When I Do Something Hurtful
And in the morning, behold, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Genesis 29:25
Over the years, my wife and I have learned to tactfully ask this question – How would you feel if I did that? It’s a powerful question because it cuts through the rationalizations that we employ to justify hurtful behavior. For instance, I might make a scheduling decision that affects my wife, without consulting her. Deep down, I know I should ask before I commit her to anything. She may have plans and even if she doesn’t, I shouldn’t presume to commit for her. So, when I do such a thing, she may artfully invoke this question – How would you feel if I did that? We both know the answer. I wouldn’t appreciate it very much. If I knew how it would make her feel though, then why did I do it in the first place? It’s different when I do it.
It’s different when I do it. This is another phrase we’ve become familiar with in our marriage. Now though, we usually apply it sarcastically, in self-deprecation, once we realize what we’ve done. I don’t consciously say it while I’m justifying offensive behavior, but it’s how I act. I may know something will be hurtful to my wife, but in the moment, I tell myself that I’m justified.
I feel like Jacob must have experienced this phenomenon. In today’s passage, his propensity for deception was turned on him. In the story, Jacob agreed to work for Laban for seven years, at the end of which time, he was to marry Laban’s daughter, Rachel. The passage is light on details, but somehow Laban switched brides, instead giving his older daughter, Leah, to Jacob, who didn’t realize the switch until after the marriage was consummated. Jacob was understandably angry when he realized he’d been duped. I’ve got to wonder if he ever thought – So this is how it feels. You’ll recall that Jacob swindled his brother out of his inheritance and his father’s blessing. I’m sure Jacob felt his actions were justified at the time – It’s different when I do it. Now that he was the victim of the con though, I’m sure he felt otherwise.
How would this affect my wife? In my drug use, I was profoundly self-centered – justifying whatever I wanted. Now, in recovery, if I want a healthy marriage, I’ve got to learn to ask – How would I feel if my wife did this? It’s a great question because it cuts through the self-deception I employ when I tell myself that it’s different when I do it.