I learn a lot from the men in my Men’s Group. We talk of safety and validation all the time. As is typical of guys, we often focus on “what works.” Here is a story about wasting energy on doing the wrong stuff.
One weekend, Jim (I’ll call him) had two days to himself. His wife, Francine, was leaving town for a visit with her grandkids.
Now, Jim decided to surprise his wife when she came back, with a gift. She had always wanted a little special garden built in their backyard. She wanted it to be a Peace Garden, with greenery around it, a bubbling pool, a fire pit, and a general air of serenity. Jim decided to start work on it while she was gone. Being a very methodical kind of person, he wanted her to be able to visualize the layout. As he was aware of her requests to be able to see things, he decided to use strings to mark off the location of the garden.
A coupla hours later the string was found, the area carefully measured, the posts hammered into soil and the strings attached. From the back porch a nice view of the outlines of the Peace Garden was clear.
Then Jim noticed that the ground in that area was pretty rough and thought, “I’ll smooth it out.” So he got out his little garden tractor with the blade on the front. After getting it going, he started going round and round ripping up and leveling the whole area. Oh, of course, first he had to remove the stakes and the string. Night fell and he took a break, but was up with the morning putting the finishing touches on the surface.
By noon he was done and after lunch he put the stakes back in the ground, having carefully measured them out. Finally, on went the strings. He was proud. It looked good. He waited for his wife’s return. Pleased with himself.
Francine came home around 4pm. She took one look and was hopping with anger. “You always do things without letting me be involved. You control freak!” And she retreated to her room.
That was the story Jim told us. We heard it and empathized with a baffled Jim, but also validated Francine. What she did made sense to her. What he did made sense to him.
Then there was a lull as we all thought about it. One guy asked, “Jim, what were you trying to do.” “I was trying to love her — just that,” said Jim.
One man spoke up. “Bullshit. You were loving her. That’s not the problem. She just wasn’t receiving love. She was receiving controlling!”
There was a silence. Then one guy said, slowly, “You were on Channel 3 sending her love, and she was on Channel 4 receiving control.” Hmm.
“Jim, did you want to send her love, or did you want her to receive love?” I asked.
“I wanted, I want her to receive my love,” he responded. We were quiet.
“So, what are you going to do?” someone asked.
“I guess I’ll have to get onto Channel 4, and send her love on that channel,” said Jim.
We all nodded.
The relationships principle: What you intend is interesting but not very important. How it comes across is critical and is what counts.