Hurt, resentment and a bit of anger welled up from my heart and swirled around my brain stem begging to be vocalized and hurled at my unsuspecting wife. Not long ago I would have opened my mouth and given release to them, but years of training were finally paying off and caused my jaw muscles to clench for a moment while I reviewed the situation. What had actually just happened? Is this response appropriate?
It began a few minutes earlier that bright sunny, Sunday morning. My wife; Marie, and I got into the truck to go to church. I turned the key, fully expecting to hear the familiar quick rowr-rowr-rowr of the starter motor turning over the engine followed by the purr of combustion indicating a successful start. Instead all we heard was the rapid metallic fluttering of a solenoid failing to engage. I knew that sound all too well.
I’d been working on cars since I was 8 or 9. My dad was a jet engine mechanic and did all of our auto repair work himself. As soon as I was tall enough to see over a fender I was out there handing him wrenches and intently watching as he worked. I had worked as a mechanic for two dealerships and as a freelance mechanic until some yahoo backed a truck up to my garage while I was away and stole everything. Because I wasn’t properly insured that put me out of business. Since then I’d tinkered, but had turned my primary focus elsewhere. But I still know a thing or two about the mechanical aspect of cars.
I explained my diagnosis to Marie; “Failed starter solenoid, maybe the starter – a bad spot in the commutator maybe but since we’ve had no trouble before that’s not likely. Solenoids can just quit suddenly.”
She asked, “Could it be the battery?”
“No, not likely. If it were a low battery the solenoid would still kick the starter onto gear with the flywheel and the starter would try to turn. The starter isn’t engaging at all. If the battery were so low it couldn’t even kick the solenoid, the interior and dash lights would dim when I turn the key. They don’t. I think it’s the solenoid.”
We went back inside. Marie went straight to the computer. I put our church things away.
A few moments later Marie stated, “The internet says that a low battery can cause the solenoid to not engage. Do you think we should just check the battery?”
Her question stopped me in my tracks as my brain whirled. The animal nature in me caused a swirling of negative emotion around the base of my brain, but before that effluent could make the incredibly short leap from brain stem to vocal cords and gush out in some insanely stupid and insensitive burst of rebuttal, I managed to waylay it long enough to consider the situation.
1) This looks like a statement of mistrust, or an accusation of stupidity, but is it? Is there evidence to support or refute this notion? Are there other cases where she has expressed a blatant lack of confidence in my ability to accomplish something? No, not really.
2) Is there evidence to the contrary? Yes, I have personally witnessed her describing me with such words as “brilliant”, “genius” and “wonderfully talented”.
3) Can I say that I have never made a mistake or erred in judgment? Well, no, there was that one time… ok, maybe twice.
4) What can be the harm in humoring her request? Can it possibly prove so labor intensive or costly as to be worth inciting an argument? Umm… no.
5) Have I ever, in similar situations, made a snap judgment as to her intentions and blurted out something that proved totally inaccurate and deeply hurtful? Um, well, uh… yes.
6) Can it be so demeaning to me as a person to acquiesce that I can not bear it? Well…
This internal discussion took only a few moments. That last thought took several moments longer before I was able to form a coherent vocalization of, “Ok, I’ll get the battery charger.”
I installed the charger and retired to the sofa to amuse myself with some internet reading on our netbook. An hour later I went back out and twisted the key, fully expecting to be vindicated by the fluttering sound of a failed solenoid. I was greeted instead by the starter spinning up and igniting a steady flow of internal combustion.
I will admit to a momentary feeling of humiliation as I admitted. “OK, that’s three.” But that passed quickly. Partly due to the fact that Marie’s request was delivered to me in a “lets look at options” manner not a “you’re an idiot” manner. Partly due to the fact that I know her to be an intelligent and well considered person. Partly because I knew that there would be no “See; I was right, nana nana na na!” coming. She would handle it with the grace and poise that she always does. I mean on both previous occasions.
We drove the truck into town, had the parts store check the electrical system and found the battery to be bad. It was replaced at minimal cost because it was still under warranty. And he checked the system again. Good to go.
Now that it’s all over there are a few feelings of animal-pride and wound licking, but by and large I recognize that this was in fact another event of successful communication between a loving couple. By taking just a few moments to consider my thoughts I avoided a moronic response that would have caused considerable, needless hurt to my beloved, and much remorse on my part. By offering her request as a suggestion, and in a non-confrontational manner, Marie made it easier for me to handle the potential pride-slap. And by not following up with sarcasm or gloating, she made it easier for me to accept her support in the future.
Should any such situation ever occur, that is… which is, of course, unlikely.