Red & Black…Talk About Talking

Tina “Red” Pennington and Mandy “Black” Williams are not only sisters, but also the co-authors of the book, “What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!” Their captivating and insightful book explores a myriad of subjects including relationships, financial literacy, values, priorities and much more, employing a unique blend of emails, instant messages, and telephone conversations to share their experiences. They contribute a monthly column to The Jewish Herald-Voice, and their latest piece struck a chord with us. Hence, we sought their permission to reprint it here for our readers.

Red: So, what’s the topic for our discussion this month?

Black: Why don’t we discuss the art of talking?

Red: Given my natural inclination to chatter, I feel more than capable to tackle this subject.

Black: I had in mind a more nuanced conversation. I think that there’s a difference between merely ‘talking’ and ‘communicating.’

Red: It’s a shame we can’t rehash our presentation on relationships and finances, which we gave at Holman Street Baptist Church during Houston Money Week. The focus was more on communication than money.

Black: Agreed. While many arguments and most divorces seem to hinge on money issues, I think the ‘subject matter’ is often a mask for the real problems, unrealistic expectations, and lack of communication.

Red: I concur. Interestingly though, around the time we delivered that presentation, you and your ‘significant other’ had barely exchanged a word for nearly a month.

Black: That’s precisely why we began with the disclaimer stating, ‘we are not experts.’ But does my personal situation undermine the validity of our discussion?

Red: Absolutely not. Our stories are built upon lessons we’ve learned, often the hard way through mistakes. For instance, it was only when Nick was fired, after almost 15 years of marriage, that I truly grasped the importance of communication.

Black: Maybe it would’ve helped if you’d been more socially active before settling down.

Red: I don’t think it would’ve made any significant difference. Growing up, I was conditioned to avoid conflicts and stick to ‘safe’ topics. You, on the other hand, have a knack for stirring things up. Sometimes, I suspect you actually enjoy arguments.

Black: I don’t necessarily enjoy arguing, but it seems inevitable at times. When you attempt to understand someone else’s viewpoints and perspectives by asking questions, they often become defensive. When you further try to clarify your feelings, or explain why you asked a specific question or reacted a certain way, they are usually too focused on their ‘rebuttal’ to actually listen. Before you know it, you’re in the middle of an argument.

Red: Not all of us have your pragmatic approach to issues, which is probably why your ex-husband labeled you a ‘debate queen.’ Your rapid information processing can make it appear as if you’re not paying attention. Believe me, as your sister, I know what a ‘conversation’ with you can feel like – downright exhausting!

Black: Why so?

Red: You never take anything at face value. You’re always questioning, always presenting alternate points of view. You’re the ultimate ‘devil’s advocate.’

Black: What’s wrong with that? How else would I know your thoughts? Or is it that you’re uncomfortable being forced to think?

Red: Thank you for proving my point. I’ve realized that for you, this is just a sport. It took me years to learn not to take it personally.

Black: Think of it as a part of our heritage.

Red: I’m not sure about YOUR heritage, but I’ve always been the one avoiding arguments.

Black: By ‘our,’ I mean our shared heritage. A friend recently pointed out to me that the study of the Talmud encourages debate and dialogue. It’s not so much about right or wrong answers, but the process, accepting differing viewpoints, and understanding that different people interpret things differently.

Red: That’s a nice thought, but easier said than done. It doesn’t come naturally to some of us, and I’d argue, to most people.

Black: True, it takes effort. But so do relationships. Consider it akin to a three-legged race – it requires collaboration, concentration, and teamwork.

Red: I shudder to imagine running a three-legged race with you. You’re a runner and incredibly competitive, while I’m neither!

Black: Exactly, which underscores the importance of having realistic expectations of your partner.

Red: So, you mean to say my assumption that my husband could read my mind was unrealistic? Or that expecting him to continue doing everything he used to, plus more, was also unrealistic?

Black: And you expected him to do everything ‘right.’ Of course, ‘right’ as per your definition. It’s like setting someone up for failure.

Red: I concede that my complaints about taking on more responsibilities during our ‘crisis’ were not entirely fair. But it wasn’t entirely my fault either. I had never had to deal with financial matters before, and suddenly I had to. I didn’t feel prepared, neither emotionally nor in terms of what needed to be done. We hadn’t discussed what we would do if he were to be fired. It just happened.

Black: Precisely.

Red: Precisely what?

Black: You never discussed it. You both just assumed areas of responsibility and never really talked about your respective roles in the relationship. Trying to reallocate those responsibilities in the middle of a ‘crisis’ was bound to be a major challenge.

Red: I always thought our partnership would be a 50-50 split.

Black: That was part of the issue. You failed to understand that there would be times when one of you would have to do more. In a marriage, you’re on the same team, there’s no need to keep score. I’m not sure if either of you had realistic expectations.

Red: Alright, my expectations may not have been realistic, but they were based on past performance.

Black: But things change.

Red: I’m painfully aware of that. But the biggest issue was figuring out how to communicate. I expected my British ‘never-discuss-feelings’ husband to suddenly open up about his feelings. That was probably not just unrealistic, but bordering on delusional.

Black: At least your stuffed animals were there to help.

Red: You’re never going to let me live that down, are you? I still can’t believe you sneaked a photo of a stuffed animal into our PowerPoint presentation at the church! It was bad enough you included the story in the book. All I wanted was a real conversation, not a card or letter ‘signed’ by a stuffed animal.

Black: There’s no right or wrong way of communication, the trick is to find the ‘best’ method, whether that’s in person, over the phone, through emails, or even notes from stuffed animals.

Red: I get it. It’s not just about talking, it’s about listening too. Since my ‘crisis’, I’ve learned the importance of seeking clarification, rather than getting upset because I may have interpreted something differently than what the other person intended. But what if one person is willing to communicate and the other isn’t?

Black: Like the time you made a nice dinner for Nick, got him in a good mood, and then blindsided him with a discussion about his firing?

Red: No, I now realize that was unfair. It’s about

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