I’m trying something new lately. It’s pretty radical. I’m almost embarrassed to say it because it’s just so OUT THERE.
I’ve been listening to my husband.
I know! Crazy, right?
I am a talker. And, this might surprise you, but I’m also a bit of a type A personality. SHOCKING, RIGHT?!?!?! These qualities make me an excellent mother, blogger, and teacher. I know how to take the reins and I can communicate really well. Oddly enough, these qualities can make it very difficult to be married to me. I KNOW!!! SHOCKING AGAIN!!!!!
Professionally, I have always taken control. It’s just my nature. I like to lead. I speak up. I speak out. I move ahead. It’s been an asset in the classroom, but also in every job I’ve had before I became a teacher, too. I make decisions and I get things done (or I try to).
But being married to someone like that can be really challenging. I tend to put words in Chris’s mouth a lot. I speak for the “we,” instead of listening to “him.” Because he is so laid back, he usually only makes his point of view known once or twice before he just goes along with whatever I have decreed. I have always thought that was one of his greatest traits, actually. Turns out, I’m just an idiot.
I haven’t always been like this in my marriage. Chris and I used to make decisions together. I remember back before we had kids we used to sit side by side every week and balance our checking account together. Every week we made financial choices together, literally hand in hand. And we used to go grocery shopping together, too. This was back before I meal planned, and the two of us would wander aimlessly around the grocery store, throwing random things into our cart and making out in the canned soup aisle. One time, we got an unexpected tax return and we immediately left the tax accountant’s office, drove to Best Buy, and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in those big recliners in front of the wall of TV’s, picking out our first flat screen together.
But not anymore.
When the kids came and life became more urgent, my professionalism took over. “Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency!” I demanded. I didn’t have time to hang out in the produce section of the grocery store or to sit in recliners and inspect remote controls. Decision making became less about the excitement and more about survival. And so I slowly and unintentionally began taking on more of the decision-making for myself. Not because I didn’t want Chris’s opinions or ideas, but because a) it was faster to do it by myself and b) he didn’t seem to care.
And then, one day last month, Chris cared. What started as a fairly routine fight that we usually have somehow progressed to Chris calmly telling me that he was tired of not being listened to. I started to just shrug that comment off, like I usually do, but he stopped me.
“See?” he said. “See what you just did? Rolling your eyes and disregarding what is important to me? That is the problem.”
He has told me a hundred times before that I don’t listen, but I’ve never really heard what he was saying (ironic, no?). I’ve listened to the words, but I’ve never heard how that makes him feel. Which is highly embarrassing considering I write about marriage and isn’t that Marriage 101? “Listen to each other.” The terrible thing is that I thought I had been listening! How awful is that? I really thought I was listening. I just thought listening meant hearing the other person out and then doing whatever the hell I wanted.
You know what else Chris told me? He said I don’t take care of him. He said I come home with bags and bags of clothes and treats for the kids, but never anything for him. And, again, if I am listening, he is saying, “Buy me something!” But if I really stop to hear him, what he is actually saying is, “It makes me feel unloved and unimportant when you leave me out.” And he’s right. I do that. I buy things for the kids all the time. I even buy myself things sometimes. And the startling part for me is not that I never buy anything for Chris, it’s that I never even considered buying anything for Chris. It never even crosses my mind.
“I have to buy my own undershirts and underwear,” he said. And my heart broke. Because every word he was saying was true. When we were first married, I loved buying those personal things for Chris. It made me feel all wifey. I even blogged about it, way back when just my Grandma read my blog. But, years went by, and he made some complaints a time or two because I bought the wrong brand or style or whatever, and instead of taking the time to hear him, I just stopped buying that stuff because it was easier to not. It wasn’t a malicious decision. I didn’t throw up my hands one day and shout, “THEN YOU BUY YOUR OWN UNDERWEAR!” It was just one of those silent decisions I made out of convenience.
And the underwear is just one example. In the weeks since Chris and I had our argument (well, it wasn’t really an argument because there was nothing I could argue), I have been flooded with examples of times when I just left him out because it was easier. Did you know that I buy a particular shampoo for myself and a specific one for the kids, but I buy Chris whatever I have a coupon for? And I’ve always told myself that I do these things because Chris is laid back and doesn’t care. But the truth is that I do them because he is laid back so I can get away with it.
I have thought of so many different ways that I overruled Chris or left him out of the process altogether:
- He always wants Lucky Charms for breakfast, but I won’t buy sugar cereal. Turns out, when I compared the nutrition charts, Lucky Charms has less sugar than the Honey Nut Cheerios I usually buy.
- He wanted to put the inflatable slide for Bean’s birthday party in a certain part of the yard, but I thought that was silly. Turns out, when the set up day came (which was the day after our big fight, incidentally) and I completely deferred to his judgment, that part of the yard he wanted worked better anyway.
- I never listen to him talk about his job. I pretend that I do, but really, I just sigh a lot until he is done talking. But who else is he going to talk to his job about? Who else can help him let some of that tension go by hearing him talk about his fears and frustrations?
And the list goes on. None of them individually are really important, but collectively they point to a big issue. I don’t listen to my husband. Somewhere along the way, it became easier to just make the choices myself and move ahead. It was more efficient that way. But, let me tell you, I’ve never heard of a happy marriage that was described as “easy” or “efficient.”
“Marriage takes work.”
“Marriage is the foundation of the family.”
“I love my husband.”
“We are happily married.”
I throw these target phrases out there in my blog, on Facebook posts, in conversations. But when I think about it, I haven’t really been practicing what I preach for quite some time. I have the big concepts down. I love my husband more than anything, and for all my faults, he does know that. But I speak words of love (and I show love in other ways that we do not speak of on this blog…), but in every day actions, in every day decisions, in every day conversations, I have not been showing my love for Chris.
It has been a really difficult realization to make. I have felt so ashamed. For the first week after our conversation, I walked around on eggshells. Every question Chris asked me, I replied with, “Whatever you want, honey!” But, that’s not really healthy, either. A marriage takes two people to work. It shouldn’t be all me and I shouldn’t put it all on him. So, I have really been working on listening lately. Hearing what Chris says and feels.
This weekend we worked on our pool deck and we had to pick a paint color. Normally, this decision would go like this:
I decree a color.
I tell him he’s being ridiculous.
He buys the paint I want.
I always thought that was fine. Why wouldn’t I?!?! But this time, I listened to him. And what I found was that when I take time to stop in the middle of the chaos of our family life, Chris and I actually connect like we did back when we were newlyweds. There was excitement to the decision. I felt like we were back in Best Buy sitting in those recliners. And it didn’t take long. The house didn’t explode. The kids didn’t kill each other. In the ten or fifteen minutes Chris and I spent actually having a CONVERSATION about the paint, instead of just snipping at each other, we turned a small, seemingly insignificant decision into a fun project. We even ended up loading up the kids and all of us went to get the paint, instead of Chris running up there to get it by himself.
These are not life-altering decisions. But they are definitely marriage-altering. Marriage has more small, seemingly insignificant interactions than it does major, life changing interactions. Sure, we have major issues we face as a couple, but the majority of our day-to-day life is made of mundane decisions and interactions, and that makes those situations almost more significant than the major ones. In fact, the last couple weeks have been really great with Chris. We are talking to each other more, we are both hearing each other when we speak, and we are having more fun in the little nuances of our lives.
We make mistakes as marriage partners. We aren’t always the best versions of ourselves. We fall down a lot. It’s just the nature of such an intimate relationship. But it’s not the fall that makes or breaks a marriage. It’s the getting back up again. It’s seeking to be better because we want to give our partner the best part of ourselves. Because we owe them the best version of ourselves.