Early Marriage | Part 20

by Elouise

Empathy, let-go-of-what-you-think - dlysen.com

From the beginning of our marriage, I struggled to listen to D. I’m talking about non-anxious listening. The kind that isn’t on edge, waiting to get my next comments out there on the table based on what I think I know.

This is ironic. For most of my childhood and youth I was on the listening end. Not allowed to talk back or ask too many questions. Especially if it seemed I was being contrary. I mastered the art of silence.

Now I’m married. I’m a grown up. I’m in a safe place. Yet I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut long enough to listen to D, especially when he doesn’t agree with me or feel and think the way I think he should. I get brittle and anxious. Even fearful.

What’s going on in me? At least these things:

  • I want my ideas and comments to see the light of day. I don’t want to be silenced by D the way my father silenced me.
  • Speaking practically, once D begins talking he might not stop! Sometimes I (lovingly, of course) tell D he has ‘verbal diarrhea.’ That doesn’t mean he repeats himself over and over. It means once he starts talking he doesn’t stop. Instead of a short-and-sweet answer, I get the full encyclopedia read-out. Whether I want it or not.
  • Then again, my style is to talk my way into clarity. If I pause to think or breathe, D might jump into my ‘dead space’ and begin a lengthy explanation. It’s to my great advantage to keep talking whether I have anything relevant to add or not. After all, I’m just holding my place in line.
  • Going a little deeper, it’s hard to accept that D might disagree with me. I can tell by his body language when that’s about to happen. I feel anxious about it. So I keep talking, hoping to convince him that whatever he’s about to say, he doesn’t need to say it. Given our love of words, this strategy isn’t difficult. All I have to do is convince him that I’m right.

This last point raises a question. Why don’t I want D to disagree with me? I’m not allergic to making mistakes, though I admit I’d rather not make too many of them. Nor am I allergic to new information, though I might not want to hear an entire lesson about it right now, or that D is unhappy when I want him to be happy. Or that he disagrees with me.

It seems I don’t want to hear from D any whisper of anything that sounds like my father telling me I’m not right. Or that I don’t understand him or know what I’m talking about. Or that my feelings are out of order or just plain wrong. Or that it’s time for me to stop talking and start listening.

Today, unlike then, I understand the dynamics of projecting onto people my worst fears about them. In this case, I’m projecting onto D my fear that I’ve married a version of my father.

In some ways, this is correct. As I learned later in our marriage, there are uncanny similarities between D’s personality preferences and my father’s.

More difficult, though, is my fear that D and my father are on the same page when it comes to the way they approach life, faith and spirituality. I don’t want to know how they view me and my approach to life.

Bottom line: I have a deep need for D to agree with me. Listening to him might uncover more disagreement than I can bear. In addition, given D’s logical approach, I know he can run circles around me—pointing out the flaws in my thinking. Talking (to avoid listening) is my self-defense strategy.

Thankfully, life surprises us with gifts. The gifts don’t resolve everything, but they can enrich and soften us. Getting pregnant in our third year of marriage was one of those life-changing gifts.

To be continued….

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 June 2015
Image from dlysen.com