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Read Letter

Toothpaste Challenge

Dear Jil, I’m sure you’ve heard the classic story of the couple who got divorced because of toothpaste administration. The man presses the toothpaste tube in the middle, the wife from the base.

The wife presses from the base because she’s systematic, organised and sequential in nature. He presses from the middle because he’s spontaneous, carefree, less organised. And this irritates her. She’s strategic, he’s creative. And so they split on account of toothpaste. Broke their marriage because of toothpaste?! Every time I’ve heard this story, I’ve wondered to myself, so why don’t they just get two toothpastes?! They can afford to buy two: one for him, one for her. Each can then press as he or she desires to their hearts’ content!

The truth is, such toothpaste drama is always symptomatic of bigger issues in a relationship. Any time there’s a contest on the mundane in a relationship there’s a bigger issue lurking. The bigger issue in the toothpaste story is actually a contest of wills. Assertions of personage. It’s a case of you can’t tell me what to do versus we need to plan. It’s not an oral hygiene concoction receptacle issue. Like in all such cases every node of interaction is turned into a wrestling canvass on the big issue. When you see couples quarrel over mundane stuff they’ve developed a self righteous logic on the real issue. Each has developed an argument of self justification for imaginary third parties.

The problem with self righteousness is, you can’t negotiate with it! With self righteous logic comes excruciating stubbornness. An “If I’m right why should I budge” logic. And the fight changes in substance from the facts in contention to who is right and who is wrong. The stubborn stance of each party is now about righteousness. And the fight takes on the hue of a religious war. Yet self righteousness is a sin of pride. And we arrive at relationship self righteousness by chewing the curd of resentment and silent anger over and over again. The premises of the logic of self righteousness are synthesised in the laboratory of our meditation. But the conclusion already exists, before the premises are developed. Self righteousness works to the answer.

And talking about chewing the curd, I was pondering just last night about a little bit of scripture. It’s about anger: “Let not the sun go down on your anger.” (Ephesians 4:26) As I meditated on it I got a curious insight: When anger is incubated beyond a certain number of hours it transmogrifies. Anger becomes a fire eating dragon after a given period. And the battle shifts into higher gear: Game of Thrones! It’s like food. It goes bad after a given period, becomes poison. Incubated anger is poison. If the sun goes down on your anger it means you took the issue to bed. That’s not good because the brain never sleeps. The brain will keep nourishing the anger all night. By the time you wake up it would be a fully developed dragon. And an innocuous issue then transmutes into malice.

With further nourishment malice turns into cold hatred. It is at this point that the wife can’t bear the touch of her husband and the man locks himself up emotionally, seething. Then the domino effect begins. Communication ceases. Each party takes a hardened position. With each incidental factor that is a natural outflow of civil war the dragon of malice keeps growing. Escalating point-making tit for tat begins. Then comes the one upmanship game: You do me I’ll do you bad! And that’s how sizzling love can turn into hatred – a War of the Roses. Pride is the accelerant.

It’s been said that misunderstandings come about because men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Let me tell you a little something about men. Let a Martian tell you about Martians. Now, I’m doing this in conjunction with NASA to foster peaceful intragalactic co-existence between Venus and Mars. So listen: Men don’t like being instructed. And they don’t like instructive tones. They consider it rude and it suggests despite. It doesn’t matter that you have a good intention; once the tone is instructive he’ll quietly resent you even while listening. As you talk he’ll withdraw from you on the inside. To picture this withdrawal, draw in your stomach just a little! That “little” “withdrawal” carries resent. Now, he’ll allow you to go on talking hoping you can sense his cringe. But many women are oblivious to this withdrawal. The man begins to carry on conversations in grunts of irritated reluctance. Once he starts grunting irritatedly and he’s non expressive he’s telling you something. There’s displeasure. He’s just going to be looking at you, leaving you on your own. He won’t say much.

You see, the tone of talking to a man is as powerful as the very words spoken. If the tone is wrong the words can’t be right. Sometimes a man is drawn to a woman but her tone of choice rules out a relationship. But the woman is oblivious. The woman knows the man is attracted to her. Unfortunately this confidence further feeds the tone. But the man is repulsed. He doesn’t want to be in a relationship with someone he considers rude. The tone. If you’re attractive but your tone is instructive the possibility of a relationship will dangle in suspended animation. If the man obviously likes you but won’t commit, it may just be that tone. What is your tone saying? Does it say “rude”? Or “I’m always right”? Or “No one can tell me what to do”? Or “I’m telling you what to do!”? Tones matter a great deal to men. To men, the expression “Watch your tone!” is not a fancy.

And so that toothpaste incidence may just be a quiet push back against “the tone”, the man asserting himself. Now some believe a marriage can function without love. True. But all you get is mechanised function. What love does in a relationship is that it absorbs emotional infringements. Love has absorbent capacity. Love is patient, love is kind. Love hardly notices when the other person is doing it wrong even when it knows. Love is important in a marriage. Love assimilates toothpaste infractions, and towel infractions, and other infractions. To tell you the truth men are not that difficult to figure out. They’re actually hard-wired to please women. Paul said so.

And so there’s no need to try and dominate your man. He’ll resent it. He wants respect. If men are from Mars then we know Martians resent instructive tones and want respect. Call NASA!

Have a great weekend!

Your mentor,


© Leke Alder

Tags : Love, Communication, Malice

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