Closing My Mouth and Opening My Ears

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!!!!!

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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.

Chris disagrees.

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.

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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.

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32 Thoughts to “Closing My Mouth and Opening My Ears”

  1. My husband and I are very similar! And I too, have been stepping back to listen to him, and things are better than they were when we got married! great post!

  2. This is huge and something I didn’t realize about myself until we had nearly run out of time to do so. Good job.
    Also?
    Old habits die hard and it’s easy to remember to do the right thing when the sting is fresh, but bookmark this page or something because (if you’re anything like most people) you’ll need a reminder now and then. 🙂

  3. Elisabeth M

    Wow, this one hits home for me. You’ve articulated exactly what I’ve been unable to figure out on my own. No one tells you just how much changes when kids come into the picture. It’s not that you mean to be malicious or disregard your husband, it’s just that you’re pulled in so many different directions. Somehow it’s your husband that gets left behind. In some ways, that’s probably the sign of a healthy marriage. You trust each other enough to feel like that is the relationship you can get lax with and not suffer consequences – which is totally insane logic and something I know I need to fight harder against. Thanks for the wake-up call and for being so honest!

  4. Melissa

    Your post hit home today. This is my problem too, I just didn’t realize it until I read your words. I am going to vow to do better. And I will bring him home a treat today and try to show my husband just how much he is loved. Thanks for putting yourself out there. I needed the kick in the pants!

  5. I am very similar and catch myself not listening all the time. I don’t intentionally not listen when he talks about work, but I don’t always understand what he’s talking about and so I just smile (or frown) and throw in the occasional, “Right…uh huh.” And with decision-making, I tend to do it because my husband’s only concern is the money, while mine is what works best, etc. We just had a huge argument about car seats because of this. I want a Britax (it matches our other one, it is more user-friendly, easier to install and get the kids in, but it is expensive). It’s something I’m working on, but it’s hard to change. Especially when I’m used to just taking the reigns and getting my way. Thanks for opening my eyes a bit more. And I’m glad I’m not alone.

  6. kat

    okay woman, stop spying on my marriage. (teasing, obv)

    i swear this is me and I don’t think I realized it until half way through reading your post. now my head is hung in shame. My husband and I are very similar in our personalities (me type A, loud, talker, decision maker; him quiet, lettings things go, letting me take over) and we have been having small fights that if I spend time thinking about right now are all pointing to this……sht……….

  7. brooke

    amazing post! I feel like I have the same tendencies in my marriage, your post gave me some ideas of how to work on it. Thanks Katie!

  8. Mindee is right. Bookmark this page. My ex and I did run out of time. We ran out of time for a whole lot of reasons, but one of those reasons is exactly what you just typed. Life got in the way, it became easier to do it alone and he stopped trying to be heard because I stopped trying to listen. I’m so incredibly glad that you are able to own up to this trait, to make an effort to work on this trait and then put this out in a manner that makes you accountable.

    Keep up the amazing work!

  9. Kt

    Awesome post. So applicable to my marriage as well. Love love love it when you post about working through issues in your marriage – always great insight!

  10. Sarah Hash

    Great post! My first thought was Oh no…do I do this??? Thanks for the reminder! My husband always gets me special treats at the grocery store and I LOVE it 🙂 Very important!

  11. Lindsey

    This is why I love your blog!!!

  12. Alyssa

    wow I can really relate to Chris. I think my husband needs to read this. My husband has done what he wants so much that I feel like I never get my way in anything anymore so I’ve stopped trying. He suggests something and I say fine. I don’t even bother wasting my time thinking about it because he’s not going to listen to me anyway. So glad you were able to hear your husband and work on things.

  13. Alicia

    I love this. Thank you for sharing. I’m totally the decision maker, lets just do it and move on with so much. Thank you. I can see this is an area I need to work on too. Thank you.

  14. I am a newlywed, but I’ve read your blog for years. I think this post was absolutely amazing. I’ve learned so much in our first year of marriage, and I learn more everyday. This is definitely something I will try to remember – I’m very type A personality I like to take control and have the lead, but I need to let my husband lead 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing!

  15. I’m fairly certain I do the same thing to my husband… even though he’s the Type A, get things done guy… I’m more decisive in the moment and therefore I win. Also, I just assume he doesn’t care. Weird isn’t it? How easy it is to slip into those roles…

  16. Katie

    I do the same thing with my husband when he talks. I nod and say ‘uhhuh,’ but really, I am just waiting until I can start talking again! I thought this was something I grew out of doing a long time ago, but I think I really just got more patient at waiting for my turn to speak again! I am trying hard to push my thoughts away and really listen to what he’s saying. I find that when I do this, I hear thoughts and feelings from him that I didn’t know he had! He cares a lot more about things than I think he does. I used to think that he didn’t like to express his feelings or didn’t have thoughts about stuff, but I realized it’s because I never let him be heard!

  17. Melissa

    As a lot of other women have said, this post really hits me. I know there have been lingering issues in my marriage and this could be the cause of most of them. (Not all, though, cause I cant possibly be the one wrong all.the.time. but, my inability to say I am wrong is another big issue :)) 3 kids and 2 more than full-time careers between the two of us leave little time for ourselves, let alone us or the other person. I need to make more of effort to focus on him. Even the underwear thing is eerily similar…I have already ordered my husband some undershirts and chonies! Thank you for writing and putting yourself out there.

  18. Abby

    Thank you for sharing this, Katie. These were the EXACT words I needed to hear today.

  19. This is precisely why you should write about marriage. You are not pie in sky, all is well and perfect. You are real. This really made me think about how I act with my husband.

  20. HeatherM

    My personality is very similar to yours and my husband and I have struggled with many of the same challenges. We just had our first baby, and as a peds nurse it was really tempting to take everything on myself and so it my way (until we had our baby he had never even changed a diaper). But I knew a new baby was intimidating and I wanted him to bond w/ the baby early and have confidence as a father, so I started doing something different. I STARTED ASKING FOR HIS INPUT…on babies (about which I had many opinions and he had far fewer)! It was foreign to me. But our marriage is so much happier as a result. And he is developing great intuition as a dad. He is noticing things and bringing them up- like when she needs to move up to size 1 diapers, or when we need to adjust our new routine. And then the more decisions I include him in and listen to him about, the more I trust him.

  21. LIssa

    Katie, Katie, Katie….tomorrow I will check out the brand and size and go buy my husband some undies. And will make him a nice meatloaf dinner (instead of calling him on the way home and asking him to pick something up). And ask about his day at work and really listen to him. And ask him what HE’D like to do this weekend. Tonight I’ll say some prayers of thanksgiving that you shared your marriage with me.

  22. jenny-bird

    I’m glad you took the time to listen to Chris. Marriage is hard work because one person has joined their life with another. The other’s wants, needs, and lifestyle does not always match yours. Good luck!

  23. Brooke

    Thank you for this honest post! To echo many of the women who’ve already commented, I DEFINITELY do this in my own relationship. I’m not even married, and I don’t have kids yet – yikes!!! Time for a self-intervention…

  24. Sarah

    Guilty. That’d be me. I’m only excluded from the buying him stuff part…mostly. I’m generally good at buying him things that he needs/likes (tho maybe I do need to get him some Lucky Charms). But otherwise this is totally me. I’m a stay at home mom which I feel makes me more prone to do this. Life goes on whole he’s at work and I’m here to make the decisions. In some ways that benefits families with stay at home moms but sometimes I feel like it just feeds my control freak tendencies. For this reason I try to run a lot of seemingly mundane decisions by him first. In those ways I do listen to him, I think, but I’d better pay close attention to make sure. In most other ways though I really need to shut my mouth and listen. Not just in the quietly waiting my turn to talk again kind of way.

    Thank you for writing this. It took courage that I wouldn’t have had.

  25. Johanna

    Thanks Katie for writing this, because you’re not alone. I think we all need to open our ears a little more to our husbands. I am looking for a way to have this post pop up once every while to remind me 🙂

  26. Heather

    Thank you for being so open! I learn so much from you!

  27. This is a fabulous post. I am a marriage counselor and one of my clients pointed me to it as she is very similar. But I have to say it even hit home for me as a wife. You are right..sometimes we take our laid back, easy going husbands for granted. Better listening and a big dose of humility is good for any marriage. I am very impressed by your willingness to recognize your mistakes and write about them publicly. I have no doubt it will change not only your marriage but some of your readers as well. Great job!

  28. Claudia Boress

    I am crying with emotion because you answered a prayer I had regarding this very topic. Thank you so much for putting into words what I am feeling.

  29. MK

    Really? Is Chris actually an adult, or is he a toddler in a giant’s body?

  30. Haley

    Powerful message! Sometimes when my boyfriend and I struggle with things like communication I feel like it’s so simple, we do so many harder things well in the relationship, why do we suck at the little issues?
    I’m so grateful when I read your stories about your process–communication, realization, walking on eggshells, and resolution. I admire your relationship with Chris and it’s comforting to know sometimes little issues are hard for everyone.

  31. […] of the areas I have been trying to work on in my marriage has been truly listening to Chris and then reacting to his needs.  You’d think that would […]

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