The End Of The Tragedy

Recently my wife, my son and I set off for a walk to the park. I was nearly ready for a long time, while they were still a long way off from being ready to get out of the door. Then when they were nearly ready, I gave up, and went and lay on the bed playing with our son’s guitar.

At which point my son got distracted by me and the guitar, and lost all interest in collaborating with my wife’s desire to get his shoes on. Which lead to big stress on both their parts, no help from me (still on the bed with the guitar), and by the time we did all get out of the front door, tempers were frayed.

A typical family script set in motion. From the front door to the gate of the park 5 minutes away, a whole practically pre-rehearsed back-and-forth of blame and recrimination engulfed my wife and I, followed by a huge sense of guilt that we’d argued in front of our son again, ending up with no desire to be anywhere near each other, let alone go for a walk together. Which in the end, we didn’t.

Something clicked in my head as my son and I were walking on our own around the park 20 minutes later. “This has happened before… ruined family walk to the park…”… Followed by another, clear internal instruction, which for some reason popped into my head in Spanish: “Se acaba la tragédia” – The tragedy is over.

Becuase we were just running through, for the nth time, a perfectly practiced script. A mini play. ‘Lovely family plan degenerates into disaster due to dad’s dreaminess and mum’s reaction to it, and dad’s bad reaction to mum’s reaction, and her reaction to that…’ until, instead of a happy family story (nice trip to park), we have a tragedy (separate walk, anger, guilt, poor son).

It’s a script we’ve both picked up somewhere and refined. It’s a script that says, ‘in this family it’s hard to have fun’. It probably started out generations ago on both sides. Of course we have tremendous fun sometimes, but why not every time we set out together on a family plan? Why does the predetermined disaster story have to kick in so often?

Se acaba la tragedia – the tragedy is over.

That night I wrote it in a notebook I have, and it’s now a firm resolution. Two days later, we got another chance to put my new resolution to the test. My wife and I had a date. We got a babysitter for the first time in months. We were really, really excited.

While we were waiting for the lift in our building, she got a phone call from her sister, and so we had to wait before going down so she didn’t lose mobile coverage in the lift. I said, “call her back once we are downstairs! We are going to be late!” But she didn’t want to, and we spent 5 minutes standing outside the lift door before we could go down – by which time I was fuming.

And of course, following our favourite ‘we don’t have fun on dates‘ script, I let my frustration fly, “You could have called her back when we got downstairs, we’d be halfway into town by now….”, and stepping into her role in the story, she got cross with me in return.

By the time we got to the top of our street (and it’s not a long street!) we were arguing, and the date was looking like a total disaster… but alarm bells started to ring… ‘se acaba la tragédia!!’

And I stopped trying to defend myself. I stopped walking and put my hands on her shoulders. I became very present, and I very gently apologised. I told her that I thought we’d been here a hundred times before. That we’d turned so many of our few opportunities to go out together into arguments and ruined nights out. That I was sure we could change the script right here and now, and that I loved her very much and just wanted to have a lovely night out.

And by a miracle we did. We changed the script. ‘Ruined night out’ became ‘best night out ever’. By the time we turned the corner at the top of our street in fact, we were happily walking hand in hand. We went to a concert by Deva Premal (highly recommended!) and loved every minute of it.

Now I know for sure that these little life scripts that we’ve been unconsciously acting out for years can be abandoned. Shaken off and left behind. Scripts like ‘we don’t have fun on dates’, or ‘extended family meals never work out’. First I have to become aware of them, then aware of how I propagate them. Then simply say, enough is enough – the tragedy is over. There’s a much happier story. It’s script-less – we are free to make it up as we go along – and it’s the one I choose from now on.

12 thoughts on “The End Of The Tragedy”

  1. Good to see you back writing. I know this story so well – perhaps we all do but many recognise that the tragedy can be halted.

    1. Oops – should have read: perhaps we all do but many do not recognise…. (I’m sure I put that the first time)

  2. So recognizable – and touching to se how you managed to break the pattern. The challenge is to recreate this feeling and situation again and again – until the new and positive way of acting becomes the pattern instead of the old ways.

  3. Truly a touching story. Sounds also like being present and compassionate to each other’s needs in the moment rather than your own (guitar, phone call) would be helpful to you both as well. Best wishes.

  4. Haven’t we all been there? Good for you for seeing the pattern and breaking the mould. It’s important to pay attention to those voices out of nowhere. They contain the most potent direction because, really, they are our deepest inner voice speaking to us. I wish you many more best times ever.

  5. Wonderful piece Ben. This semester, in my Counseling Theory course, there were entire book chapters that did not express this insight as clearly as you did here. I’ll keep this all in mind as my wife and I get ready for a get-a-way this weekend…

  6. Thanks for all your comments.

    @David, yes, being more present in the first place would certainly have helped a lot.

  7. I could write for hours about situations like this. We unschool our daughters, and it’s made a big difference to our relationship as well. The most powerful thing I have learned is to breathe before responding….it seems so simple, but it truly works. It’s never easy (and you also have that latin temperement to contend with (only joking Marina!)), but it starts to become more natural the more you practice. Great honesty Ben as always.

  8. Well, this will be a totally unrelated response. I am a foreigner living here in Madrid and am an avid user of Notes in Spanish (still a beginner though). It was just totally surreal (and surprising, pleasantly so) seeing you (and your son) at Retiro recently; which is what brings me here to write and express how you and your wife are totally awesome as partners! May you continue to build your partnership as the brains behind Notes in Spanish and as human beings who are partners in life. Kudos!

  9. Welcome back (which is funny-sounding because this is your website!). I so much enjoy your web presence. I also want to say I hope you continue to take time off to relax or work on other projects.

    As to changing the script, It takes such an effort even when we are aware that we are once again (arghhh!) reading from the same old script. “I know I should not be saying this…it always makes me feel awful in the aftermath…..” And then I say it anyway.

    Thanks for showing us we do have the strength and ability to toss that worn, tired monologue into the trash!

    You have been missed.

    1. Thanks James, it’s a pleasure to have you back too! I hope to write more soon. I enjoy it, and it does me good – if it interests others too that’s a huge bonus!

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