"Fine." Mia walks out. I can tell she was sorely tempted to slam the door behind her. I sit up in bed so I don't fall back asleep. My anger, on the other hand, stays right where it is. How dare she accuse me of not helping around the house? And what gives her the right to wake me so early on a Saturday morning? In a way, it feels good to travel down this road of blame. But knowing that the further I go, the worse things will be for my marriage, I recall...
Step 2: Channel Aunt Margaret, a 60-year-old lawyer from Pittsburgh
You may not have an Aunt Margaret, but chances are you have someone like her: a compassionate person with a knack for listening without judging. If Aunt Margaret were here, she'd tell me to take a deep breath and explain the situation. And then she'd gently try to steer me toward seeing Mia's point of view.
What's brilliant about Aunt Margaret's approach is that it has my interests at heart. Once Mia feels heard, she'll be much more likely to listen to me. So, reluctantly, I resolve to try to imagine—just for a moment—that I'm my wife.
In my professional life, I frequently teach this role-reversal tactic. In class students pair up and actually speak as though they are the other person; though some students at first feel silly, they soon come to understand the powerful difference between describing what "he" or "she" is doing and how "I" feels.
If I were to become Mia right now, I'd say, "I wake up at the crack of dawn to Noah crying. I feed him, drop him off at day care, and then put on my social-worker hat. After work, I pick up Noah, come home, bathe him, eat with Dan, and—a lot of the time—do the dishes and clean up around the house. I know Dan has a busy schedule, but so do I."
Seeing Mia's side makes me feel uncomfortable, less entitled—and that's a good sign. I keep going. I see that I've left her with two bad choices: Do the dishes herself or nag me. She wants to be supported, but instead she's trapped. Now I'm really starting to squirm—because my sense of empathy is waking up. I never meant for my wife to feel unsupported.
It feels as though a weight has been lifted from me. I think I understand Mia's viewpoint, which makes all those venomous thoughts about how mean she is start to disappear. But happy days aren't here again—yet. Mia is still angry. And telling her "I get it!" won't be enough.