In Recovery, It’s Simplest to Remember This: I Am Likely the Problem… Including Those Times When I Think I’m Not. This is the Best Marriage Counseling There Is.
Just after Christmas, my mom called and told me my brother was having family troubles. He married into a rather nutty family, but he’s pretty tough and my mom tends to be a little melodramatic. I figured I’d give it a few days and call him up to see how he was doing – I’ve rushed to the aid of a sibling at the urging of my mother before, only to find the mountain was an anthill. Then my sister called Thursday morning to say my brother was having a tough go with his wife. My sister does not get sucked into familial drama. She’s almost always got a square head on her shoulders, so the alarm bells in my melon sounded immediately.
As a good big brother should, I called him up to ask how things were going. Initially, he launched into a pretty fair case of “my wife is being an @$$hole”. I let him talk and couldn’t help but think, “Wow, mom was actually right.” Then he went off the rails… the situation he was describing devolved into something more of a mutual @$$holery (spell checker actually let the original version of the word go, how neat).
Now, as it turns out, my wife and I were spatting just the night before. And of course, I spent a few days thinking about what a jerk she was being until a few synapses fired in the perfect succession and I realized I was treating the woman I love with all my heart exactly as she was me, that had me so bent. On the way home from a meeting, at a stop sign, I turned to her and explained how I’d been screwing up and apologized profusely and repeatedly. She started crying almost immediately and apologized for her actions as well and we’re back to where we should be.
This is how it’s supposed to work.
In my brother’s situation, because he lacks that mechanism to look at his own actions first (a Biblical principle picked up and used in the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous) his whole story was “my wife, this” and “she loses her mind every Christmas” that, he can’t see his way out of the morass. He also couldn’t see how his actions were pushing her over the edge – there’s no doubt his wife’s family is freaking nuts, but my brother was contributing to it – just as I do with my wife.
So that’s how I went at my brother’s predicament. I told the tale of my wife and our spat from just the day before, just as simply as I described the situation above, and gave him my solution: to acknowledge my part in the spat and love my wife regardless of her part in it. I can only be responsible for my own actions, folks. Then, because he’d never heard it before, I gave him the one lesson that changed my marriage for the best more than a decade ago… If you’ve been following this page from way back, you’ll have read about this story before.
I told my brother the story of my sponsor who, on a particularly nasty fight night in my house, gave me the best advice I’ve ever been given by another human being about married life and loving another person. My wife and I were in the middle of a nasty one. I was hotter than a rabid billy goat and I’d grabbed my keys, gotten in my car and peeled out of the driveway while hitting the speed-dial for my sponsor’s phone number. He answered on the second ring. After the pleasantries, I launched into what a pain in the keister my wife was. He listened to a laundry list of offenses and when I paused, eight miles later (two loops around a four-mile block) he delivered the line that would change me forever.
He said about my wife, “Jimmy*, sometimes you want to throw them like a lawn dart but you just gotta love them.”
I didn’t even acknowledge the profundity of the line he’d just delivered perfectly. I didn’t even hit a speed-bump before launching into, “But Mike…” This time he interrupted me. “Jimmy, ya just gotta love ’em.” He wouldn’t let me get a sentence in edge-wise without breaking in with, “Jimmy, ya just gotta love ’em.” It took a few more laps around that four-mile block, but eventually I went home and even though I wanted to throw her like a lawn dart, I loved her. And our marriage, over time, healed.
My friends, there are multiple uses for that simple sentence, “ya just gotta love them”.
- In the event you’re being a jerk to your spouse, “ya just gotta love them”.
- In the event your spouse is being the jerk, “ya just gotta love them”, and look at the previous bullet point.
- In the event someone else is being the jerk, “ya just gotta love them”.
- In the event your spouse is trying to “fix the situation”, thus pissing you off, “ya just gotta love them”.
- Especially when things are going well, “ya just gotta love them”.
- When you’re the problem, thinking your wife is the problem, “ya just gotta love them”.
- When your spouse is actually the problem, when you’ve done nothing to deserve their bad attitude, then ya really just gotta love them! This cannot be under emphasized, the importance of this meaning of the sentence. My wife, every now and again, is the entire problem in our relationship (as am I). It happens. The question is, what works best to bring her back? Being pissed and making her pay for the slight, or loving her out of her situation and back into the relationship. This is not easy, but “ya just gotta love them” is so vastly superior to “being a jerk in kind”, its only flaw is it’s difficult to default to it unless you’ve got a lot of practice. The tendency is almost always “be a jerk in kind”. With practice, “ya just gotta love them” can replace that tendency. Lots of practice.
There are a vast array of additional meanings to the phrase “you just gotta love them”. Far too many to list. When I’m on my game, my wife and I can sail through some of the roughest waters holding hands and smiling at one another. When I am responsible for my actions and my words, my wife’s only natural reaction is to love me back.
This is what I passed on to my brother. After the conversation was done and I hung up the phone, I looked up at the sky and said, “Thanks Mike”. I miss him a lot. I still talk to his wife every now and again. In fact, now that I think about it, I think I’ll call her today. Mike was one of those perfectly imperfect sponsors. He had his flaws, but he very much had what I wanted when it comes to recovery and sobriety. Mike’s gift to recovery was his ability to make someone else feel good about who they were. To share with them his strength and hope so they could do the right thing in any given situation. That’s where “sometimes you want to throw them like a lawn dart, but ya just gotta love them” came from. Sometimes you don’t want to do what’s right, but you have to.
One more thing to mull over… think about how things tend to work out in your life. It just so happens I chose not to call my brother immediately after my mom asked me to talk to him. No, I waited a few days. And just a few hours after having settled a spat with my wife, during which I realized I was really the problem after thinking it was mostly on my wife, everything unfolds like it did with my brother. You’re welcome to call that a coincidence if you choose, but maybe you’ll see why I don’t believe in them. I was perfectly prepared to help my brother in the best way I possibly could because everything turned out exactly as it did, exactly when it did. Even better, I paid enough attention that I saw the big picture – that’s a miracle on its own.
Anyway, have a happy Sunday and remember, “ya just gotta love ’em.” It’ll all work out.
*There is only one person left on earth who gets to call me “Jimmy”. My Uncle Al was another. Mike was the third. You are not that last one left on the planet. I hate that name and do not answer to it. I used it it this post because that’s how my sponsor said it. I explained the “Jimmy paradox” so as to add a gritty context to the story.