I often wonder what my relationship would be like with my husband right now.
My “wondering” usually comes at a time when things aren’t going great in my life. As I sit and stew, trying to figure out what I should do next, I wonder, “Would things be better if he were here?”
I know that sounds like an odd thing and most peoples’ immediate response would be, “Of course it would be better!” But I always put that question in context with what’s going on with me, how I’ve evolved, and what’s going on in the world.
For example: I wonder, in this economy, if he would be laid off right now. What would we have done? How would we have handled it? Would it have brought us closer together or further apart?
I know that a lot of my personal change and growth has happened in the last few years because he died and I was left to pick up the pieces. But I often wonder if some of that growth would have happened anyway. And, as many of us think about...what would he think of the person I’ve become? Would we have been as compatible as we were before?
Could we have handled this growth together?
I know I’m not the only one who ponders this. You don’t have to be widowed to grow. You don’t have to be divorced to have your needs change. You can very easily be happily married or in a good relationship and then wake up and realize that you’re not who you were 10 years ago when you made that commitment.
Now, my husband and I had a good marriage and a constantly evolving relationship. We had good times and bad, arguments that could be settled and arguments that could not. Laughter, joy, and times when we just wanted to poke each other in the eye and be done with it.
In many ways...I think we were a pretty normal couple.
I’ve always said that we grew up together. We didn’t know, when we got married (me: 20, him: 24) that we weren’t who we were always going to be. At that age, all we could think of was being together and we were confident that the rest would just fall into place.
Now that I think back on it...I’m pretty sure that we both went into that marriage with our eyes wide shut.
It wasn’t our fault. We were young and in love and at that point in our lives the divorce rate wasn’t as high as it is now...a blinking neon sign that you better know what the hell you’re doing before you put on that white dress.
At that age, I never thought about communication at all. I certainly never thought it would become as important as it was. I was still in the typical female mindset that if I just looked at him a certain way, he would know exactly what I wanted him to do and say. And I think he was in the typical male mindset...that he would rather just not make eye contact so that he wouldn’t have to do or say anything.
What I still keep trying to figure out is...if good communication is the key to a successful relationship...any relationship...why do we all communicate so differently? If nature was going to make us all gain weight after we got married...why couldn’t it give us a better understanding of each other to balance it out?
I was married for 11 years. I was with him for 13. And it’s just now occurring to me that the way I became used to communicating with him is the way I communicate now with everyone. I knew what worked and what didn’t. I knew that my husband had a short attention span so if I had anything to say to him...it better be in about 5 minutes or less or he would find something shiny to look at. I knew that our relationship, my comfort zone, would ebb and flow and that there would be times we could communicate and times we couldn’t. But I also grew comfortable in the knowledge that when things got bad...they would cycle around again and be okay.
This is going to sound incredibly ignorant of me, but it just never really occurred to me how much of an impact my marriage would have on the way I would communicate in the future...without him. But after 11 years of trying to really understand one specific person...it’s hard to reverse what you know, start all over, and try to successfully communicate with other people.
It seems like, more often than not, what happens in relationships (and this is true of personal relationships, friendships, and family) is that we don’t clearly state our expectations of each other. And then we’re bitterly disappointed when those unknown expectations aren’t met.
Saying what you want, what you truly need is so hard. Because we don’t usually figure that out until things are wrong. When everything is going well, we don’t usually say, “I’m so happy! But this is what I think we should work on.”
We wait until we’re in the middle of an argument or a hiccup in a relationship before something suddenly clicks on our heads and screams, “THIS ISN’T WORKING FOR ME!!!!”
Not the best jumping off point for some soul searching.
For all of us to expect each other to communicate in a way that fits our own needs...is pretty unfair. That is, unless we make those needs known. Otherwise it’s like playing tennis with a blindfold on...you can keep whacking away and every once in awhile get lucky and hit the ball.
And if that’s the way you want to play the game...you and who you’re trying to play with are going to be pretty damn frustrated.
But when we can successfully say to someone “this is what I need” the blindfold comes off and we have a better chance of successfully playing the game.
Until that happens...it’s not fair to expect anyone to return your serve.