Rotten chinaberries were plentiful where I grew up. My aunt had a chinaberry tree in her yard. Fragrant purple flowers would drape from the tree each spring. So would clusters of chinaberries. Ornaments, as they’re called, from a tree that had made its way to the United States in the late 1800s from India and China. The soaptree. The berries can be mashed and mixed with water to create a laundry soap for clothing.
Eventually, the berries would release from the tree and scatter about the yard. After days of heat, rain and humid temperatures, the berries rot. As kids, we’d pick the berries from the yard and throw them in a pail for later use. Girls against the boys. Ammunition. Organic pellets.
Walnuts made good ammunition, too, but chinaberries were surprisingly effective. They’d give a walnut a run for its money any day. Walnuts were harder to come by. They didn’t have as far of a reach, were less dependable and wobbly when thrown at your target. Chinaberries would sting. They’d leave a welt. The rotted ones also had the added bonus of stink. The stink factor alone made for extraordinary psychological warfare preceding any physical contact with the skin.
We’d tricked our young minds into thinking that a fun way to pass a summertime morning was to climb on top of my uncle’s storage shed and throw chinaberries at the boys.
I wanted to get along with everyone. Seemed like a waste of time and energy to fight when we could just play and have fun. We could have been sipping sugar-laden Kool-Aid or swimming somewhere. Listening to music, riding bikes or exploring some forbidden territory near the creek. But instead, it was often full-on violent chinaberry wars.
When someone is throwing chinaberries at you, you have three choices: retreat from enemy forces, attack and throw back or surrender and be pummeled with berries. There’s really no good option. The best option is for no one to be throwing chinaberries in the first place.
Stop the crazy cycle
Couples come into therapy throwing chinaberries at one another and then wonder why their spouses are retreating, attacking or have given up! Most couples have good intentions. They’re looking for energy, joy, spontaneity, passion and companionship. Some desire a higher level of intimacy on an emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual level. At the very least, some couples are just trying to survive and get what they think they need. When we don’t get what we want from someone else, we may get confused or angry and attack.
You will never criticize your way to closeness.
Throwing chinaberries at your spouse leaves everyone with emotional welt marks. The psychological stink of shame, blame and behaving like a victim create unproductive arguments and acting out.
Instead of throwing berries, you might ask yourself what it is you’re really trying to accomplish. If what you’re after is validation, love, closeness, passion and connectedness, you’re not going to get it by attacking your spouse or by shutting down and hiding from emotions, either.
Take the focus (blaming/being a victim) off of your spouse and spend some time with yourself. What’s your part in it? Could it be that what you “want” from your partner is something you’ve been afraid to give yourself? When is the first time you felt this “want” missing from your life? Chances are, if you dig deep, you’ve felt this way long before meeting your partner.
Inspire your spouse to connect instead of attacking your spouse for not connecting. Learning constructive and healthy ways of experiencing and expressing your emotions will help with this. It’s difficult to understand another’s point of view if you don’t understand how you developed your own.
As an adult, another person can’t create your emotions and behaviors.
Set the bucket of chinaberries aside
Stop blaming. Stop chasing. Stop avoiding. Stop retreating. If this sounds foreign, understanding your own internal emotional world can lead you to becoming an insightful and emotionally safe person instead of an emotionally reactive person.
What do you want to create for yourself?