Clearly, punctuation matters!
It’s not only sentences that are affected by punctuation. History is also affected. Listen to any couple having an argument and you will notice fairly quickly that they spend a good bit of time going over historical events. It doesn’t have to be the distant past. In fact, it’s most often about the recent past…sometimes the very recent past.
Here’s an example.
Ken: Last night, I was just sitting there enjoying some down time when all of a sudden you started in on me. I didn’t do anything to deserve all that. I was just minding my own business and out of the blue you laid into me. I don’t get it! It’s like you’re looking for ways to make me feel bad.
Judy: Out of the blue!? You’ve got to be kidding me! I’d asked you a dozen times over past couple of days to make sure you’d paid the electric bill. What happens? Nothing! And, today we got a shut-off notice.
Ken: Well, I asked you yesterday if there was enough money in the checking account to pay the bill. You acted as if you didn’t even hear me. I would have paid it if you had just told me we had the money.
What’s interesting about this exchange is that both of them are telling the truth and describing things pretty much exactly as they happened. The problem lies in the way they punctuate history.
Judy says the history of this event started days ago when she began asking Ken to pay the bill. Looked at from her perspective, Ken appears to be in the wrong.
Ken, on the other hand, says the history of the event started at one of two spots. First, it started when he was relaxing and was attacked for no apparent reason. When that doesn’t work, he suggests a second starting place--when he asked Judy if there was enough money in their checking to pay the bill. Looked at from his perspective, Judy appears to be in the wrong.
It’s important to notice two things. First, there is the sequence of events generating the conflict. Second, there’s the effort to assign blame. The effort to assign blame requires each to punctuate the sequence of events in a way that leaves one innocent and the other at fault.
If a couple can appreciate the impact of punctuation they might be able to step back and see the bigger picture and therefore resolve things more easily.
Jake Thiessen, PhD
I've been working with couples for a very long time. And, I love it! This blog is my attempt to communicate some of the things I've learned over the past 40 years.