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Hugs? Or shoves?

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

A week or so ago, my husband snapped at me. I’d been coming into his office every few minutes to see if he’d finished something, and I guess this was one time too many for him.

I didn’t deserve to be snapped at. But he had a right to be free of my bugging him. I started to think of the ultimate justice in all of this when my mind went down a different alley.

I think I’m right about this (and if you don’t think so, let me know), but if you respond to someone there are three ways you can go.

One is going totally neutral:

“What time is it?”

“My watch says 9:40.”

I guess that’s about as neutral a response as you can get! Neutral doesn’t make anything good happen, but at least it doesn’t make anything bad happen either. The thing is, though, that if you want to make things better, all the neutral moves in the world won’t help.

The other two ways you can go is where it gets interesting. They are hugs and shoves.

So the second thing you can do is give the other person a verbal hug. No big deal here. By “hug” I just mean saying something nice, pleasant, warm, friendly, complimentary, soothing, affectionate. Something like that. Something that makes something good happen.

And the third thing you can do is give the other person a verbal shove. Which is what my husband did to me. Again, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. It could have been his just saying, “No, I haven’t heard back yet,” in a peevish tone of voice. Or “What?” where his voice would have sounded like a verbal eye roll.

Now if you think that this is about my saying we should all be nice to one another, you’re wrong. This isn’t kindergarten. What I am saying is that we shouldn’t be stupid. We shouldn’t shit in our own swimming pool. Which is what we do almost always when we have a choice of responding with a hug and we respond with a shove instead.

Why would we do that?

You could say it’s because we’re tired, or stressed out, or just human. Well, we may be all that, but why would that lead to our responding with a shove instead of, say, bursting into tears?

We shove because we feel shoved. We shove as a way of saying, “Oh, you big bad mean person, I’m not going to let you get away with your evil machinations.”

In other words, when we shove it’s a statement about the other person’s intentions and, what’s more, about how we see who the other person is. Someone not...nice.

A shove is not just a shove, it’s an insult.

Now you, the would-be shover, may well have a need. My husband had a quite legitimate need for me not to bug him. But come on! Really?? Is shoving anyone’s good idea of how to get a need met?

So I’m not saying be nice. I’m saying be strategic. Respond with a hug, and if you have need, know your need will have a much better reception in the midst of hugs than in the poisoned atmosphere of shoves.

And puh-leez don’t tell me this is being manipulative. Don’t you care about the other person? Don’t you want to be kind, understanding, and sympathetic? Don’t you want to make improving your relationship a top priority? All this, as well as getting your needs met, comes from hugs not shoves.

My husband could have said, “I love you, sweetie, and I know you’re really eager to find out what’s happening, but I promise I’ll let you know as soon as I know. Until then there’s really no need for you to keep coming in here.”

Now THAT would actually get me to stop coming in, and to want to stop coming in. Smart, huh?

Hugs. The way to go.

Does this feel too hard for you to do given where you are in your relationship right now? Don’t worry! Help is on the way. Our book Why Couples Fight has everything you need to help you understand why you get stuck giving each other shoves, and what you can do to get unstuck and get back to hugs, hugs, hugs.

The art here is

  • Bouguereau's A Little Coaxing, 1890

  • Courbet's Lovers in the Countryside, 1844

  • Emma Amos's Sandy and Her Husband, 1973

  • Nan Goldin's Rise and Monty Kissing, New York City, 1980

and the cover art is Toulouse-Lautrec's In Bed--The Kiss, 1893


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