“Push You In Front Of A City Bus”
Part of being successful as a couple is the ability to tolerate your partner’s negative feelings toward you without taking it personally. It means understanding the person you love will “hate you” sometimes, but it doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t love you.
My favorite story about a couple “getting it” is by one of my most influential mentors, Dan Wile. He told me about a session in which the wife turned to her partner and said, “There were so many times this week that I wanted to push you in front of a city bus.”
This is what John Gottman calls a “harsh opener.” Dan prepared himself to help the couple manage the conflict that was sure to ensue. Fortunately, this was the session in which the husband “got it.” He turned to his wife and responded, “Wow, I must have done a lot of things to piss you off this week.”
This was the turning point in their therapy. The couple had developed enough trust and security in their relationship that negative affect toward one another was no longer threatening. The husband was able to move past typical reactions of defensiveness and meet his wife on an emotional level where both could work through the feelings of disappointment that are inevitable in relationships.
This story points to an odd concept I too had to struggle with. True love involves the ability to tolerate negative feelings toward each other. Yet as I’ve work on this concept through the years, I’ve really noticed that those I am closest to are those I feel most free to be angry with. Being met when we are feeling joy or love is easy. But when someone is able to meet us when we are feeling afraid, disappointed, or angry toward them, that is when you know they are truly there for you.
Keep in mind that tolerating and understanding another’s anger is different from allowing someone to be abusive toward you. Accepting another’s emotions and creating boundaries around behavior are not mutually exclusive. Often we need to let our partners know we care about their feelings, but we will not tolerate abusive behavior.
Side note: My favorite part of the story is that the next week when Dan asked how things went, the husband replied, “We were walking down the street and a city bus was coming the other way. I turned to her and said, ‘Now is your chance.’”