Learn something new every day. Sometimes that something is astonishingly simple. Like last week when a friend told me that turnips and rutabagas are the same thing and I told her that chick peas and garbanzo beans are the same thing and we were both like, “Whaaaaaat?”
Sometimes that something is deeply complicated and it takes days or weeks of learning before you really get a handle on it.
As we’ve been going through our marriage mentoring curriculum, we’ve talked a lot about love and respect. I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept that women process everything through the lens of feeling loved and men process everything through the lens of feeling respected.
For years, I have been intentionally working on being more respectful, and I thought I was doing a pretty darn good job, actually. I have internally brought into balance my feminist tendencies and the Biblical concept of the husband being the head of the family. Those two things are not mutually exclusive, but it can take some mental gymnastics to make them fit together harmoniously. I worked it out.
From there, I had to move from external (and sometimes reluctant, or even resentful) respect of my husband’s authority to inner confidence in his authority. For me, that meant relaxing my grip on being right and letting go of my desire to have the final say when we disagreed about something. I was pleased as punch to finally reach a point in our marriage and in my spiritual growth where I honestly felt deep satisfaction and joy in letting Pat make the call on things that we weren’t in agreement on.
Then I found out he hates that.
Whaaaaaat? (This “Whaaaaaat?” lacked the joyful enthusiasm of my rutabaga discovery “Whaaaaaat?”)
And so began a very…very…very… long discussion about my heartfelt intentions versus the reality of how those intentions were received.
It all came to a head the weekend we had a fun assignment from our mentoring curriculum. We were to get together with a couple who has been married longer than us and ask them questions about their marriage. That was a fun evening, with lots of laughs, a few moments of near-tears, and a couple hours of frank, deep conversation. Of course, I brought up this respect question. I explained how I’ve come to approach disagreements and my desire to honour Pat’s authority by letting him make the final decision. My dear friend nodded her head, clearly appreciating my maturity and wisdom. So I turned to her husband and asked, “Am I being disrespectful?” He immediately answered, “Yeah, that would totally piss me off, too.”
Huh. Interesting. I didn’t fully get it yet, but it was extremely helpful to have another couple’s input.
In the weeks that followed, Pat and I have had a couple of opportunities to disagree about decisions and talk them through in a new way. I’m beginning to understand that my previous approach felt dismissive to Pat. It also set him up to be wary of my motivations. Was I manipulating him? If he made a decision that ended up being wrong, would I stab him with an “I told you so”? Even if he was right in the decision, he would forevermore bear some measure of guilt or perceived judgment over deciding against me.
One would think I’d have figured this out quicker than this. We’ve been married for seventeen years now! Unfortunately, I didn’t know that the thing I was working so hard at was the very thing that was so infuriating to him. And he didn’t know that I was actually putting effort into doing it more. And I didn’t know that it was hurtful to him. And he didn’t know that I didn’t know that it was hurtful to him. Oy!
Mentoring another couple has forced us to talk through a lot of things that neither of us knew we needed to talk through. It’s been hard (so hard!), but it’s been good (so good!).
Here are my two pieces of advice for couples who have been married a long time (or even a not-so-long time):
- Don’t assume you know what’s what by now. Ask each other how you really feel about the way you communicate. Talk about how you express and receive love and respect. Our discovery is just one of a kablillion things you might find you didn’t know.
- Go on a double date. Find another couple that has been married a long time. You don’t have to know them really well, as long as you are both willing to be frank and open. Take them out for drinks or dessert (or both, if you really want to get them talking) and ask them what works in their marriage, how they fight, how they parent, what they wish they’d known earlier, what they’ve learned the hard way…anything!
Now go and learn something new today.