The next Type A Diaries post is almost finished, ladies! But this post came together first. In many ways it’s related to our last Type A Diaries post, “He Should Be Able to Handle It“. Words are a big struggle for me, so I’ve been studying them for a few weeks now. This post can apply to all walks of life – even if you’re not married.
It was 2007 and we were all sitting around the kitchen island, the shimmery July heat shielded by half-drawn blinds. Six of us – myself and the other three older kids, all slamming the swivel chairs into the countertop, laughing hysterically. Someone had found a pair of wind-up chattering teeth and they were gnashing their way across the counter to our utter delight. Even Anders and Laney, just little at the time, were giggling from their places below the counter.
Now seven years later I’m in my mid-twenties, married… and sometimes I feel like that set of chattering teeth. More than sometimes, really. I saw this picture on Pinterest:
I’m an external processor. I figure out what I believe, think, and want to accomplish by talking things through. I love intellectual discussion and argumentation. I even like a good ‘fight’, if it gets me thinking.
That may be great for classroom debate, but it’s not very conducive to a peaceful marriage. My idea of ‘family time’ would be everyone talking at once, shouting out some new story or information. Silence is both boring and uncomfortable to me, unless of course I am alone... and even then I’m known for talking to myself (I’ll see a counselor right after this).
Since marriage sanctifies, there are at least five things (and probably many more) I’ve stopped saying since I got married because of the tension these statements cause. We all bring different personalities and quirks to marriage so maybe your sentences look different from mine – but perhaps your reasoning is the same. I’m no master. I still struggle. But eliminating these phrases has drastically improved our communication in the last six months!
1. “Do you want to…?”
“Do you want to pray for us?” I ask. “Do you want to vacuum the living room?”
“Do you want to fill the car with gas for me?”
After five months, my husband was exasperated. “When you phrase it like that, I don’t have a choice,” he said. “When you ask, “Do you want to pray?”, how do I answer? ‘No, I hate prayer’? I have to say yes or I look like a jerk!”
The truth is, whether he wants to accomplish my request or not, I want it to be done. By phrasing it around his desire, I make my request a veiled command. I’m not really asking – I’m guilting.
I can justify this, saying “I was just giving him the option of helping me. If he doesn’t want to, I’ll do it.” But for a man whose desire is to serve and bless me (and who is divinely commanded to do so), asking him if he ‘wants’ to do something for me is easily perceived as a subtle jab.
You SHOULD want to do this for me.
You SHOULD be loving me this way.
If you don’t do this, you’re not a good husband. You aren’t loving me the way I need.
“Well, what do you suggest I say instead?” I asked, biting my tongue between about-to-chatter teeth.
“If you asked, “Will you fill the car with gas?” I am more than happy to fulfill your request,” Mr. M replied, smoothing my disheveled head. “I want to do these things for you. I do. But by asking if I want to, you insinuate that I don’t.”
“After dinner, will you go fishing with me for a few hours?” Mr. M was peering over his book, offering the idea for our evening. I didn’t really feel like fishing, but I didn’t know what I would do instead, so I replied my out-of-the-can, go-to response: “Sure.”
His face fell. “If you don’t want to go, you don’t have to.”
“I said I’d go.”
“No, you said sure, which means I’m forcing you to go, which isn’t any fun.”
It’s funny how certain words mean certain things to one person, and something completely different to the next! To my husband, ‘sure’ is a statement of apathy. It’s the I-don’t-care of consents. When I say ‘sure’, I basically say “I’m only doing this because I love you. If I had a choice, I’d be doing something else.”
He’s not innocent either. His go-to word is ‘Okay’.
“Will you bring me the laundry hamper when you’re done?”
I get irritated. “‘Okay’ is not an answer, it’s a state of being. You can ‘feel’ okay. You cannot ‘okay’ the hamper.” (Does anyone pity my husband yet? Care packages welcome. Donations accepted.)
So we struck an agreement: I stop saying ‘Sure’, he’ll stop saying ‘Okay’. It just goes to show that Jesus had it right 2,000 years ago when He said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” (Matt. 5:37)! The goal here is not to nitpick, but to improve our communication so that our true feelings are conveyed accurately to one another. We both hate apathy, and both little words reek of the apathetic. Eliminating them did us no disservice and improved our language to each other.
3. “Well, you should have…”
One of my coworkers once said he doubted the fact finances were the primary cause for divorce in America. I argued that financial instability led to other issues in a marriage which ultimately caused divorce. He asked me to prove my point.
“Well, financial instability, or financial worries, strike right at the heart of a woman’s security,” I said. “And when that security is threatened, she will constantly have that issue in the back of her mind. So if her husband is spending too much on toys, but she doesn’t have enough money for the mortgage or student loans or groceries, her insecurity can lead to bitterness. That bitterness can pour over into other areas of her life, and pretty soon she’s getting angry at her husband for little ‘insignificant’ things, but mostly because there is this big, financial insecurity deep within her, just surfacing as other, smaller issues.”
He stared at me. “So, in summary,” he replied. “Women are crazy.”
I can testify that I am, at times, just that.
I don’t like when my husband gives me immediate solutions to problems at home, work, or kitchen. But when he has a problem, I love to give immediate solutions! Have a headache? Take a pill. Feel weak? Work out more. Someone died? Better bury them quick.
It’s the Type A coming out in me, and I’m not defending it. It’s not always the best thing ever.
So when my husband tells me an issue at work and my first reply is, “Well, you should have done/said/thought…” he feels like a problem to be solved, not a man to be loved. It’s exactly how I feel when he does the same thing – so WHY do I do it?
I don’t know. I’m crazy.
For both of us, this is an intentional change. It’s a way we selflessly choose to love each other. We try not to ‘solve’ each others’ lives, but stop, look, and listen (just like crossing the road!). It’s simply Philippians 2:3 in action:
In that moment is his life more important than my opinions? It needs to be.
4. “I hate…”
When we were dating, I had a habit of expressing my dislike in very strong terms. I didn’t just dislike board games; I hated them. This was the case for many things of which I felt very strongly, or things I was afraid I would eventually be roped into doing if I didn’t express how very much I didn’t want to do them.
“I hate Crocs. They are fashion suicide.”
“I hate Niagra Falls – I’ve been there four times and never want to see it again.”
“I hate tie-dye shirts. I’ve never owned one and never intend to.”
Why I felt the need to express my distaste with such ardor is still a little puzzling to me. Do I possess an irrational fear of being trapped at Niagra Falls, dressed in Crocs and a tie-dye t-shirt?
Maybe I do. Maybe I’m afraid of Asian tourists taking pictures of me at Niagra Falls in Crocs and a tie-dye t-shirt. Maybe then people would see the pictures and think my life goal is to be a camp counselor. Maybe Mr. M’s secret dream is to have a wife who only wears Crocs and tie-dye.
In truth, there’s nothing wrong with Crocs, tie-dye, or Niagra Falls (although I really, really do not ever want to go back), and whatever irrational fears motivate such strong language is completely unnecessary. No one is going to force me to do, like, or wear these things. Hating them is just a waste of time.
Using the word ‘I hate’ made me a negative person to my husband. I was more focused on what I didn’t want to do, didn’t want to wear, never wanted to be roped into than on what we were doing and the compliments Mr. M gave me on what I was currently wearing.My focus on the negative made me a less pleasant person to be around, and it still does when I give into it.
I struggle with positivity. I struggle with giving people the benefit of the doubt, thinking they are generally good-willed. I struggle with expecting a good turn out for situations. I’ve always said it saves time to be a pessimist: if things go awry you were prepared, and if they go well, you were pleasantly surprised! But nobody likes to live with an Eeyore, and concentrating on the things I hate makes the world seem like a dark existence full of gray-faced people with nothing better to do than wear Crocs and drive slow in the fast lane.
So I keep a ‘Grace Gifts’ journal, inspired by Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. I try to step back and take what I call my ‘pilot’s view’ of life: all the things we have, the lives we live, the places we go, the jobs we work. It’s basically counting my Loves, not listing my Hates.
5. Something I Started Saying As Often As Possible: “I Love You.”
Tricked you! It’s four things I stopped saying and one that I started!
We were sitting on a cement bridge over a little trickle of a stream under Afton Mountain. The sun was setting behind us and cows were chewing their cud lazily in front of us, blinking round doe eyes and shaking flies off their ears. We hadn’t been dating long. We were talking about our future and our intentions within this new relationship.
Mr. M looked in my eyes and tears brimmed in his long lashes. He took my face in his hands. “I didn’t want to say this until I meant it in the 1 Corinthians 13 way,” He began, his voice cracking a little. “And I do mean it. I’ve never said it to anyone meaning it this way. I love you, Phylicia.”
And I said I loved him, too.
We laugh when we look back now, because until that moment he’d been using a lot of ‘I appreciate yous’ and ‘I admire yous’, which just didn’t have the same ring as the climactic “I love you”. And every day since then – 686 days – he has told me, “I love you.” Usually two or three times a day at least.
He has set an example for me, not only in word, but in action. I often forget to say these little words that affirm so much. They assure him of my confidence, my loyalty, and my support. And they are completely necessary to fill the void where my negative words used to dwell.
I’m so far from attaining this, if I claimed to such perfection it would be as laughable as Lois Lerner’s IRS emails disappearing from her computer.
But as we strive to be wives and women who love the people around us with our words, even if it means changing long-standing habits, we will see ourselves becoming much more loveable as well. So here’s to counting Loves, not Hates, giving sympathy, not solutions, and never wearing Crocs at Niagra Falls.