|Photo by Lucinda Higley|
I was chatting with another couple. I was trying to make a point about marriage when I said, “You know, the best thing I can do is listen to my wife.”
The wife in the room slapped me on the back and smiled. Then she pointed at her husband and raised her eyebrows. And although we had a good laugh, and it was all tongue and cheek, I was serious.
Let me give you an example. Just after my first son was born, I went to see a couple old punk bands with some friends. I was 24, and having a child and being married had made me feel old. While at the show, I got stuck between two teenagers in the mosh pit and permanently injured my right knee. Then I ended up hitting two people (read the full story here). The next morning, I was hobbling around the house smelling like sweat and cigarettes. Mel was sitting on the sofa holding our newborn baby. She asked me what happened, and I told her.
“You hit two people last night?” she said. “Really? You’re a dad. Don’t you think you’re getting a little big for this sort of stuff?”
And in fact, I was getting a little big. Not that I was all that old, but I chose to get married young, and to have children young, and right then, I needed to act like a grown up. I need to own up to my decisions, and going concerts and hitting people did fit anymore. But I must admit, at the time I was pissed. I felt like she was trying to cramp my style. Trying to control me. It took me some time to realize that what she was trying to say was that I wasn’t being the father and husband she needed me to be to make our marriage and family successful.
Basically, she was telling me to grow up.
When I think about the way I acted that night. When I think about the fact that I could’ve been arrested for assault, and that even now, almost ten years later, my right knee still gives out from time to time making me fall down flights of stairs, I realize that she was right. What I did that night was childish and stupid.
She saw that, and recognized it, and tried to instigate change. What she said was the sign of a good partner. She was willing to put herself out there, and make her fears known. To say what needed to be said to help promote my personal growth. She didn’t say it to be spiteful or mean. She said it because it was true.
For a long time in my marriage, my wife would come to me with an issue about this or that. She’s asked me to change, to grow up, or to do something different, and I would get angry. I’d feel like she was trying to control me. Then six months to five years later, I’d realize that she was right. I’d realize that what she was saying was based on sound observation, and that the changes she felt I needed to make were warranted. As her partner, I needed to put my emotions aside, and realize that I love my wife. That she is my life partner, and that I respect her opinion. I needed to realize that what she was saying had validity because she is a good source. She knows me better than anyone else.
I suppose what I’m trying to get at here is that listening to my wife is about respect.
The funny thing about marriage is that it really is about fine-tuning. Every time I think I’ve got things figured out, the game changes. We move, we have another child, I take on a new job, or Mel goes back to school. The only way Mel and I have been able to stay happy for the past ten years has been by constantly adapting to the changing landscape of our marriage. And honestly, it really has been only the past couple years that I’ve started to look at Mel’s advice logically rather than emotionally. To not look at it as criticism, but rather an opportunity for growth. As something said to help make our marriage happier, or to help me to become a better husband and father.
Obviously this is a two-way street. The only reason I titled this essay the way I did was because I’m the speaker. These are my examples. I know that Mel does the same for me. When I come to her with something, a concern, or an issue, or something that I’d like to see her do differently, she thinks about it for a moment, and then we discuss it. We see concerns as opportunities to make our marriage stronger rather than our partner cutting us down.
There was a time that I looked at my marriage as something static. I assumed that the woman I fell in love with was the woman she would be forever. But she has changed. She has grown into a mother and a wife. In fact, when I consider the fact that Mel and I got married at 22-years-old and she had our son at 24, I realize that I watched her grow into a woman, too. We both have changed. And I think by listening to Mel’s concerns, and accommodating them, I’ve grown into a better fit for her. And she has done the same for me. In so many ways, listening to each other has helped us to grow together rather than apart.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley