Full disclosure: I’ve been married for almost twenty-two years and still haven’t figured marriage out yet.
Also FYI: most of the conflicts we have in our marriage are my fault. Really. I’m not exaggerating or being self-deprecating in any way. I am impossible to live with.
Thus why it is one of my core Ideal Life themes.
My husband is generally an easygoing guy. I am the exact opposite of what could be viewed as easygoing. My husband genuinely loves me and wants to make me happy. I am constantly upping the ante about what it would take to show me he loves me and shifting the focus on what would make me happy. Mix in my inability to express my wants and desires and we have a recipe for relationship disaster. Easygoing, funny, smart, handsome he may be: mind reader he is not.
Thank goodness he is easygoing, or things would explode way way way more often than they do. One thing is for certain: it is usually my fault when it does.
Becoming a student of the one we love
I have said this before, but I like to view loving people as a study of what makes them tick. This is as true for my scalawags as it is with my spiritual life as it is for my marriage. The more I know about the people I love, the more I understand that their reactions or behaviors don’t just exist to irritate me (ahem), but that they come from somewhere that has nothing to do with me.
When my husband and I first got married, I didn’t realize how much grading of papers he would have to do as a philosophy teacher. I also didn’t realize how much he hated grading papers. He was overwhelmed and irritable about it, and because I was who I am, I was certain his irritation was with me. What did I know? I had been married like three months.
This set us off on a bad foot. I kept wanting to find solutions to his problem, when there is literally no solution I can help with: he just has to grade papers. What I should have done was nothing (said in the voice of Mike Birbiglia), and the least of these things I should have done was to worry that I was the problem, making it about me instead of about what it was: him doing his job.
Working on my marriage means working on myself
There are a few things my husband and I cannot talk about. The weather is one of them.
I have known him since 1997 and in twenty-four years, never once has he made a comment about the weather that hasn’t sent me into a tailspin of irritability. He grew up in the country, next door to farmers who also have this knack. They cannot talk about the weather (which should be the least offensive of all topics, can we agree?) without saying that whatever the current weather was, is wrong. It’s too wet, too dry, too windy, too stagnate, too hot, too cold. Ugh…I cringe just thinking about it.
It was not until last year that I got to thinking that my irritation on this subject was perhaps not healthy. Why could I not just let him contradict everything I say about the weather?
I will never change his take on the weather. He will always have something astounding to say about it. What I could do was stop getting pissed off about it. Stop taking being contradicted so personally. I could figure out why being contradicted about something as stupid as the weather made me so angry. (I’ll let you know when I figure that out.)
In my Ideal Life:
I am a person who:
- doesn’t expect my husband to read my mind
- knows how to best support my husband
- doesn’t take his overwhelm personally
- expresses my wants and desires clearly
- listens without thinking of the next thing I want to say
- always assumes he has good intentions
- is satisfied with what he can give
- supports him as a father
- doesn’t get angry talking about the weather
What is working? What isn’t working?
These questions usually require little digging when it comes time to answer them. When there are issues that recur cycle after cycle, they usually mean I need to do some soul-searching. I have learned to first look at myself when we have marriage problems. Start fixing the carpentry on my own attitude before trying to pluck a speck out of his eye.
There are structural issues to our marriage that require work…not everything is my fault and not everything can be fixed. This is where patience and the knowledge I have gleaned from my study of my husband is critical. When it comes time to address these structural issues, I can best know how to address them.
Although in the privacy of my own thoughts, I think that I would like to would want to weekly have a conversation like this with my husband, I know me. I know that I would not want to have to own up to all the ways I make us both miserable. This kind of slate cleaning would quickly become tiresome. For now, this exercise is the closest I can get to what my imagination could conjure up as an ideal situation.
In my Ideal Life, I don’t expect my husband to be a mind reader.