Have you seen it? It aired in February 2011, and it was as if Modern Family had an inside peek into my marriage. Claire was beyond pissed that Phil wanted to tell her about this super-duper new salad that an acquaintance had turned him on to—while Claire had been singing the praises of the wedge salad for years. Phil tried desperately to figure out why Claire was so mad, but there were so many possibilities over the course of a given day, he couldn’t pin it down.
You see, I’ve struggled mightily over the years with feeling like either Tim is not listening to me, or if he does listen, he discounts my opinion while enthusiastically supporting the same opinion if it comes from another source. Gah! This became so standard early on in our marriage that my sister and I had a running joke about it. When Tim and I went searching for our first couch together, for instance, my sister said, “Pick the one you want and have Hal recommend it.”
Hal, one of our friends, somehow became the arbiter of all that was good and desirable to Tim, even if Hal I and said the same damn thing. Whether it was a new restaurant, a Bible Study class, a TV show or some home improvement idea, it never hurt for Tim to hear how much Hal liked it first.
I remember reading about a fun family activity called geocaching, which involves going on a hike and following clues to find a small treasure in the woods. I mentioned it to Tim a few times, sparking absolutely no reaction. Was I speaking out loud? In English? Next, I left a few magazines with geocaching articles on his desk, with “Read Me!” written in Sharpie.
One day, more than six months later, Tim was delighted to tell me about a new pastime he had just heard about: geocaching! And faster than you can say “wedge salad!” he had gathered up a fanny pack, a portable GPS unit, the kids and the dog. Team Shadow was off into the woods!
I am not sure what gave Tim the idea (Hal had moved away years earlier), but I know he likely doesn’t think it was me. He took to geocaching enthusiastically, and it became a wonderful way for him to connect with the kids on outdoor adventures—just like
Claire had I’d envisioned.
Now, you may think that you would not put up with this sort of nonsense in your marriage. Shouldn’t Tim listen the first (or fourth) time I suggest something, whether it’s painting the fireplace white or going on a trip? I get it, I do. But a lot of marriage is trying not to become so irritated with the other person that you want to do them bodily harm. It’s a dance. A long, long, long dance with ample opportunities for compromise.
I have judged other people’s marriages when they look different than mine, only to realize that their dance is just different than ours. For instance, I remember hearing of friends who would squirrel away new purchases from their husbands so they wouldn’t have to admit they’d gone shopping. Or they kept a stash of fun money in their dresser so they wouldn’t be held accountable for spending it. I told myself there was no way I’d put up with a spouse who was all up in my grill about my spending habits, but I later realized that even though financial transparency wasn’t a hot button issue in our marriage, we had plenty of our own.
We are similar in our spending and saving habits, raising children, and our focus on faith and integrity. But in other areas, we diverge a lot. He’s active, while sleep is my favorite thing. He likes to do. I like to be. He processes things s-l-o-w-ly while I make decisions quickly. We vote on opposite sides of the aisle. And the list goes on.
I have learned that if I wait until I receive an enthusiastic response about painting walls, hanging pictures, getting pets or going on a family trip, I’ll be waiting a very long time. My old M.O. was to get annoyed and discouraged because we never seemed to be on the same page, and then give up on what I wanted amid a lot of huffing and puffing. Or I’d hope against hope that someone like Hal would show up and give me a ringing endorsement.
I now know that Tim’s agenda is going to be different than mine about 80 percent of the time. Even if we both want to trim the bushes, trust me, they will not be the same bushes. Over time (and well over age 40), I’ve learned to go ahead and set things in motion, then give
Phil Tim a chance to warm up and catch up. I narrow down choices for him, so he has a say but doesn’t have to sift through a ton of information. He does the same thing for me when it comes to investments and remote controls.
I also try to be extremely clear about what I want, whether it is stopping at a rest area (“I have to pee right now, and I don’t care if it’s not lunchtime yet!”) or about getting a puppy for our daughter (“Dude, it’s time“). In the case of our pets, Shadow and Charlie, I located the dogs, then gave Tim’s brain and heart a chance to catch up. It didn’t take long. It’s a dance. And with all the smushed toes and missteps, it really helps to remember that Phil has some awesome character traits, and Claire is not always a peach to live with either.
P.S. I think we’ll have a wedge salad for dinner.