I read an incredible article in the NY Times the other day, a true story of love and strength that didn’t involve sunsets and romance and star gazing. It was a story of courage and commitment and selflessness.
When I teach women about marriage I often point out that once in a while their husband may walk into the house at the end of the day in a very bad mood. (Let’s stipulate up front that the reverse could also be true; of course women are sometimes in bad moods too!) He may yell or otherwise express displeasure. Our instinctive reaction is to be defensive. We feel attacked and we respond in kind. The situation rapidly deteriorates.
The wise wife (the one with an abnormal amount of self-control) recognizes that she is NOT the source of her husband’s frustration. The wise wife patiently replies, “It seems like you had a rough day at work. What can I do to help you?” This is the absolutely correct response. And almost never practiced.
Yet the woman in the NY Times piece (08/02/09) went above and beyond. When Laura Munson’s husband of 20 years told her, “I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did. I’m moving out,” she didn’t react out of emotion. With a tremendous exertion of will power (this is more difficult than the adrenaline-charged lifting of a whole car!), she stated calmly, “I’m not buying it.”
She knew it wasn’t about her or the children, and refused to play her scripted part.
She was able to see beyond herself. She was able to recognize that her husband was “in the grip of ...a profound and far more troubling meltdown that comes not in childhood but in midlife, when we perceive that our personal trajectory is no longer arcing reliably upward as it once did,” that “his new endeavor hadn’t been going so well, and his ability to be the breadwinner was in rapid decline. He’d been miserable about this, felt useless, was losing himself emotionally and letting himself go physically.”
It wasn’t about her or the children and she refused to play her scripted part. She refused to participate in this all too common and destructive scenario.
Instead, like the woman whose husband comes home snarling at the end of a hard day at the office, she patiently and quietly repeated, “I don’t buy it.”
And then she waited. For four long months where each day must have seemed like an eternity. For four long months where she was a single mom. She waited while he didn’t come home for dinner and missed important family occasions. She kept her mouth shut (she deserves a medal for this alone) and she waited.
In the end, her husband came back. Slowly, gradually, not in a dramatic moment of realization, not in a grand epiphany.
She recognized his return in the little things -- in mowing the lawn, in fixing a door, in speaking of the future.
He is one lucky man, to have a wife who wouldn’t allow him to throw away his family, to denounce the past 20 years, to allow mid-life confusion and discouragement to destroy his life.
And she is one wise and tough woman, to have the courage of her convictions and the patience to wait him out. With just an iota of her selflessness and self-control we would all have dramatically better marriages.