Rewind 5 years to the first year we were married. We lived in a perfect first-year-of-marriage-apartment. Tiny bathroom and kitchen. Hodge podge everything, poorly decorated. Laundry around back in a cellar where you might get murdered. Radiators. Need I say more?
We both have a lot of really good memories of our first year of marriage. Ben surprised me with tickets to Billy Elliot for my birthday. We’d often walk to the lake or go out to dinner. We loved our church and made friends there. We loved our neighborhood. We became better friends that year, learning a lot about each other. Likes and dislikes. Food preferences. Favorite types of shows. We hadn’t been engaged that long, so we had a lot to learn!
But our first year was also very eye-opening. And sometimes it was really hard. Looking back, we can both identify the biggest thing we learned that first year.
Here’s the scene: we’re sitting on that couch in our living room, and I’m babbling on and on about every detail of every lesson I taught today and what every single one of my 400 students said and did. Ben is staring at me, eyes glazed over, trying to listen. I feel like he’s not listening. He must need more explanation, I assume. I continue. At some point I stop, looking for affirmation that he’s listening. He nods and says something generic. Eventually, we move on. To a TV show or making dinner. For the rest of the night, he’s cordial but distant. I’m frustrated, assuming something is wrong with him and he won’t talk about it. He’s frustrated but doesn’t know how to say it.
It took us the first year or two to figure out what was going on in this cycle, and what we still consider our biggest marriage lesson thus far:
External vs. Internal Processing & Different Styles of Communication
There were 2 problems for us. (This is usually the case, since, well, there are two people.) 🙂
1. He didn’t say it.
It being thoughts, feelings, observations, whatever. Ben is an internal processor. I didn’t even know internal processing was a thing until I met Ben. I’m more inclined to think if you’re bothered by something, and want to talk about it, just bring it up. [Oh marriage, thank you for revealing all my selfishness.] I
interpreted Ben’s lack of sharing as not caring. I thought he didn’t care to share things with me, that when he gave one word answers, he was mad about something but not going to tell me what it was.
2. I didn’t ask, listen, respond meaningfully.
At some point in the first year, we realized that Ben’s family members tend to ask each other thought-provoking questions. Ben was used to this. He was used to question-asking as the primary form of discussion. For those of you who come from a family of sharers (like me), a question-asking family goes like this: someone asks a thoughtful question. Then, you pause, internally process and respond. Usually the original questioner then responds with another thoughtful question. I’m telling ya, if you want some therapy, this is the place to go. But consider yourself warned: there will be lots of listening and sharing of feelings.
I, on the other hand, grew up in a family of sharers. We all said what we were thinking all the time. Minimal questions needed because everyone was going to say what they were thinking. Turns out, we’re mostly external processors. Especially me. It’s almost impossible for me to complete a thought in my head without writing it down. (Perhaps this is true of many bloggers?)
Ben and I would go in and out of this cycle where he would feel like I didn’t pay attention or didn’t care because I didn’t ask questions. Meanwhile I thought he was emotionally void and had no thoughts or feelings because he didn’t share. The truth is, we were just different. Subconsciously, he was waiting for me to ask and I was waiting for him to tell me. The gap left us both feeling disconnected and wanting more.
Once we could articulate our differences, we could finally work on it.
I give him space to internally process and ask questions as he’s figuring things out. He answers and shares his conclusions and feelings with me. He’s realized there are times when it’s even helpful to him to think out loud.
I still verbally process to Ben a lot. My dear husband – he listens patiently and understands I’m processing. I’ve realized I enjoy conversation with really good questions. (And sometimes I realize I need to go process to myself because ALL THE THINGS AND FEELINGS are getting to be a little too much.)
Friends, realizing this one thing – that he wanted me to ask and I wanted him to say it – it was a game changer for us. Because, while two become one on that sacred day where you pledge your lives to one another, the day-to-day stuff takes time. Giving and taking. Asking and listening.
What’s been your biggest marriage lesson thus far? What would you tell an engaged or newly wed couple?