Reader Request Week 2019 #7: How My Wife Can Stand Me

Wayne Kearney asks:

How does your wife stand you? Being a writer/engineer myself, I require a lot of ‘alone time’ to do my thing. My wife tends to alternate between “Why are you bothering me?” and “Why aren’t you paying attention to me?” How do you work out that balance or do you? Failure is an option.

It’s the phrasing of this question that amuses me.

Also, I just went to Krissy and said “How do you stand me?” Her reply: “With pleasure.” Awwwwww.

But it’s not a bad question. I’m an introvert who can quite happily spend days pretty much alone; Krissy is an extrovert who enjoys the company of friends and family. I am lazy and can go for long stretches not doing much of anything other than idly scrolling about on the Internet in a bathrobe; meanwhile Krissy has done eleven things before 10am and feels restless after she’s taken a break for fifteen minutes. I’m an overthinker and Krissy is very much “here, let me hack through this stupid knot.” I’m creative; Krissy is practical (neither of these is a value judgment, each is a mode). On paper, at least, there’s not a whole lot of room for compatibility.

And yet, we’ve been married for 24 years and anyone who knows me knows how much we love each other — as I frequently note, if we meet for the first time and I haven’t shown you a picture of Krissy within the first five minutes, I’m off my game. Krissy, I can state with a high level of confidence, feels similarly about me, although she’s possibly not as quick out the gate with the photos. Krissy can more than stand me; she likes me, as well as loves me. So how does that work despite our at least superficial personality differences?

Well, the answer is, as with any long-term relationship, it took work, from both of us, and still does. As an example, my ability to fall into myself and stare at a computer screen for days at a time was and still can be a point of contention; I had to (and have to) make the effort to overcome my inertia and actually get the hell up and spend time with my spouse. When I do I’m reminded how much I actually like spending time with her, which is nice. Conversely, Krissy has come to understand my introversion is a real thing — particularly after I’ve done a stretch of performative extroversion, like at a public event — and gives me space. We both try to be mindful of what the other spouse wants and needs, basically, and remind ourselves to exercise that mindfulness on a regular basis.

(It does also help that both of us have and have always had, lives beyond just the two of us. Krissy likes spending time with me, which I am heartily glad for, but also, she likes spending time with her friends, of which she has many. I also like her spending time with her friends, because I know it makes her happy to have that time, and as an aside from that it’s not like I can’t keep myself busy when she’s elsewhere.)

I am always mindful of how much I rely on Krissy as my spouse; she bluntly handles most of the day-to-day maintenance of our shared lives, which gives me the time and space to do my thing. There is compensation for this — my work has allowed us a very nice life to enjoy together — but there’s no doubt she’s doing a whole lot of heavy lifting, and that I simply could not do what I do without her doing what she does. For both practical and personal reasons, I never want her to look around and ask herself “why the hell am I doing this? And for this dude?”

So I make it my business to make sure she knows how much I value and esteem her, and how much I appreciate what she does for me and for our life together. I tell her I love her quite a lot — seriously, spend time with us and you’ll possibly get sickened by how much we say it to each other — but I also thank her for the things she does for me, and for us, on a daily basis, and make sure those thanks are more than perfunctory. Thanking her both lets her know that I appreciate what she does for me, and also reminds me of just how much of this life that I have, which I really like, is based on her and all the things she does as a matter of course.

This is not a difficult thing for me! One, because if you make a practice of something you eventually develop mental muscle memory for it, and two, because I like telling Krissy that I love, like and esteem her and appreciate everything she does to make our lives what they are. I mean, she’s great. I’m reminded of it regularly. It’s not difficult to comment on it.

Another thing I think that helps her stand me is that I’m aware I’m not inherently a perfect spouse, which comes part and parcel with not inherently being a perfect person. So I make it my practice to listen when Krissy has a complaint about me, and also (and this is not always the easy part) accepting the criticism and working to correct what’s bothering her. Krissy is not by her own natural inclination someone who complains much, so if it gets to the point where she’s stopping to comment on it, that’s a point where I need to listen (to be more specific, she’ll on the regular call out small things I’m doing that annoy her, and I’ll fix those on the fly; I’m talking larger issues here). Weird how being able to listen and accept criticism will go a long way to helping your spouse stand you, but there it is.

I’d like to note for the record that these things I do for Krissy she does for me as well — if I have a concern or complaint, she listens and works to deal with it. But I’m also aware that over time I’ve been the more difficult spouse in this regard, not because Krissy is more demanding but because I am (for lack of a better term) more self-centered than she is. It’s a known fact that I’ve required more work than she has. I appreciate that she chose to stick with the work; I think she appreciates that I do the work to be a better spouse for her. Never perfect, but hopefully always improving.

It also helps, again, that as spouses, we do like each other. Speaking for myself, she is the person I am the most comfortable with, who I can tell anything to, who I enjoy listening to, and who makes me the happiest just being in the same general area with. This is all standard stuff one is meant to say about one’s spouse, of course, but it’s true, and also, shouldn’t it be that way? Shouldn’t your spouse be the person who makes you the happiest just because they exist and you get to hang out with them all the time and by default?

If you like your spouse, not just love them but truly, genuinely like them, then it’s easy to stand them, in part because you get them and they get you, and the pathways of the work of the relationship are smoother and easier to tread. There’s less risk in calling out a spouse you like when they’re being jerk, or being neglectful, or just plain have their head up their ass on something. Krissy, I know, really does like me. So that makes it easier to stand me, and to call me out when I’m doing something that annoys her. And because I really like her, it makes it easier to be, all, like, “yeah, you right.”

Finally, I make Krissy laugh, which helps a lot.

Again: All of this is work, and a process — being a spouse isn’t just taking vows on your wedding day, it’s living those vows day-to-day and every day. Krissy can stand me because at the end of the day, I’ve done the work. And on the days I haven’t, she knows she can tell me, and I will listen. I can do the same with her. Day to day, we can stand each other because we stand with each other. That’s how that works. That’s how it should work.

26 thoughts on “Reader Request Week 2019 #7: How My Wife Can Stand Me

  1. As always, because this piece is about me and Krissy, I read it to Krissy before I posted it. She both agrees with it, and was amused that she actually laughed just before the part where I wrote “Finally, I make Krissy laugh.” Timing!

  2. A lot of what you touch on sounds like me and my wife (of 6 months.) I’m not in a creative profession but I am introvert who can (easily) be performatively extroverted.

    So the fact that you’re successful after all this time is heartening to me. Obviously I wouldn’t have gotten married if I wasn’t in it for the long term but a level of anxiety is normal so seeing the parallels is comforting.

    Also! Yes to making her laugh! I’ve always been pretty witty but I don’t think I got how wonderful it was to be funny and be appreciated for it. Though holy heck we have awful senses of humour and it’s a good thing our “relationship agreement” has a strict “What happens at home stays at home policy” because otherwise they’d send the guys with the padded vans for sure!

  3. “Finally, I make Krissy laugh, which helps a lot.”

    That is not a _finally_! I’ve been married 33 years (well, 32 and exactly 11 months…), and it all started when I made her laugh.

    Truthfully, I’m not as funny as I think I am. But the important thing is that I’m as funny as _she_ thinks I am!

  4. Just the right amount of mushiness. Like when you take the brownies out of the oven at just the right time so they’re gooey but not raw and with deliciously chewy edges. Thanks for sharing this love letter of a post.

  5. That distinction between “love” and “like”–that you can love someone without actually liking them very much–is an important one, which I did not truly understand until fairly recently, to my detriment (and, to be fair, to my ex’s as well). I am thankful to be very much in love with a woman now who is also my best friend, and you are exactly right, that’s what a relationship should be.

  6. Your comment on “performative extroversion” brought a smirk to my face as I can recall your attendance at Capclave (as well I should since I was on the comcon) and your joint session with fellow GoH Nick Mamatas where he basically turned the time into a chance to interview you!

  7. Back in the day, when people in our social circle were starting to marry each other (or an informal equivalent), there was a not altogether nice practice of speculating on the question: How Long Will This Marriage Last?

    The most anyone gave Hilde and me was, so I’ve heard, two years. That was forty-two years ago and counting.

    Admittedly, I’m kind of surprised myself, considering how mentally and emotionally unready I was for marriage. I can’t speak for Hilde, but the “love” I felt for Hilde when we first married was nothing compared to the real thing that developed after several years (and some pretty rough spots). Still not sure how she put up with that mess of a guy in those first years.

  8. Congrats on still making each other laugh.

    Jim & I have been married 42 ½ years. We got married very young, we’re atheists, we’re children of divorce (well, Jim was; my folks didn’t get divorced until I was in my 20s), we’re both oldest children, we’re sarcastic (though Jim is usually nicer than I am), we’re extremely independent – in short, we should have divorced years ago.

    But here we are. We still love each other, like to be together & make each other laugh.

    I think the issue of independence in a relationship is very important. I don’t go to every movie Jim wants to see and generally avoid sports. Jim doesn’t go to political things with me. Neither of us takes this as a deadly insult (well, when I went to protest Anita Bryant on our first anniversary, there were some heated words). But giving each other adequate space is important.

  9. I wish my ex had had your attitude towards marriage. If he had, he probably wouldn’t be my ex.

    One thing we did have in common with you and Krissy, which helped things last the years they did, was not needing to do everything together. If there was something we’d both enjoy, we did it together. But I felt no need to attend events he went to where I’d be bored and would never in a million years want him to join my friends and me for opera.

  10. I absolutely agree with the part about making a habit of telling the other person you love them and that you value (giving specific example) what they do for you. If you ever get to the point of “why say thank you, that’s what X is supposed to do” you’re in dire straits. Also, the same habit works well with friends and co-workers and other types of relationships.

  11. We’re also an introvert (me) and extrovert (Shari) couple. Met in ’05 and married in ’07. It took Shari a little bit to learn how to work with my introvert nature but it helped she’d taught a lot of Myers-Briggs material to a group at her college. She had the intellectual understanding but living with it is something different. I spend a lot of time doing software on the computer. Similar to Krissy, a big aspect Shari needed to learn was the respite before (Oh, that’s why you spend 20 minutes in the recliner before we go out) and after (Oh, that’s why you nap Sunday after being out Fri and Sat with people.) social activities.

    An aspect of introversion most don’t realize is we can lead activities. We can because it is our space and time. Not that we’re controlling but it removes the uncertainty. I can speak to a group without a problem. Even gave a sermon at church on introverts vs extroverts in church. That included working with the kids at church. Tip – take your introvert child to parties early so they are helping to invite the arriving children. Again, that allows them to work in their space.

    Okay, more than I should have said but this topic is an interesting one for me.

  12. Aw! Happy for you!

    And all of this is much like my very fortunate marriage with Doug. Just this morning, I was thinking, “I’m so glad I had enough marriage mart capital to win this one!” Fortunately, he thinks the same about me, minus the economist-speak. :-)

  13. Love this love letter. Liking and enjoying the other person is definitely the glue that makes for a good marriage. Each person can be who they are, and, even become better than they were, and the unit is greater than the whole. Many people wonder how I stay with my man after 33 1/2 years (and the fact I am charmed by this also reveals my age). I actually admire him for his intelligence and the work he has done in his field. So the fact that he sometimes acts as if he is 14 can be overlooked in the greater scheme of things. Here’s to your wonderful partnership!

  14. Quoting for truth: “Day to day, we can stand each other because we stand *with* each other.”

    I now know what I need to say to younger friends who admire the 30+ years I’ve had with Loving Spouse. This above is much nicer than the thing I’m sometimes tempted to say. (“Don’t marry an *ssh*l*.” That comes from a grumpy place, when I’ve felt someone’s starting premise is a bit off.)

    Thank you for having thought on the wider question, being asked how does Krissy “stand” being around you.

  15. Coming up on the 40th anniversary here in another six months or so, and I completely agree with the importance of like as well as love, the vital necessity of laughter, the urgent need for clear communication, and all the other points you call out.

    That said, in my very subjective opinion, the single MOST important thing in your (beautiful) essay is the following statement:

    …as with any long-term relationship, it took work, from both of us, and still does.

    Crafting a successful relationship – marriage, partnership, friendship, any kind of relationship – takes constant work and nurturing and checking in to make sure that the work is all still working. Marriages, as it happens, are NOT made in heaven; they are made right here on earth, and the ones that work are successful because the partners work to keep them that way.

    Can a marriage still fall apart even if both partners work to keep it alive? Sure! Happens all the time – people change and grow over the course of their entire lives, and sometimes, despite all the best hopes and intentions, two people who were very closely attuned when they were younger find themselves growing apart, to the point where it no longer makes sense to remain in the relationship.

    But if a couple does NOT work at keeping their marriage thriving, that is pretty much a slam-dunk guarantee that the relationship will wither and die, no matter how compatible they might have been.

    Sorry for the sermonizing – you pushed one of my buttons there. Thanks again for the very beautiful glimpse of just how amazing and awesome a relationship can be when both partners invest the effort to keep it that way. And I wish you and your beloved many more years of amazingness together.

  16. My wife and I have personalities that closely match yours and Krissy’s, and we’re approaching 45 years of marriage. We don’t see ourselves as opposites; we see that each of us fills things that are missing in the other. We went into marriage with commitment to making it work, and so far there’s never been another way I’d rather be.

  17. My wife, Sandy, and I have also been married for 24 years (and together for 30). There’s a lot of give and take that needs to happen in a successful marriage, and, as you have wisely stated, making your spouse laugh is always quite helpful!

  18. Wife and I have been together since 1969 – yes, this summer was a kind of 50th anniversary. We wed in 1971, in the spring after she graduated from the Uni. I was in the Navy at the time…

    There have been really good times, lots of OK times, and a few OH NO times over the half-century. Both of us are pretty smart, in some areas one or the other is sharper, wife is really good at remembering people, their faces, who they are and what they do, and I slowly realize that I’m talking with someone I ought to know, and after some thought and effort I remember a tiny detail about them, sometimes enough to avoid being embarrassed by saying something that reveals that I have known this person for 20 years, ending 15 years ago.

    Congrats on finding someone who completes you as well as you complete them!! It is just unusual enough to make it a wonderful discovery…

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