85. It’s rarely about you – even when it seems it must be

If we want to be happier in our relationships – at work, at home, with friends – we need to realise that core fact. It’s really simple, but hard to grasp on an emotional level. And yet, it’s true.

I just came home from work. Yeah, some Sundays I work until 22.00, but that’s another story. I came home and I brought take-out food for my better half, Marie.

Now, the reason I brought food was that when I was about to leave the office, we talked on the phone. She said:

“Can you bring home something to eat from that place on the way?”

But since she has specific tastes in her kebab sandwich, I asked her to text me exactly what to ask for. We both know this is smartest and produces the best results.

Lessons learned and all that.

She then starts telling me what should be in the sandwich. Laughingly, I cut her off and let her know that’s not what I asked her to do. She grins sheepishly and says:

“Yeah, but I felt I could just tell you, and that would be easier for me.”

“Nope. But text me, and I’ll care of it.”

She accepts that, and we laugh about it (it’s not the first such attempt at blatant subterfuge) and we hang up.

The minutes pass. No text arrives.

I close up the office and bike towards home.

No text has arrived.

On the way I realise that I’ve forgotten to bring the toilet paper I promised to bring. I curse myself for being forgetful. I was going to loot from the office supply, but failed due to being distracted by an excellent video interview with Malcolm Gladwell about the meaning of culture.

Yeah, that’s how I roll.

Luckily, I remember before it’s too late, and as I pick up toilet paper from a 7-Eleven, I look at my phone.

No text.

I then walk across the street to the food place, and order a mixed kebab sandwich.

It looks delicious. Just what Marie wants.

At least, I think so.

If I recall correctly, there’s something about adding fried vegetables and leaving out the dressing. Unsure, I order two instead, one with dressing and one without. I count myself a wonderful husband at this point, and practically whistle on my ride home.

When I enter, I’m greeted with a smile. Even more so, when I present the food. There’s no mention of the text (or lack of it). Before I have a chance to tease her about it, the phone rings and Marie has to answer it – it’s important, as calls at 22.45 on Sundays evening normally are.

I smile to myself, and count myself blessed.

Not just because I’m sure she’ll fix something with that phone call (that’s how she is), but because I know that the whole sms debacle isn’t about me. It’s because her head is somewhere else. Somewhere where sending me a text about food preferences – even after having explicitly promised to do so – isn’t high on the attention list.

And I get that.

Cthulhu knows that I’m there often enough! I juggle company, projects, dreams and people, and I forget stuff. Not just kebab orders, but bigger stuff. I’m not even close to being a saint here – quite the opposite.

And because of this I know it has nothing to do with me. The text didn’t fail to appear by choice. It wasn’t a deliberate action. It’s not a sign that she doesn’t love me, or that she doesn’t listen or that she doesn’t care. It’s just that this particular text failed to go from thought to reality.

But what if it had been important?

So if I had now been sitting with some sort of annoyed feeling (“Why can’t she keep her promises, even on something as simple as this?”), then I’d also have myself to blame. Not for the text fail. That’s on her, not me. But on refusing to take action myself to change the situation.

And why didn’t I?

I had an idea of what she wanted, though I wasn’t certain. I got the chance to be the thoughtful partner and perform above and beyond the call of duty (or kebab, at any rate).

I got the chance to say:

“Hehehe. Remember this, next time I forget something.”

It also gave me the chance to write this blog post, and that’s not to be underestimated. :-)

So next time you find yourself in a situation, where it seems crystal clear to you that somebody is deliberately ignoring you, spiting you, misunderstanding you or something along those lines, remember this.

You might be wrong.

In fact, you probably are. It’s almost never about you – even when it seems it must be.

And me? Once she’s done with her call, I’m going to go kiss my wife and tell her that I love her, and hope the talk she had wasn’t bad enough that I need to hide this post from her. :-)

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Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey. Author of 34 books.

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Claus Raasted

Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey. Author of 34 books.