As I sat in a hotel dining area I saw a young woman trying to eat while wrestling with her fidgety one-year-old son. I felt sympathy for her but was in no position to help. Minutes later, I watched as a young man with spiked hair and sunglasses walk past her but showed no signs of knowing her. He got his food, came back and sat down at a table against the wall near her. It wasn’t until the little boy was getting out of hand that she turned to him and he responded. After he helped her get the little tot under control, he returned to his table and sat down to finish eating. The look on his face was one of, “I’m upset and I’m not talking to you,” while the look on her face was “I wish you’d get over your little pet peeve and act like a caring man, husband, and father.”

While sitting there eating my breakfast, I couldn’t help but start thinking about their interaction with each other, and the little lad. The man was clearly signaling that it was a bother and that his responses were only out of obligation. The lady was obviously trying to hold out and not give in to the same attitude and hardheadedness but was loosing her patience. By the time they left the dining area, the man hurried off, reluctantly carrying his son while the woman scurried behind him with a look of sadness on her face.

Whatever may have caused this rift in their relationship, it appeared to me that the man was guilty of what I call “Problem Personification.” Regardless of what she may have said or done that put him in this sour mood, he personified it and made her the object of his scorn. He wanted her to get the message that she had made him mad and now she was going to pay for it. Let’s say, she did start it. There are certainly other ways both could have handled it.

Let’s take a look. If a man opens the refrigerator door too quickly and something his wife put in the door falls out and breaks on the floor, Problem Personification will cause the wife to focus on the man and say something like, “Why can’t you be more careful?” “When will you learn how to open the refrigerator door properly?” Suddenly, the man finds himself trying to defend his honor, dignity, and dexterity instead of concentrating on how to clean up the spill.

Likewise, imagine the wife is driving and trying to negotiate a difficult turn into a tight parking spot and runs the wheels up against the curb and scars the tires and rims. Problem Personification will cause the husband to holler out, “Can’t you see where you are going?” “Now you’ve ruined our chrome wheels and I don’t have the money to get them fixed!” When will you learn how to drive?” Here again, he personifies the incident and makes her the target of his disrespect. In addition to trying to cope with the error she just made, now she’s forced to apologize while defending her abilities and judgment.

Such illustrations are endless, but the faux pas in each case is quite evident. Instead of dealing with the issue at hand, emotions and accusations are often directed at the individual instead of reacting to the incident itself. In the case of the refrigerator moment, the wife’s response could have been to ask her husband if he was okay and then discuss how things can be put in the refrigerator more securely. Once that is accomplished and she invites him to help her clean up the mess, then she can politely tell him that she also learned the same thing when she too jerked open the refrigerator door instead of pulling it gently. He already feels bad enough for what occurred, but now she’s helped him to channel his emotions into a positive remedy instead of defending himself angrily.

As far as the car wheel incident is concerned, the husband has the option of quickly assisting his wife in getting the car into a parking spot without further damage to the wheels by making sure she can back up without hitting the car behind them, and then offer some pointers on where to aim the car so she can negotiate the turn successfully. Sure, she feels bad about scratching the rims, but he can let her know that he’s done the same thing once or twice and that rims can be fixed. He can also advise her on how he navigates through into tight spaces and assures her that she can do it too. Once she knows her man understands, she will not blame herself and feel inferior because of any bully accusations.

So, consider this resolution for 2017: The next time your spouse does or says something that sparks the flame of anger in your emotions, quickly say to yourself, “I will not personify the problem!” The resolution here lies with me, not with them. I am strong enough to deal with this properly.” Then focus on any damage done and discuss how it can be fixed by working together. Then when you think of what started it all, work on how you can handle it in a more agreeable way. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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