Thought of the Week: Them’s Fightin’ Words

I sort of need to make it abundantly clear from the outset tonight that I love my wife very much. Just so you know, sweetie.

My wife and I have known each other for almost ten years. It’s the longest either of us have been in a relationship, which is either very encouraging, or incredibly depressing (depending on how you look at it). There’s a lot we’ve learned together, not the least of which was how to raise a child. I’ll boast a little here and say I’ve probably done most of the learning: I’ve learned to cook (badly), I’ve learned to clean (badly), I’ve learned not to leave the toilet seat up (mostly), and I’ve learned it’s not okay to steal the covers back in the middle of the night, even in February.

My wife has learned that I can be a real jerk (too often).

I’ve learned that my wife should matter more than myself (she already knew that). I’ve also learned that shoulds aren’t necessarily dos, and that there’s a lot more learning to go. I should wipe the stove; I should turn the lights out when I leave the room; I should massage her feet every night.

I should.

And hey – there are times I do these things. Usually I don’t do them very well (except for the light thing, that’s kind of black and white (ha!)), but I do try to do them. Now trying, of course, just isn’t good enough, as my wife knows, so I’ll keep trying harder. Some day I may actually succeed!

Yet…I feel there is one thing I have not learned, and – sorry for this, sweetie – I don’t think she’s learned either, which is this: to not take each other’s frustrations personally. We fight, we do. We fight a lot. I kind of don’t have much of a reference for this, but I hear that most people don’t quite fight so much. And I start wondering why.

I am usually exceptionally good at understanding other people, establishing empathy and predicting their behavior. I am, by my trade, an excellent listener and verbal communicator. I can express concepts simply and clearly, and I can make people feel good about bad situations.

So why do my words fail me with my wife? Why do I end up screaming at the top of my lungs at the person I should love above all others, about…freakin’ blinds?

(Why, for that matter, do my powers of self-analysis equally fail me when I try to figure these things out?)

All I can think is this: when my wife says something critical of me, I feel hurt; I feel devastated. When someone at work says the same thing, I am able to take it at face value, respond in kind, and learn from the experience. With my wife…I either imitate a hedgehog or the Incredible Hulk.

The irony is that I believe she gets frustrated just as equally, but at something entirely different: my lack of ability to listen to, and act upon, her critiques. Can anyone see the cycle here yet? It is a personal affront to her – an insult, even – for me to forget to take out the garbage when I told you to last night! If you see what I mean.

So where to go? What to do? I love her; she (should) know that. She loves me, and I (should) know that, also. But when I piss her off, her response pisses me off, and that response pisses her off, and before you know it we’re in a free-for-all piss-fight and I explode out of my shirt and leap through the roof (in actuality, I can be quite scary).

I suppose ultimately, I just want to feel listened to. Uh…I guess she probably feels the same.

So when can we talk?

To the Oddest Person I’ve Ever Met

Can you believe it’s already been eight years since we first met? It’s surprising, when you think about it; neither of us knew each other at all all the way back then, and it was coincidence, really – a one in a hundred million chance – that we should even meet. In fact, probably shouldn’t have even happened. Amazing, then, that eight years later, we should still be in touch with each other.

Of course, you didn’t really speak to me much back then. No matter how much I tried to engage you in conversation, all I’d get were monosyllabic responses. I thought this was pretty odd behavior at the time, but I understand now that you were teaching me how to speak clearly, and slowly. How was I to know you had difficulty understanding me? I’ve worked hard at this, you know – everyone comments now on my clarity when I’m delivering a speech or presentation.

Despite that, even today there are times when I don’t really feel you’ve heard what I tried to say. But then, I’ll admit there are plenty of times when I don’t understand you, either. In fact, there are times when I don’t even listen to you.

Please don’t take me to task too much for this; despite the time we’ve spent together, our interests only partially overlap. We do both like reading, we like the same movies, and we both get a good laugh out of toilet humor, but our taste in music couldn’t be more different. Perhaps I’m just being narrow-minded, but honestly – to try and teach me the words to “Dynamite?” I’ll have you know I bought tickets to Iron Maiden last week, and you aren’t invited.

Our relationship hasn’t always been on the best of terms, either. We both get pretty angry with each other sometimes, and then we both sulk and won’t speak to each other for hours. Still, it all comes out in the end, and somehow you always find it in you to forgive me, no matter what I do. In fact, I’m kind of taken aback by just how much you tolerate of my poor behavior. It’s almost like you made some kind of subconscious decision that you’d stay with me no matter what happens. I just hope that lasts another eight years!

You do get jealous, sometimes; I remember the time you freaked out when you saw me kiss my wife. I know you don’t like the thought of us sharing a bed, but you understand: I’ve really made a commitment there, so I’m pretty much stuck with it. On the flip side, you don’t mind my long hair nearly as much, although you did tell me my beard is scratchy. I’m sorry – it’s not coming off for you, or anyone.

Through it all, though, I have to say – and I mean this, really – that knowing you has changed me for the better. You taught me things I never even considered before, and opened my eyes to a wider world. You taught me I could love more than one person, and that it was right to do so. You helped me to stop drinking so much, and got me on the meds I needed after so many years. You got me writing again, when I had all but abandoned it.

The only thing, I think, that really stands in the way is the age difference. Perhaps that’s the root of some of our differences in tastes – you’re more in touch with today’s youth. Still, I wouldn’t give it up for anything, even if people do stare at us holding hands as we walk down the street. What do they know? Things have changed, even compared to when we met. Eight years ago, I was a lifetime younger…and today, you are only eight.