Thursday, December 2, 2010

My Lesson in Communication

By Chana Gutnick-Herzog
Chana shares an experience in her first year of marriage that taught her the importance of not just being a "good wife" but actually communicating! 

 "I loved the wife who wasn't needy. She was independent, confident, and had things under control. 
And she always seemed to be in a good mood. Be like her. She's a good wife..."

My Lesson in Communication

From the moment we got engaged, our conversations with parents, aunts, uncles, older siblings and married friends always ended up with them telling us how to have a healthy marriage. People love to give advice on marriage to newlyweds.

Trust me…the key to a successful marriage is communication.”

How many times have you heard that one? I would nod, smile and say “Thanks for that..mhhmm, I'm sure..thanks.” Communication? How obvious is that? We didn't need their advice. I wasn't so na├»ve not to realize that every couple has their challenges, and I knew the line 'marriage is work'  but I was completely head over heels, and he could do no wrong in my eyes. We knew exactly what we were doing. We were crazy about each other.

A lot of times I would make mental notes as I observed couples. “Oh G-d, don't do that',” I would think, as I observed the wife who constantly complained.

"I can't cope! I feel nauseous! Where were you? I'm so tired!" Poor guy. She's really annoying. “Don't be annoying,” I told myself. Then there was the high maintenance wife. Her husband was working as hard as he could, and he was stressed trying to keep up with her demands. She constantly needed manicures and pedicures, designer clothes and diamonds. “Don't be like her,” I noted. I loved the wife who wasn't needy. She was independent, confident, and had things under control. And she always seemed to be in a good mood. Be like her. She's a good wife. My all time favorite wife to observe, was the wife who let her husband be himself. She wasn't on a mission to change him, because she loved him for he was. She was his best friend. They even watched sports together.

We must have been married for about two months when I learned what it really means to communicate. It was Chanukah time and we had just moved to Israel. We were thrilled to be living in the Holy Land and couldn't wait to settle down and start our lives. In Israel, there were a lot of get-togethers going on for young couples and we were finding it a bit hard to keep up with it all. We were just settling in, and were still in our own world of bliss, not feeling the need to be spending our evenings with anyone else. But it was the third night of Chanukah, and we were invited to a drop in Chanukah party. Honestly, I wasn't desperate to go, but a lot of my friends that I hadn't seen would be there, and I felt that we shouldn’t completely isolate ourselves socially. My husband had expressed his complete lack of interest in attending, triggered by the fact that Manchester United was playing that night.

He'd rather watch the game.

Should I tell him that I want to drop by the Chanukah party? Should I force him to do something he doesn't want to do?  I remembered that wife I had observed. That wife who was her husband's best friend. That wife who wasn't controlling, and just let her husband be.  I remembered how much I wanted to be like her. I prepared myself in my head. “Chana. This isn't about you. He wants to watch the game. Go watch the game with him…You have to be selfless.”

So I didn’t tell my husband I wanted to pop in to the party. I told him I'd watch the game with him. He was ecstatic. He told me he had the coolest wife a guy could ever dream of. Lucky you, I thought. I watched the game and pretended like I cared what was going on. I kept thinking about the party and that maybe we should have gone. Everyone would think we were snobby, and didn't want to have anything to do with them. And quite frankly, I couldn't care less if Manchester won or lost. My husband turned to me at half time, "Chana are you sure you wouldn't rather go to the party?" "I'm sure. Let's just watch the game." I was a martyr. I would sacrifice what I want for the sake of our marriage. Manchester won the game. We both went home that night feeling good.

The next morning, my friend called me "Why didn't you guys come to the party? It was so nice! We missed you!" I rattled off an excuse and hung up the phone, angry. I turned to my husband, and our conversation went something like this:

"Why didn’t we go to the party? We should have gone! Is your obsession with soccer going to rule our lives?"

He looked at me blankly. "I thought you didn't even want to go."

"I did want to go."

"So why didn’t you say so?"

"Because I knew that you wanted to watch the soccer gamee."

"If I would have known you really wanted to go, I would have gone."

"So I should have said I wanted to go?"

"Of course you should have!"

"But then you wouldn't be happy. You'd be thinking about how you wish you could have watched the game…and I forced you to go…"

I'd rather you be happy, then me watch the soccer!" he exclaimed.

"So, we could have watched some of the soccer...and dropped by during half time,” I suggested.

"That would have worked. Then we'd both be happy."

And that was when the lesson was learnt. I was trying so hard to be the perfect wife, that I stopped communicating. I needed him to know what I really wanted, without having to say it. And if he didn't get it, then I would be selfless and put my needs aside. But little did I know, that by neglecting to communicate what I was really feeling, I would end up blaming him. I would end up tallying up brownie points of all the times I was selfless, and then hold it against him. I would be the altruistic wife, who never really got what she wanted. That's when I understood what they were all saying about communication.  Being my husband's best friend didn't mean that I had to disregard my own needs, it meant that I could tell him anything. And then, we could figure it out together.  

1 LadyMama voices:

Rivki said... [Reply to comment]

What a great story! I can completely relate to making mental notes about what kind of wife to be (and not to be). In the end, though, we all have to be the kind of wife that makes us the best wife we can be.