by Tina “Red” Pennington and Mandy “Black” Williams, www.redandblackbooks.com
Tina “Red” Pennington and Mandy “Black” Williams are sisters and co-authors of “What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!” Their informative, entertaining book discusses values, priorities, relationships, financial literacy and much more … using emails, Instant Messages and telephone conversations. They write a monthly column for The Jewish Herald-Voice, and when we read this one, we wanted to share it with our readers, so Red & Black allowed us to reprint it here.
Red: So, what are we going to talk about this month?
Black: How about talking about talking?
Red: Well, given my natural tendency to blah-blah-blah, I’m more than qualified.
Black: I was thinking more along the lines that “talking” is different than communicating.
Red: Too bad we can’t “replay” our presentation on relationships and money that we did at Holman Street Baptist Church during Houston Money Week since it really was more about communication than money.
Black: True. Although arguments are about money more than any other topic, and most divorces appear to be about money, I believe that is merely the “subject matter.” I think the real issues are unrealistic expectations and a lack of communication.
Red: I agree. However, I find the timing of that presentation rather ironic since you and your “significant other” had barely spoken to each other for almost a month.
Black: Which is why I started with our “we are not experts” disclaimer box. But does my personal situation make anything that we said any less valid?
Red: Of course not. After all, our stories are about lessons we learned. Usually, the hard way by making mistakes. For example, although we had been married almost 15 years when Nick got fired, it was only then that I learned the importance of communication.
Black: Well, it might have helped if you had dated more.
Red: I doubt it would have made any difference since I grew up in “conflict avoidance” mode – which usually meant only talking about “safe” subjects. You, on the other hand, have no problem stirring up trouble. In fact, I think you enjoy arguing.
Black: It is not that I enjoy arguing, but sometimes it just happens. Some people, when you ask them questions to try and understand their viewpoints and perspective, immediately get defensive. Then, when you try and explain how you feel, or why you asked a specific question, or reacted a certain way, they are so focused on their “rebuttal” they really are not listening. Next thing you know … it has turned into an argument.
Red: Well, most of us don’t look at things as pragmatically as you do, which explains why your ex-husband called you a “debate queen.” Plus it doesn’t help that you process information so quickly – it makes it seem as if you aren’t listening. Trust me, as your sister, I know what it’s like to have a “conversation” with you. It can be exhausting.
Red: Because you never accept anything at face value. You always have to ask another question. Or present another point of view. You’re the ultimate “devil’s advocate.”
Black: So, what is wrong with that? How else do I know what you are thinking? Or do you not like the fact I am forcing you to think?
Red: Thank you for proving my point. I know that for you this is sport. And I’ve learned not to take it personally, but it took years to learn that.
BlacK: Consider it part of our heritage.
Red: I don’t know about YOUR heritage, but I’m the one that used to avoid arguments at any cost.
Black: No, I mean “our” because someone recently reminded me that the study of the Talmud is about debate and dialogue. It is not as much about “right” and “wrong” answers, but
about the process. It is about accepting differing viewpoints. And understanding that different people interpret things differently.
Red: Well, that all sounds good, but it’s easier said than done. And not something that comes naturally for some of us. In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s not something that comes naturally for most people.
Black: Yes, it takes work. But relationships take work. Think of it like a three-legged race. It takes collaboration, concentration and teamWORK.
Red: I can’t imagine doing a three-legged race with you. You’re a runner, not to mention extremely competitive! I’m neither!
Black: I know. Which emphasizes that it is critical to have realistic expectations of your partner.
Red: You mean assuming that my husband could read my mind wasn’t realistic? Or expecting him to continue to do everything he used to, plus more, wasn’t realistic, either?
Black: Not to mention you wanted him to do everything “right.” By your definition of “right,” of course. Talk about setting someone up for failure.
Red: I’ll admit that in the early days of our “crisis” my whining about having to shoulder more of the responsibilities wasn’t exactly fair. But it wasn’t entirely my fault. I never had to deal with financial matters before and then – seemingly overnight – I did. I didn’t feel prepared, either emotionally or in terms of what needed to be done. It’s not like we had talked about what would happen if he got fired. It just happened.
Red: Exactly what?
Black: You never talked about it. You each just claimed areas of responsibility and never actually discussed your respective roles in the relationship. To then try and reallocate those responsibilities during a “crisis” created a major challenge.
Red: No kidding. I always thought it would be a 50-50 partnership.
Black: That was part of the problem, too. You did not understand that there would be times when one of you would have to do more. That in a marriage you are on the same team, so there is no need to keep score. I am not sure either of you had realistic expectations.
Red: Fine, my expectations may not have been realistic, but they were based on past performance.
Black: But things change.
Red: I am painfully aware of that, but the biggest problem was figuring out a way to communicate. I expected my British “refrain from discussing all feelings at all costs” husband to suddenly be willing to talk about how he felt about things, openly and easily. Probably not only not realistic, but borderline delusional.
Black: But your stuffed animals were willing to help.
Red: You’re never going to let me forget that, are you? I still can’t believe you snuck a photo of a stuffed animal into the PowerPoint presentation at the church! It was bad enough you included the story in the book. Regardless, the fact remains I wanted a real conversation. Not a card or letter “signed” by a stuffed animal.
Black: There is no “right” or “wrong” form of communication; the secret is finding the “best” way to communicate, whether it is in person, over the phone, emails or even notes from stuffed animals.
Red: I know. And it isn’t just about talking, it’s about listening. Since my “crisis”, I’ve even learned the importance of asking for clarification, rather than getting mad because I may have interpreted something differently than the other person meant it. But what do you do when one person wants to communicate and the other doesn’t?
Black: Like the time you cooked Nick a nice dinner and he was in a good mood and then you “blindsided” him by talking about him getting fired?
Red: No, I now understand that was unfair and it was a matter of realizing that a “good” time for one person to talk isn’t necessarily a “good” time for the other. That you need to find not only the best way, but the best time to communicate.
Black: So, what are you asking?
Red: Never mind.
Black: No, you brought it up. You are not getting off the hook that easily.
Red: Well, I guess I’m thinking about your situation.
Black: Communication requires more than one person. Otherwise it is a monologue or an editorial. I believe actions speak louder than words. And silence can speak volumes.
Red: I’m sorry. I wish there was something more I could say.
Black: Thanks, but no blah-blah-blah is necessary.
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