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Oh, the little power moves we make

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

Dear Tom Brady,

My husband is a huge fan of yours, because...sports or something. I think you play baseball for the Boston Celtics, you wear a lot of rings, and you’re a goat. Something like that. What do you want from me? I grew up a little Orthodox Jewish girl from the Lower East Side. My sport was not falling off my bike.

Anyway, the only thing I know less about than sports is your relationship with Gisele Bündchen. I mean, other than that you’re married and stuff. I’ve had plenty of celebrity patients, but you guys were never one of them.

The point being I can’t, and won’t, comment on your relationship. Or on you as a husband. I hope you’re as good a husband as you are a back, or a front, or whatever it is you are. I love how supportive you are of your niece who plays softball for UCLA right near me.

It’s just that it was hard for normal folks to miss the People magazine headline a few days ago:

Tom Brady Says He Tried to ‘Change the Subject’ When Wife Gisele Bündchen Brought Up His Retirement

Now I’m sure this was all cute and adorable and you and Gisele were laughing and pouring beer and Gatorade over each other’s heads the whole time. I certainly hope so. Cause beautiful people deserve beautiful relationships. As do even non-beautiful people.

But in my work, I see behind the bright shiny surface of things. And while I hope that behind the bright shiny surface of your life with Gisele is a bright shiny depth, I know that’s not the case for so many people.

And I know that a little phrase like “tried to ‘change the subject’” is not just a piece of popcorn in millions of relationships. “Tried to ‘change the subject’” can, IRL, be a painful, even heartbreaking power move, one that threatens the survival of a marriage.

Let’s say it’s not Tom and Gisele but Pom and Fisele that we’re talking about. This Fisele has put in many years being married to a man who’s absolutely devoted to being good at playing his game. Sometimes he’s home, sometimes not. But the focus is always on the next game, the next season. Not knowing anything about Gisele, I can say that it’s possible that Fisele might like to be more of a priority in Pom’s life. And maybe have him retire before he hurts know, like me falling off my bike.

It might be that Pom retiring is a really big deal for Fisele.

And Pom-whom-the-world-and-my-husband-adores can get away all too easily with not wanting to talk about it. It’s the old male-fragility ploy, and it’s been surprisingly effective over the centuries. “I’m too tired, stressed out, busy, pre-occupied, burned out to talk about it now. Let’s go on vacation and we can talk about it then, except then I won’t want to talk about it then because it’ll spoil my relaxation.”

And in the end while Fisele gets a right to seethe, she doesn’t get a say, until one day Pom, like it was his idea all along, brandishes his crutch and says, “Hey, ya know, I think this’d be a good time to retire.”

“What are you planning to do with yourself after you stop playing?” Fisele asks.

“Oh, I don’t want to talk about that now,” Pom says.

Of course, I don’t know what you would say, Tom.

But the point of it all is that trying to change the subject is not nothing. It’s a power move. It may be a negligible one for one couple at one moment. But for another couple, it may be yet another brick in a wall that’s been building for years, fueling rage on both sides.

All power moves are like this. They can seem negligible. But they can be hurtful and destructive. And in general, they ARE hurtful and destructive. If Pom says to Fisele, “Oh, that’s ridiculous!” maybe that’s water off a duck’s back, but years of it, combined with a pattern of similar comments, can add up a pattern of disqualification: “You have nothing worthwhile to add to this discussion.”

So, Tom, I’m sure you and Gisele have had many illuminating and productive talks about your retirement. Talks where you both felt heard and understood, and where your needs felt validated.

But for all the Poms and Fiseles out there, whatever your issues are, yeah, sure, you can put off an important discussion to a better day and time. But I hope you will make time soon to give each other a respectful and thorough hearing about what you need and why it’s important to you. That’s the beginning of the end of the power dynamics in your relationship and the moment when your needs will truly start getting met.

And Tom, whatever that sport it is you play, I hope you will have fun playing it out in the sun with your friends and everything. Charles says hey.



PS: Maybe get ahold of our new book Why Couples Fight and leave a really good review of it on Amazon, yes? The sports world would go nuts, and my husband would never be the same.


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