I was a guest on a podcast a while ago where I was given hypothetical phrases from my wife, and I was supposed let them know how I’d respond. Naturally, this was a situation where I was asked to speak for all husbands, a place I’ve found myself in a number of times since I became a dad blogger. And while I do feel like I’m a pretty good man and a loving husband who is trying very hard to push for egalitarian relationships and equal partnership, the sad reality is, there are times that I, like most men, am a little clueless.
There are times when I can’t see what’s right in front of my face, and there are times when I sit stupidly at the table, lost in my own thoughts, as a child screams in the background, my wife elbow deep in making dinner and looking at me like I’m a sack of useless human garbage.
Case in point: the host asked, “What is your response when your wife says, ‘Never mind. I’ll get it.’”
With a straight face and honest conviction, I said, “Check.”
“Check?” she said.
“Yeah,” I said, “Check. As in, done. Problem solved. Mel handled it, so now I can work on something else.”
It was the sounds from the host that really gave it away. It was one of those painful sounds, the sound a person makes when someone unwittingly did a bone-headed thing. It was in that moment I realized I’d been doing something wrong for literally years. Is “wrong” the right word? I don’t know. Because I hadn’t done anything malicious. I hadn’t committed a sin or a crime or anything like that. I wasn’t going to jail.
What really was happening was me not understanding what my wife was actually saying. Which isn’t really wrong, per se. I don’t think there is a right and wrong here. But it was a source of tension that my wife hadn’t outwardly expressed to me, and as I sat listening to the host school me on what I ought to be picking up on, years of my wife saying “never mind, I got it” flashed before my eyes, and I realized how oblivious I’d been.
This all came to a head later that day, after work, as Mel was working on dinner, and I was putting my lunch dishes in the washer. I turned around to ask how her day was. She made this hard eye contact, one hand on her hip, and said, “Are you going to take out the trash?” She paused for a moment. Then she said, “You know what, never mind, I’ll get it.”
It was then that I realized she’d listened to the podcast.
I smiled. She didn’t. Then I took out the trash.
And you know what, at this point we’ve been married for 14 years. We have three children and a mortgage and a minivan. We’ve lived in three different states, and while I feel like I know Mel pretty well, somehow, after everything we’d been through together, I’d missed this one. She must have said something to the tune of “never mind, I got it” a million times, from everything from getting the oil changed in the car, to changing light bulbs, to wiping a child’s butt. And every time I interpreted it as, “Check.” I never once saw this as a call to action. I never once saw this as her saying that she was fed up with waiting for me to get it done. I never once saw this as her telling me that I needed to get off my butt and handle it because it was something she really needed me to handle.
Does this make me a bad guy? I don’t think so. I hope not. In the grand scheme of marriage and family, this is a pretty small thing. But that’s the funny thing about being with someone for 5, 10, 20, 40 years, little things start to add up, and suddenly you find yourself cluelessly sleeping on the sofa, the whole night tossing and turning because you’re not sure what you did wrong.
Are there things I’m still missing? Probably. Could this be an issue of communication? Most likely. But that isn’t the point. The point is to realize that if your wife is saying something to the tune of “never mind. I’ll get it,” it’s not a good thing. That’s my pro tip for the day. Learn from my mistake.
And while this might seem obvious to most readers, this is the reality of marriage, isn’t it? So much of it is trying to figure out your partner’s phrases and non-verbal cues. It’s about trying to understand what they are really saying without saying it. And while it would make more sense for us all to be open and honest with the person we love the most, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes we get tired of bringing it up. Sometimes we realize it would just be easier to do it ourselves rather than get into one more argument.
But right there, that’s where things start to fester, and suddenly a little thing becomes a big thing that might very well cause a separation. So much of communication in marriage comes down to sideways glances, rolled eyes, and saying something that really means something else. And the real test is taking a moment to sit down and ask yourself, what is my partner really saying?
And well… now I know.