks on a leash or add it to my homeowner's policy.
Usually I don't just take off and spend big bucks without thoughtfully deciding if my purchase is necessary (or at least defensible).
So you might say backing into the garage door was sort of an impulse purchase.
Suffice to say, I didn't set out to deplete my checking balance by creating a need for something I already owned something that worked perfectly until I hit the gas and heard an unfamiliar (and somewhat violent) crunch.
Here's what happened: When my husband walked into our attached garage, he immediately noticed that our son hadn't taken out the garbage.
Because it was garbage day and our family most certainly contributes to the national average of 4 pounds of waste per capita per week, we can't afford to miss a pickup. When we do, we also invariably leave the garage door open by mistake and then face a regrettable mess when some varmint (or sometimes our own dog) scurries in and busts open the bags that can't fit into the residential Dumpster.
But I digress. Jim opened the door, saw he couldn't leave the house before handling garbage duty, and because he was in a hurry to make a meeting at work, asked me to please move the van so he could maneuver the rolling trash receptacle. (With balls and toys for four children and a husband who can't part with old tires, the garage is packed pretty tightly.)
Lately I've been on a campaign to improve the general quality of communication in my marriage. I realized recently it's just wrong to treat your husband like one of the children, so when he asked for my help, I offered it gladly and quickly, as it was clear he was rushing.
In fact, I responded so efficiently to his request to move the van that when the door behind my vehicle opened and I caught a glimpse of daylight, I didn't bother to confirm whether there was enough headroom to clear the bottom of the door. I just went.
The next part is a still a blur, but it as far as I recall, it went something like this: squeal ... bang... gasp... "Nooooooo" ... "Whaaaaat?" ... "Aggghhh." ... Now read that again, only this time do so in less than two full seconds.
Right away, I started to confess my remorse, because what else could I do? Of course, this put Jim in an awkward position. You can't exactly come unglued on a remorseful spouse, after all. Obviously he knows it wasn't my intention to make us spend a bunch of money (that arguably we don't have) to repair or replace our garage door.
It would be one thing if I had walked into the house with a bag full of Ann Taylor goodies and said, "I feel really badly, but I just couldn't resist the impulse to buy $1,500 worth of new clothes."
Even a husband of a spendthrift will concede she's not likely to haul off and hit the garage door just for the fun of wandering the aisles at Sears.
And face it, buying a garage door is like buying toothpaste or toilet paper or furnace filters. You have to have one, but who cares? You don't call your girlfriend and say, "Hey, when you get a chance stop by so I can show you my new GARAGE DOOR."
When I hit the door, Jim immediately became pessimistic about what this event would cost. This is what he does to brace himself for painful home-repair estimates. There goes $1,500, he assumed.
Usually when he adopts a negative attitude such as this, I argue with him. I like to look on the bright side when things go wrong on the theory it's better to bury my head in the sand until an actual sandstorm comes to blow my cover. The problem is, taking issue with Jim's concerns only adds to the stress of a situation such as this, leaving us both feeling annoyed and misunderstood.
This time, I didn't take issue with his assumption that my mistake would turn out to be a costly one. I didn't get defensive, and I especially didn't tell him to stop expending emotional energy worrying about a door that had yet to be assessed.
Instead, I said I was sorry at least 17 times and then, after Jim took out the garbage and drove away, I called the garage door guy.
Within a few hours, he arrived on the scene, put the door back on its tracks, said it was fixed and fine and didn't even let me give him a tip for his time and trouble.
In the end, it was an impulse purchase I didn't have to make.
Then again, having resisted the impulse to be defensive, I bought myself a hassle-free conclusion to a home-repair crisis. It didn't cost me anything but a little humility and the self-discipline to hit the brakes on my usual communication style. I suppose where brakes are concerned, it's better late than never.
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JWR contributor Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 19 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide.
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© 2006, Marybeth Hicks