Tag Archives: Martin Heidegger

Sulking and the Idolatry of Relationships

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I learned how to sulk very early in life, the only girl with three brothers. Sulking came too naturally when I didn’t get my way, especially when my brothers wanted something different than what I wanted. That habit of sulking transferred easily into marriage.

Joseph Bonifacio defines the verb sulk:

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When Dave and I were first married, if he didn’t at times behave in some way that I felt he should have, I could effectively sink into a long, brooding sulk. Even though the Bible verse about “not letting the sun go down on your anger” was a serious warning against sulking, I could still go three days without talking to him…beyond the absolute essential.

Those early years of marriage are way in our past, and my sulking these days rarely goes for long, minutes usually, rarely a few hours. Still, it has to be so punishing for him. It certainly is for me.

Today I read the most fascinating description of sulking by Alain de Botton, author of On Love: A Novel and The Course of Love: A Novel

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At the heart of a sulk lies a confusing mixture of intense anger and an equally intense desire not to communicate what one is angry about. The sulker both desperately needs the other person to understand and yet remains utterly committed to doing nothing to help them do so. The very need to explain forms the kernel of the insult: if the partner requires an explanation, he or she is clearly not worthy of one. We should add: it is a privilege to be the recipient of a sulk; it means the other person respects and trusts us enough to think we should understand their unspoken hurt. It is one of the odder gifts of love.”Alain de Botton

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Sulking pays homage to a beautiful, dangerous ideal that can be traced back to our earliest childhoods: the promise of wordless understanding. In the womb, we never had to explain. Our every requirement was catered to. The right sort of comfort simply happened. Some of this idyll continued in our first years. We didn’t have to make our every  requirement known: large, kind people guessed for us. They saw past our tears, our inarticulacy, our confusions: they found the explanations for discomforts which we lacked the ability to verbalize. That may be why, in relationships, even the most eloquent among us may instinctively prefer not to spell things out when our partners are at risk of failing to read us properly. Only wordless and accurate mind reading can feel like a true sign that our partner is someone to be trusted: only when we don’t have to explain can we feel certain that we are genuinely understood.Alain de Botton

Sheesh.

We can make it hard on those we love the most.

In the same article, on Brain Pickings, where I read Alain de Botton’s words above, there was also the following quote:

““Why is love rich beyond all other possible human experiences and a sweet burden to those seized in its grasp? Because we become what we love and yet remain ourselves.”Martin Heidegger

It reminded me of the passage preached by our pastor this morning. Psalm 115. The psalmist was glorifying God in worship and warning against the sin and human vanity of idolatry – of fashioning a thing or relationship into something for our own pleasure. He further warned that what we fashion for ourselves can cause us to stumble in the worshiping of what was never intended for worship.

Those who make them (idols) become like them; so do all who trust in them.Psalm 115:8
Sulking is a sign that I have assigned omniscience (an “all-knowing”) to my husband (for instance). He is supposed to know what is important to me and how to respond accordingly. The selfishness I may silently stew about in him is actually reflecting the very same selfishness in my own heart. Idolatry is when “I” or my interests take center stage, and sulking is a vehicle for that self-centered universe. Ugh!
It’s something that has come to mind today, thanks to the “coincidence” of a sermon at Movement Church, an article I read this afternoon, and my very own bumping into the idolatrous nature of my heart… This kind of convergence had a great impact on me today and helped me bounce back from a slow-burn that could have ruined a sweet evening with my best friend. Humility on both our parts helped restore the joy and peace in our relationship…sooner than later. Sulking no more.
So…what are your thoughts about idolatries in relationships? Is sulking a struggle of yours, or would your partner say it’s a burden of his/hers?

A senior couple enjoying a cup of tea together