We’re turning the room next to our bedroom into a walk-in closet in a house we bought a year ago. The house was built in 1750 and has paper thin walls, no insulation and not enough closet space. We got a few outrageous quotes from closet companies, so we postponed the project. Then, my son said he could build shelves and hang closet rods around the room for shirts, shoes or whatever else we wanted.

My wife set out planning what this closet would look like; she did the whole layout herself. All I asked was to make sure the heating unit in the room was not covered up.

On the first night of construction, I came home from work to see that my wife and son had built a bench seat with a shelf underneathand it covered up a portion of the heating unit. My wife proudly showed me what they had done and I got aggravated.

“All I asked,” I said in my angry, poor-me voice, “was for you not to cover up the heat. And look: You did exactly that!”

Well, the conversation quickly turned into an argument that went absolutely nowhere fast.

I decided to stop for a minute and focus on myself and consider how I was probably as responsible for this mess as anyone. But I couldn’t see how. So, I thought for a few minutes and realized that I had started the argument; I was being as unreasonable as I thought she was being by not having done what I asked. The first thing I realized was that I hadn’t been involved from the beginningI had made that decision. I don’t like sitting down and planning things like this. I get bored easily. She had tried to talk to me, but I wasn’t really paying attention and I didn’t have any input, except for the heat just before they started the project. So, I thought about what I could that would “fix” the situation other than being a condescending idiot to my wife.

I went to my wife and said, “Look, what’s done is done. It’s not as big a deal as I made it out to be. I’ve thought about this for awhile and I really am okay with what you have done with the closet.” Then, I pointed out a number of things I really liked. And the truth is: I meant what I was saying.

She then said that from now on, she wanted to make sure we did projects together from start to finish, but that I needed to make myself available. I said next time I would.

When I tell this story, most people’s initial reaction is that I “lost.” I gave up something I wanted and she got her way. But what I really wanted was a change in the way we go about doing projects. That is, I wanted a change in how we relate to one another.

See, this wasn’t just about the heating unit—for me, it was about the relationship as a whole. For me, I wanted my wife and I to go about doing things differently. So, in order to do that, I had to do things differently. I had to be the catalyst for change. Now, the next project we are taking on is in the kitchen and we’re doing it together from start to finish.

 

Practice:

Today, I will look at an issue I have with ___________________ and figure out what I need to do differently, and then do it.