When my wife and I purchased and remodeled our patio home in 2004, she lobbied convincingly in favor of removing our shoes when we walked on the carpet. With reluctance, I agreed. She honored the agreement every time she walked on the carpet. I honored it most of the time I walked on the carpet.

Though she never actually saw me violate the agreement, she could see the carpet getting dirty in some areas where I walked most frequently. When she asked if I was walking on the carpet with my shoes on, I would typically deny or justify my actions with the argument that removing my shoes was not always practical. This low-level conflict pattern of her complaining and me denying/justifying continued for four years.

One morning last year, having forgotten my keys and being in a hurry to get to my office, I decided it was impractical to remove my shoes. I cautiously scouted my field of view to be sure she would not see me, and I scooted from the tile, across the carpet to the keys, and back again -- less than 5 seconds. When I came out of the room, she was waiting. She sternly asked me the same question she had been asking me for four years: "Why did you walk on the carpet with your shoes on?"

In a flash of clarity, the real problem emerged in my mind. "You have been asking me that same question for four years, and I have been giving you the same answer for four years. I think that you really want me answer a question that you have not asked. I think you want to know why I am not keeping our agreement, not why I am walking on the carpet with my shoes on."

My response altered our four-year pattern of her complain/me justify because the new question had identified the real problem. Instead of continuing the back and forth of her complaining and me justifying, she asked: "What question is that?"

"I have not been honest with you", I said. "I have not been keeping the agreement because I was and am not in agreement that I take my shoes off every time I walk on the carpet. I don't believe it's practical every time."

I waited for her response.

"Do you know any doctors?" she asked. My wife is not a violent person, but I fleetingly wondered if she was about to be.

"Why do you ask?" I responded.

"Well," she said, "I know that doctors wear little booties over their shoes in the hospital, and maybe you could get some of those."

If I lived alone, I would not likely wear hospital booties over my shoes. But I don't live alone. I don't want to live alone. And I don't want to live with someone else. I want to live in a happy and satisfying marriage with her. And a happy, satisfying marriage requires honesty, integrity, compromise and joint effort in identifying and solving problems -- even little ones.


Gordon A. Gunnell, MS, LMFT, LISAC, is a member of the Ahwatukee Foothills Behavioral Health Network. Reach him at (480) 220-7050 or gordon@aztherapyhelp.com.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.