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.