I wrote this post for my church’s Marriage & Family blog, and thought I’d share it here too. Though I didn’t address it for an audience of married couples facing special needs challenges, I want to acknowledge here that I understand firsthand the strains that something like autism can put on even the best marriage. Married 13 years this August, my husband and I were pretty great communicators for the first 9 years and were always in stride with one other. When autism entered in, he and I have coped somewhat differently, and our insecurities have certainly been tapped into. Stress speaks. Even in the silences.
Our greatest challenge in the past year has been “drift.” When we realized that we both needed to carve individual time to get recharged, one of us always had to be home with Josiah. For the past 4 years we could no longer attend church together, hang out with the same friends, or take the same vacations. That has an affect on unity. It’s hard to “turn toward each other” at times when you’re simply not together as much, and when you are, you realize you’ve learned to guard your heart differently–find ways to face your realities differently. It takes work, but for the man who is a stellar father to Josiah, and who is the love of my life, I now realize why it’s so important to put your own oxygen mask on before you help your child. I want to get better at that. As they say, this is a marathon. Now to that post, “He Thought, She Thought.”
“I feel like you’re constantly judging me on a point system,” he said, paired with an eye roll.
And that started the first little “spat” of our engagement, right on the lovely sidewalk in front of roaming white geese in a quaint colonial spot in Pennsylvania.
Our intertwined fingers separated and I felt totally misunderstood.
“Sheesh! Why do you feel like I’m judging you? Am I that horrible of a person? You must not know me at all,” I retorted.
If I would have known 14 years ago that the root of almost every marital discord we would have would be summed up in that little exchange, I could’ve made much greater strides as an ideal Proverbs 31 woman. Alas, I just made the connection. Today. (And, for the record, the Proverbs 31 woman had maids, so I’d already given up that far-fetched goal.)
Shaunti Feldhahn sums it up best in her book, For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men: “A guy’s inner vulnerability about his performance is made more intense by his belief that at all times he is being watched and judged…and perhaps found wanting. It includes the knowledge that since they don’t always know what they are doing, they are just one mess-up away from being found out.”
Conversely, in Feldhahn’s book, For Men Only, she and her husband nailed why my womanly brain ended up in a stand-off with my man’s ego: “If she’s feeling something, it’s counterproductive to try to tell her she shouldn’t be feeling that way. As men, we’re prone to jump to the conclusion that our wives are in husband attack mode. But remember a guy’s performance isn’t usually what’s on her mind. Our wives need to process their stuff by talking about it and having us available to listen…and not take it so personally.”
Women need to process feelings and discuss issues. Men feel like they have to perform and solve. Women feel unheard. Men sense that they don’t measure up. And there you have a little 9-year-old girl standing in front of a 10-year-old boy, both in adult bodies, clinging to their old innate insecurities.
She goes to bed feeling emotionally unmet. He turns off the light feeling like he doesn’t have her respect. While a reluctant “I’m sorry” or two may have been lobbed up, each adds the episode to their record of wrongs. And each secretly takes a mental note of the best ammo to use in case there’s a need to go into “attack mode” later to defend one’s self.
At the end of the day, whether it’s testosterone or estrogen at work, I think both men and women really want the same thing. They both want the other to think the best of them, to know their intentions, to call out the gold, to let the unprompted encouragements and approving glances outweigh thoughtless jabs and critical body language.
So, now that I know what I know, I’m going to try something this week. I’m going to consciously refuse to prey on the known insecurities of my husband, who I truly care about to my core. I’m going to recognize my choice—“speaking rashly, like the piercing of a sword” or realizing “the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).