When a Shirt is More Than a Shirt

It was old, no doubt. Some looked at it and saw holes and frayed sleeves, my wife included. She saw a rag, something to use while cleaning or, better yet, something to simply throw away. But I saw so much more. I saw comfort. I saw years of companionship (we’d been together since college). I saw an old friend. Yes, it was “just a shirt,” but we had been through a lot together. My wife saw an old, raggedy t-shirt that need thrown out and replaced. I saw a faithful companion to be respected and even cherished. Perhaps I saw too much (you be the judge). I don’t know. No matter. The fact remains, you’ve likely had a similar experience in your marriage—you saw one thing and your spouse saw another. Who’s right and who’s wrong? I don’t know. It’s a matter of opinion. You could get into a drag-down, all-out fight about it; but that only leads to frustration and distance in the relationship. Or, you can preserve the relationship by listening to your spouse and understanding their point of view.

Listen intently to understand the basis of their perspective. Strive to understand the validity of their belief. Dig deep to see the meaning it all holds for them. Their perspective may differ from your perspective because it rests on a foundation of different experiences and slightly different values. It may hold a meaning for your spouse that you had not considered…nor would you ever consider. It is no less true, but obviously different. When you listen, understand, and appreciate your spouse’s point of view, you validate them even as you “agree to disagree.” You draw closer together as a couple. You come to know your spouse better and gain greater intimacy with your spouse. All because you took time to realize that sometimes a “shirt is more than a shirt.”

Of course, I used a somewhat silly example (although I have had to defend a shirt or two during my marriage, have you?). However, the same holds true when it comes to more significant opinions like politics or childrearing practices, the perfect place for vacation or the perfect place to live. In such cases, the stakes are much higher than the stakes inherent in a disagreement over my comfortable and faithful shirt, but the response is similar. You need to listen intently and understand deeply in order to move toward an appreciation of your spouse’s point of view. Only when you understand so well that you can repeat their rationale back to them and they reply by saying, “Yes! Now you understand!” can you begin to find a compromise, a mutual agreement in which both spouses can find satisfaction. 

By the way, I gave up my shirt…over time. My wife allowed me a “grieving period” and bought me a new shirt very similar to the old one. I could wear both, one around the house and the other in public until I was ready to let go of my “faithful friend…oh, the sorrow.”  But she listened. She understood. I listened. I understood. We grew together…and I got a new shirt out of the deal!

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