This post is a continuation of Wednesday’s post, in which I asked what Janice should do next. She triggered an emotional outburst from her wife, Katy, with the question, “How much interest are we making on our savings account this year?”
The Votes are In
Here’s what you thought Janice’s best next move would be :
- 1 reader chose Defend her question as an innocent one with no intent to challenge Katy
- No readers chose Assert her right to know what interest an account with her name on it and her money in it is earning
- 3 readers chose Assure Katy she wants her to handle the finances unsupervised and appreciates the effort involved
- No readers chose Dismiss her request and check with the bank to be sure Katy is not mishandling their money
- 6 readers chose Give Katy information she might not have about a new bank in town with interest rates that might be higher
- 2 readers added Acknowledge Katy’s distress and ask questions to understand what’s behind it before doing anything else
- 1 reader added (by email) Reassure Katy that she (Janice) would not recall the interest rate off the top of her head either and the query was poorly worded. Then the two of them could look up the current rate and together match it against other banks. This query could be a start point for a discussion of how money is such a core issue that it is best that time be apportioned monthly to this and both parties be involved in money matters.
Not everyone who commented could choose just one, so there is some double-counting in this list.
Is the Most Popular Choice the Best Choice?
Giving Katy information about the interest rate at the new bank was quite popular here, just as it is in real life. Let’s talk about that, because I believe it will backfire.
Janice is dealing with information–and probably a request she has not yet revealed. Katy is dealing with emotions. Emotions are the result of beliefs about whatever happened to trigger them. In this case, that would be emotions about being asked by her wife for an interest rate. We’ll get back to those beliefs in a moment.
First, let’s talk about emotions, because what we sense in our bodies as an emotion is the result of the release of chemicals into our brains and bloodstream, a different mix for each emotion. And the purpose of those chemicals is to save our lives. They give us a burst of energy for running away or fighting or staying alert (fear does this and so does anger) or they make us lethargic so we’ll be less adventurous while we mend or figure out a new strategy (sadness does this).
At the same time, the chemicals focus our thoughts. If we’re angry, it will focus them on boundaries and rights. If we’re frightened, it will focus them on threats. If we’re shamed or embarrassed, it will focus them on our standing in a relationship or group. If we’re sad, it will focus them on losses.
In a marriage, angry almost always comes mixed with frightened. We’re frightened of losing our spouse or frightened of losing our independence within the marriage.
So Katy will be focused on boundaries, rights, and threats. Her mind will not be focused on managing the finances. It will be bouncing around like a pinball from dish washing to dog walking to income earning and recalling every word Janice has ever said that sounds like she wants out, wants to run the show, or does not care. She’ll be thinking about how awful it felt to be dumped in her first relationship as a teenager or how small she felt when another partner called her stupid.
Throwing Information at Emotions
What will a brain like this do with the information that there’s a new bank touting its interest rate? What will it do with the information that Janice is thinking about money while Katy’s being overwhelmed by unwelcome thoughts? We are all extraordinarily good at making up scary stories about any information that arrives at a moment like this.
What we believe about the information accentuates the emotion or starts another. Angry (I believe it’s wrong for you to treat me like this) can quickly turn to despairing (I believe I have lost your love or respect). Katy needs time to cool down or a sign that she and her rights are valued by Janice before she can treat information as just information.
Janice’s defense of her question won’t do it. Neither will Janice’s assertion of her own rights. And if Janice just drops the comment and changes the subject, it’s not likely Katy will stop the current line of thoughts.
So, the suggestion from two readers to acknowledge the upset and seek to understand it could definitely help. But this is about a perceived difference of opinion, and there is another approach that works very well. It is to find a Third Alternative. And to start this process, we jump the net. Instead of acknowledging Katy’s distress, Janice would acknowledge what she says she wants: “Assure Katy she wants her to handle the finances unsupervised and appreciates the effort involved.”
Go for a Third Alternative When You Disagree
One reader feared Janice would not get what she wants if she does this, but jumping the net and looking for a Third Alternative is quite often the only way, short of being a bully, to get what she wants. Remember, a Third Alternative is quite different from a compromise. In a compromise, you accept some pain or loss in return for the promise that your beloved will experience just as much pain or loss. With a Third Alternative, you throw out your first two competing ideas for how to get what each of you wants and seek out a way to get what both of you want.
What is it that Janice wants? One reader was sure an ulterior motive lies behind her request. However, it could be as simple as wanting to improve her reputation at the place where she volunteers by coming up with a bank with a better interest rate for their money. She might want to feel more secure by getting more information from Katy even as she leaves everything in her hands. And she might want to know more about the financial decisions now because a close relative just lost a spouse and discovered she was going to lose the house and car, too, and the fear is eating into her ability to trust and love Katy.
The Third Alternative might involve a monthly time for discussing money matters, as the one reader suggested. However, proposing a solution–before (1) jumping the net (agreeing to give Katy what she’s after, just not the way it’s currently happening) and (2) creating the list of specs for a solution that pleases both of them–can easily create a second disagreement instead of a Third Alternative.
So that is my pick: jump the net and start a search for a Third Alternative, one that leaves Katy feeling trusted and appreciated as she tackles a large chore but also meets whatever Janice’s need might be. And the first step in this is:
Assure Katy she wants her to handle the finances unsupervised and appreciates the effort involved
In Part 3, I want to get into what you do when you fear an ulterior motive in your spouse’s request or outburst.
But first I want to hear from you. Have you reconsidered your choice? Do you want to defend one of the others? I would love to hear from you.