It’s not a lot, but it’s enough to have kept me alive.
If you’re a regular reader, you know I’ve met my dream girl. You may know I have three kids and that life is generally fantastic. Oh sure, I have a few things I could complain about, but when I sit back and think about them for minute, I realize I have absolutely nothing I can complain about, and that’s where I want things to stay.
But I didn’t get here overnight. I’ve had some interesting speed bumps along the way, which you can also read about in my blog archive if you’re interested. This all started on July 8, 2000. It was our wedding day – starting a very traditional marriage, in that we hadn’t lived together before that day. I’m writing from that particular perspective. When I say I’m a husband, I mean: I dated my wife, we got engaged, we got married and then we started living together. You can also read this from the perspective of moving in together, whatever your future marital plans are.
I thought, after having dated my wife for over one and a half years, that I knew most everything about my wife. I knew what made her tick, I knew what made her happy, I knew what made her sad, I knew what she wants and what she needs. What else is there to know? This marriage was going to be the best thing EVER. Well I was right about the last part.
Turns out, and this might be the most important lesson I learned, that I knew very little about my wife. If you haven’t lived with your partner before you get married, you know only a fraction about them. And the fraction you know about isn’t the important stuff. Do you really think knowing your girl’s favorite color or food or song will help you through the darker days, when things don’t seem so wonderful? You’re wrong. I wish someone had told me this straight. You should go into your marriage knowing that you don’t know nearly as much about your wife as you think you do. It’s a great place to start from, because you won’t be trying to fool yourself into thinking you’ve already got it made.
Another thing I learned is that I am very set in my ways. Yes, I was raised German and I have German blood running through these veins. Yes, I like things just so, and however I’ve been doing it my whole life is how I want it to continue. Frankly, if I’ve been doing it this way my whole life means there isn’t a better way to go about it. I have learned that it is difficult, for me anyway, to say, even to myself, that how I’ve been doing things isn’t necessarily the best way to do things. And when this is the case, it makes it even harder to do something that I learned is absolutely necessary in a partnership. And that is to compromise. If you’re stuck in your ways, whether you’re a young German kid with much to learn or a cantankerous old goat with nothing left to give but dirty adult diapers and your dusty opinions, compromise seems an impossible hill to climb. I truly had to unlearn some things and I really had to learn how to compromise. I could give you a million examples, but just two of them should suffice.
Ever since I’ve been a kid (and I have 8mm silent film to prove this) my toothpaste has been a big deal to me. I used to eat it. That’s a different story though. What has always been important is that I leave a clean sink and vanity behind. This means I carefully put my toothpaste on the toothbrush, taking great pains not to smear any extra paste around the spout on the tube – because that is just one more thing to clean. I carefully close the lid, ensuring no toothpaste is anywhere outside of the tube. I brush my teeth, and turn on the water before spitting – to ensure that most of it washes away right away. I carefully rinse my brush, and then wash down the entire sink to make sure no blue or green foamy spit remains anywhere, and that no stray unused toothpaste that fell down stays in the sink to taunt me afterwards. This routine worked for me for many years, and remains relatively unchanged. Once, in our first few months of marriage, my wife ran out of her own toothpaste and used mine. That evening I went to start my comfortable routine, and was shocked to the point of being unable to continue. The lid of my toothpaste was open. Yes, you’re reading that correctly – OPEN! Not only that, but there was toothpaste smeared around the hole, and it was as if the tube of toothpaste was staring at me accusingly, wondering why I had allowed someone else to defile it so. I was so taken aback at the effrontery of someone having the gall to a) use MY toothpaste, b) not leave it cleaned of any residual paste, and c) not closing the lid, that I admit, I got angry.
Now I won’t get into the details further, but this bothered me. I finally got up the courage and talked to my wife. She openly admitted her crimes: Yes, she did use it. Did she leave it that messy? Yes, she did. My shock continued at her complete calmness and lack of respect towards MY routine, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this event hadn’t moved the Earth off its axis. I advised her that I will buy her toothpaste immediately and that I didn’t appreciate this mess. She said she understood. This exact same thing happens, to this day, every single time she runs out of toothpaste. But I no longer have to go sit in the garage and breathe into a paper bag to get my anxiety attack under control. Why? Not because I’ve compromised on that. I still do things my way. But I’ve learned that, if you can’t compromise on something, you have to ensure you weigh out the good and the bad fairly. If you don’t, things will nag at you and eat away at your apple of life, leaving just the wormy core exposed and taking away all the joy that you could be experiencing in life. Those kinds of things will cause you great pain, suffering, grey hair and cancer if you don’t let them go. I’ve learned that accepting small differences between my wife and I is so much easier than dwelling on them, and I’ve also learned that, in fact, these matters are trivial in the grand scheme of things.
For my second example, I should start with one simple fact. I drive fast. I always have, and I probably always will until we run out of fossil fuel and we are all reduced to driving sad, flaccid electric golf carts around. Anyway, I learned very quickly that my wife does NOT drive like I do. She makes decisions on the road that grate against everything I stand for while I’m driving. She drives too slow, she doesn’t change lanes the way I would, she misses turn-offs and merges and remains calm about it, she doesn’t take a full measure of joy when she boxes in a loser who has cut us off previously…. we are completely different animals on the road. At first, whenever I’d drive with my wife, I’d be throwing out suggestions, rolling my eyes in disbelief at yet another opportunity to pass some commoner meandering down the freeway, exhaling louder than Atlas did with the weight of all the bad driving on my shoulders. Over time, I realized that a) my wife wouldn’t change, b) my wife had never been awarded recognition of her speediness in the form of a speeding ticket, and c) my wife’s blood pressure was likely half that of mine on the road. So I’ve learned that, although I don’t drive like my wife, I will never criticize her driving again and when I have the luxury of being chauffeured around by her, I take it in stride and enjoy the slower pace.
It turns out that all the little things that are important to me, aren’t always equally as important to my wife. If they really aren’t life and death, I’ve learned to accept them. I’ve learned to live with them, and I’ve learned to laugh at them. You can accept differences and still make things work perfectly well. It’s one of the oldest cliches in the book, but not sweating the small stuff dovetails very well into a successful marriage. And I’m so thankful my wife has taught me this.
Something else I’ve learned is to love my wife. I don’t think I really understood how to love someone until after I got married. Sure, sure, I felt love. But puppy/courtship love is far different than an evolved love. True love, in my opinion, doesn’t happen overnight. True love is a part joy, a part raw emotion, a part acceptance, a part learning and a part of forgiveness (toward yourself and toward your partner). I didn’t realize how complete my life would be with Aimie. I didn’t realize that my wife, without trying, could make me want to be a better man and a better dad every day, without exception. My heart smiled when I met Aimie, and when we were dating/courting and when we got married, that smile just got wider. I thought life was fulfilled. I didn’t realize until later that my heart had much more smiling to do, and it would revolve around the life we built together. I didn’t realize that I would learn to truly love my wife as time marched on, and that the love could become more than it was when we started this journey together.
I learned, partially from observation, that it’s just fine to show your wife love. I have never shied away from holding, touching, hugging and kissing Aimie – not in public, not in front of my kids, and most importantly, not in private. Sometimes it almost feels easier to hold hands in front of people – “Yes, we’re doing great – look at us holding hands.” It’s just as important that our intimacy extends to the quiet moments and also to the times when no one but our kids are watching. If we don’t teach them that loving each other is OK, they’ll learn to be cold and distant, and they’ll yearn for something more in their own relationships but won’t understand what it is. Obviously you should exercise common sense with public displays of affection, but in the end, what other people think is of far less importance than that moment between you and your wife. And your wife will never, ever turn you away and say “Don’t put your arm around me in public” or “Don’t kiss me in front of the kids”. I’m certain of it.
I’ve also learned to do my part. This can extend to almost anything you can name that takes place between you and your wife. We’ve made a habit of this from day one together, and we’ve been surprised by the number of comments from our guests and friends who see it as a novel approach. I learned that accepting my share of the responsibility for our marriage and our family is part of what makes our days and evenings click. I’ve always seen it as a privilege to stand in our kitchen with my wife, preparing our meals together. It gives us time together, to talk, to listen, to share with each other and our kids. You could take a load off and watch TV while your family is in the kitchen, but why would you? I’ve always seen it as a blessing that we can make our meals together, and that we can spend time together afterwards, clearing the table and doing the dishes together. Don’t get me wrong – I hate washing dishes, but how could spending time with my wife and kids, getting an inevitable task out of the way TOGETHER, be a bad thing? It can’t. I’ve met enough guys who steadfastly claim that working and bring home their income is enough – anything else around the house is the wife’s responsibility. I’m sorry, but they are wrong. Dead wrong. God forbid, my friend, but what if your wife was ever taken from you? In one awful moment, your life could change, and something could happen. If you haven’t done your part to date, you will forever regret the moments you didn’t spend together, and you will be unprepared to carry on.
Because I came into this marriage so unprepared, I’ve set myself a goal. I haven’t always stayed on course, but I’m trying. I’ve told myself that I will not go through a single day without learning something about my wife. The things you learn about your sweetie won’t always be monumental discoveries. Sure, some days you’ll learn things like your wife did, in fact, back through the garage door three times at her parents’ place – consider that a perfect opportunity to learn new ways to shoulder check, to work together and create new solutions to old problems. Some days you’ll learn things like your wife doesn’t close the toothpaste the way you like it, or she doesn’t drive the way you would – consider them opportunities to learn relaxation methods and acceptance. And some days you’ll learn nothing more than what was the best or the worst part of her day – consider those moments as simply being connected to the love of your life, and being let into a world that you know you couldn’t possibly live without anymore. Whatever it is you learn about your wife, make the best of it, and without exception, try to remember that it is part of the one that is part of you.
I’m looking forward to hearing what you’ve learned from being in a partnership with someone, whether it’s a marriage, living together, etc. And I’m looking forward to writing another part of this, because my wife has taught me more in these last ten years than I learned collectively in the rest of my life.
If you’ve enjoyed this, feel free to browse my archives tab for other posts.