Sunday, April 3, 2011

How other people change us

It's striking how much of what we do is in response to or shaped by other people.  I mean, our personalities are essentially shaped by our early interactions with our caregivers.  (That's not to discount the role that biology and heredity play in who we are; I am a firm believer that both nature and nurture are involved in personality development).  Even after our personalities are fully formed our patterns of behavior, our thoughts and beliefs, and the way we look at things continue to be influenced by the important people in our lives.

Of course this has all sorts of implications for therapy, which I'm not going to get into right now.  Actually, I'm thinking about how this plays out in my own life.  I got married about five months ago and I've already noticed little things about myself changing as a result of my interactions with my husband.  For example, I've always been fiercely independent.  Once I reached the point where I could take care of myself I came to the conclusion that my problems = my responsibility.  Now I'm fortunate enough to have very supportive parents who didn't mind taking on some of the burden when things came up that I couldn't handle on my own. 

Still, I had a completely new experience when my car broke down a couple of months ago.  I called my husband and said, "We have a problem.  How am I going to get to work tomorrow?"   It was quite a relief, actually, to realize I didn't have to figure out what to do on my own.  It was our problem, not just my problem.  Actually, my husband pretty much took care of the problem himself without much assistance from me.  He had an idea about what was wrong with the car, took me to the store to buy the part, and spent the next hour putting it in the car while I sat in his car reading a book. 

I really liked not having to stress myself out.  It was such a pleasant experience that I started thinking maybe I didn't have to handle all the problems that come up in my life by myself.  Maybe I could delegate some things to my husband.  And so gradually I've become slightly less independent.  There are even some things I am perfectly capable of doing that I used to do before I got married (including non-problematic things like mowing the lawn) that I just don't bother with anymore; I let my husband take care of it.

Another thing that's changed for me is timeliness.  Now I'm a very structured, routinized person (some would say anal); I always have been.  However, I've never been great at getting to places on time.  I tended to be about five to ten minutes late just about everywhere I went.  My husband is NOT a structured person at all.  He finds routines to be boring; "not enough variety," he says.   He's also from Jamaica, a place where, like on most islands, they operate on "island time."  "Island time" is sort of a new concept for me.  Like most Americans, I'm pretty impatient and always in a hurry to get things done.  Apparently, people living on islands take a much different approach to time management.  People don't "schedule" events to start at a specific time.  Things start "around" a certain time and there really is no such thing as being late.  Life on islands is slower paced in general than life here in the States. 

In keeping with this, my husband NEVER arrives ANYWHERE on time and he's frequently more than just a few minutes late.  (This is how I learned about "island time."  I realized my husband's frequent tardiness was a cultural thing when many of his family members arrived late to and missed half of our wedding ceremony.  There were even a few people who arrived just as the ceremony was ending).  I quickly learned that if I was ever going to arrive anywhere with my husband anywhere close to on time I was going to have to offer frequent reminders and encouragement for him to stay focused and to move more quickly.  This meant that I needed to be ready to go early so that I had time to make sure he was ready to go on time.  As a result, I've gradually become more conscientious about being on time in general.  I've actually started getting to work a few minutes early every day as opposed to a few minutes late.

Anyway, it's just interesting to see how I'm changing as a person as a result of my interactions with another person.  It's raised awareness for me of how much we as people influence one another.


  1. These experiences really provide some insight into how connected we all are. i can relate to this as well. If a friend is suffering, it is difficult to feel happy until he or she feels better... We all affect one another.

  2. I am punctual to the minute. My wife? UGH!!!!


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