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The Venting Process

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by , 05-09-2014 at 11:24 PM (1183 Views)
I was in a store today, and two people were served before me ó out of turn. It happened so quickly, I didnít say anything; they were already in the middle of their orders. When I got back to my car, I told my husband how annoyed I was. He said, ďMaybe you should speak up for yourself.Ē This made me doubly annoyed, and I lost my temper with him. Iíve asked him many times not to give me advice unless I ask for it. Now Iím asking for yours.
Wendy, Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

Wow, that took an unexpected turn. But I hear you, which is all you want from your husband, correct? A chance to vent, not a repair manual, which can often diminish us all over again. Unfortunately, some people (myself included) need only hear a problem before we launch into solution strategies. This may go to deep-seated feelings that we are only as valuable as the value we provide. But thatís not your problem. Well, actually, it is.

Explain to your husband, calmly, that sometimes you only want to express your frustration to get it out of your system ó not for him to fix it for you. Then help him out. The next time you share an annoyance, begin by saying: ďI am now venting. No advice needed.Ē Then proceed to your grievance. This may seem like an obvious distinction to you, but it isnít sinking in with your husband. And itís important to get on the same page, or you will head elsewhere with your feelings, which will diminish your relationship.

Bridge the Gap

I canít remember doing anything to offend my neighbor, but every time weíre about to run into each other, he crosses the street to avoid me. I see him doing this and feel insulted. Often, just to be spiteful, I cross the street, too, so he will be forced to pass me and feel embarrassed by his behavior. Then I feel infantile and guilty. Should I tolerate his behavior or keep extracting my childish revenge?

Martin, Asbury Park, N.J.
Given your willingness to sprint across the street and boldly face down your neighbor, Iím surprised you didnít offer a third possibility: escalation. Stomp on his tulip bed and give him something to be really angry about. But none of these options fix the problem, and sadly, our memories are imperfect when it comes to the harm we do. Knock on his door and say: ďIím afraid Iíve upset you, but I donít know how. Can we talk about it?Ē
Depending on the depth of your neighborís conflict-avoidant streak, he will either name your sin (for which you can apologize) or pretend he has no beef with you at all. Donít be surprised if he takes this latter path. They donít put the ďpassiveĒ with ďaggressiveĒ for nothing. And donít press. Your gesture may be all the apology he needs. But even if it isnít, you will have done the neighborly thing (especially after we agree that you will stop chasing him across the street.)

A Social Reminder

At a social event, a gentleman we had met a dozen times before walked up to my husband and me, extended his hand and introduced himself. I politely reminded him that we had met many times before. His response: ďIím pre-dementia.Ē Was I wrong to remind him that we had met?

Amy, Baltimore
Not at all. But that doesnít make the moment less awkward for any of you. Thatís life, isnít it? Iíve had many letters from people whose egos were bruised after not being recognized repeatedly; they feel disrespected. Your polite reminder was just the thing. And a big round of applause to the fine fellow who explained himself. Thereís no shame in illness. The trick is where to go next. I suggest a brief acknowledgment and quick changeup: ďIím sorry to hear that. Have you tried the mung bean canapťs? Theyíre surprisingly delicious.Ē Let him circle back to his condition, if he wants to.

House Rules

Unfortunately, my mother thinks sheís hilarious. It used to be that I could take the constant stream of lame jokes and one-liners. But now that Iím living at home again (as a rent-paying college graduate looking for work), she is driving me crazy. Do I have a move here, or do I simply have to find another place to live?

Ginger, New York
Just before the papal double-canonization, I read a profile of Pope John XXIII that included this nugget: When asked how many people worked at the Vatican, His Holiness shrugged and replied, ďAbout half of them.Ē (Buh dum bum!) Even Roman Catholic saints love their Henny Youngman. Give your mother a pass this Motherís Day weekend. Think of those hours of painful labor.
On Monday, before she has started her stand-up act, say: ďI know you love your jokes, but a few go a long way. What if we limit them to cocktail hour? Iíll make you a drink, and you can get all of them out of your system at once?Ē Another possibility is moving to a market-rate apartment that you canít afford. You see? Her house, her schtick. Happy Motherís Day, Gingerís mom!

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