The firewater burning my throat was called rakija (pronounced ra-kee-ya), and we were drinking this beloved national beverage on a cool night in a Serbian village on the border of Hungary with new friends.
Rakija is between 40-50% alcohol and most families make this moonshine at home, storing it in large plastic water bottles.
Beware that you don’t confuse the two.
A shot of this stuff will wipe out just about any germ in your body.
Along with the rakija was a traditional Serbian feast. The table at our hostel was loaded down with pork schnitzel, parsley potatoes, and a tomato and pepper salad lovingly prepared by a grandma from the village and delivered by her daughter. A tantalizing walnut cake sat on the sideboard for dessert.
There was plenty of laughter and conversation, and I could already tell it was going to be a fun evening.
As we were sitting down to this feast and toasting to our good health with the rakija (“Egészségére!”), Warren leaned over to ask ask me if I remembered a similar moment from our travels. He was smiling, looking to share a sweet memory together, and a few people looked our way to hear my response.
I couldn’t place what he was referring to right away, and instead of taking a moment to think about it, I immediately threw cold water on his warm memory.
My reaction was so sharp and sudden it caused a pause in conversation at the table.
One friend said, “Wow, you really shut him down!” It was just about the nicest way to call me out on acting like an ass, and I didn’t deserve such tact.
The rakija wasn’t the only fire at the table that night.
Shock Value vs. Thoughtful Communication
Sometimes I’m a jerk.
It’s tough to admit that, especially when the realization comes halfway through an argument or after a sharp comment I’ve made that turns out to be wrong. Do I keep going with the wrong statement and save my pride, or do I swallow it and apologize?
Unfortunately, my pride has been the winner in those contests for much of my life.
It is better to lose your pride with someone you love rather than to lose that someone you love with your useless pride.” ~ John Ruskin
And what shames me most is knowing I wouldn’t have even picked up on my bad behavior had my friend not made the comment about it.
How often do I treat Warren dismissively?
How often do I choose shock over contribution in a conversation?
Am I prioritizing my ego over our relationship?
These are not the kind of thoughts that make you feel good about yourself, that’s for sure. And as the night wore on I couldn’t stop thinking about my sharp reactions. Where did they come from? Why did I say them?
What I’ve come to realize is that I have a lot of pride around my quick wit and knowledge. I want to be quick and funny and have a great depth of knowledge. But this focus causes me to lose sight of the more important things in life, like love and mutual respect.
Who wants to be the quick-witted asshole with no friends? Not me.
Warren has complained about my sometimes sharp responses before. But it wasn’t until someone else called me out on it in the moment that I realized the impact of my actions. And that shames me most of all.
So here it is, another “decision moment” in our relationship where we get the chance to grow and move forward or stay stuck in the same harmful patterns as before. It’s not like this behavior is a new thing, and I could probably get by with an occasional apology.
But we’re not in this relationship to just get by, and I want to have a deeper connection and better communication with Warren. More importantly, I want him to always know how much I love and respect him, and my behavior to this point leaves room for doubt.
As we leave Serbia and Hungary, I’m saying goodbye to fire-breathing for good.
No more rakija, no more harsh responses.
But I’d gladly have another serving of that sweet walnut cake.
Are you interested in improving some long-term bad habits in your relationship? Check out the “one year marriage contract” episode on the podcast for tips on reversing these trends. It’s not the easiest conversation you’ll ever have, but it will make a huge difference in your relationship. Want more of these 20-minute episodes on living better? Subscribe to the podcast in RSS, iTunes or Stitcher here.