There’s a reason why the stereotype of the husband sleeping on the couch is a humorous depiction of married life – especially when you experience these foot-all-the-way-down-the-throat moments! Be honest, you winced slightly when you first read the title of this post; either from the thought of hearing those words from your husband (and what you might do to him!) or from the thought of saying those words to your wife (and what she might do to you!)
Yes, this sentence truly did leave my husband’s mouth one day, as I stepped out in anticipation of his opinion after trying on a new dress. In that moment, I could feel the tears stinging my eyes! I quickly returned to our room and shut the door, equally offended and frustrated at his lack of consideration for my feelings. How could he?! How DARE he?! Me? OLD? Of all the words he could have used…
He soon came into the room, oblivious at my response until he saw my face. Following a heated discussion, we soon discovered exactly why this had hit a nerve for both of us. I stood firmly in my truth, while my husband stood in his, but the truth of this conflict was unexpected to say the least! Let me break it down by stating both of our cases:
The Wife thinks…
- I took the time to buy this dress (along with others), and my husband’s opinion matters to me.
- This was the perfect opportunity for him to say something nice.
- Even if he didn’t like the dress, he could have said it without hurting my feelings.
- He doesn’t even care about upsetting me, as he hasn’t come to the room to check if I’m alright.
- I’ll just return the dress! There’s no point trying to make an effort…
The Husband thinks…
- Clearly this matters to my wife, so I’ll try and pay attention.
- That dress makes her look older, so let me just tell her the truth.
- I didn’t even know I upset her, until I walked into the bedroom and saw her expression.
- How can she be mad at me for being honest? I don’t get it!
So who was right? I’ve shared both of our cases, and I’ll add the context that I had tried on other dresses and he did comment that one of them in particular looked nice. But for me, as soon as I heard the word ‘older’ it was game over. I was about ready to show him just how old I was! And yes, I know other wives will be reading this and thinking, yes! Show him! but thankfully grace was with me that day. In fact, grace soon found us both.
The reason why I said earlier that the truth of this conflict was unexpected, is because I can look back at this and see that we were both right. I was right to want to be affirmed by my husband, but my husband was right to also want to be honest with me. Funnily enough, he kept reiterating the fact that he said ‘older’ and not ‘old’, but at that moment in my mind there was no difference between the two words as the sentence left his mouth.
I realised that rather than each of us trying to drag the other across to the opposing side, we needed to figure out a way to meet in the middle. We needed to find a shared truth to be able to move forward. This shared truth was one of empathy.
Once we had both put down our pitchforks, we were able to talk about what happened and listen to either perspective fairly. I shared how it wasn’t so much what he was trying to say, but it was how he said it. I gave an example, in that he could have said “I think this style makes you look older, but I loved that other dress on you”. That’s just one way of sharing your honest thoughts, while still offering affirmation. Of course there are some women who would hate to hear the word “older” in connection with their appearance in any context, but I was used to communicating with my husband a certain way and this type of feedback wouldn’t usually hurt my feelings. What did hurt was that he didn’t meet my expectations for affirmation in that moment.
This then gave me a chance to step back and consider what was making me feel particularly sensitive. You know that saying: “all is not what it seems”. This is a perfect summary for most areas of conflict, as usually the thing you are arguing over is just the tip of the iceberg.
Was I feeling distant from my husband and in need of affirmation? Was I feeling insecure, and wanting my husband to validate that he was still physically attracted to me? Was I feeling emotional and particularly hormonal that day, so it was the perfect storm?
That same consideration most definitely applies to my husband too!
Was he paying full attention to me as he knew his opinion mattered to me, or was he distracted by something else? Was he feeling frustrated and thin on patience, so just said what he thought without considering my feelings? Was he ‘just being honest’ like he usually would, so didn’t think I would be bothered by his response?
I share all of this to show that there are so many variables and potential pitfalls that can turn the smallest issues into the most divisive fights, if there isn’t a willingness to check yourself in the same way that you check your spouse. Did my husband think that I was old, decrepit and dusty? No, but in that moment it sure felt like it! Sometimes the intensity of our emotions combined with our bottled feelings and hidden expectations can wreak havoc on an otherwise normal interaction.
I remember hearing my husband sharing this story with a few of his friends later that day, and of course he was met with a resounding outburst of “nooooooo” from his guy-friends. No doubt each of them imagining the various ways their life could end in that one moment!
Even though it was initially confusing for him to discover that it was important to be honest AND compassionate, as if the decision to be honest wasn’t challenging enough, it made me realise how we are wired very differently. Just because something was a no-brainer for me, didn’t mean that it was second-nature for this man I married. Just because something was a natural thought process for him, didn’t mean that it was an easy consideration for me.
I could have titled this post, ‘The day my husband nearly died…” but instead I thought I’d focus on the lesson learned from this memorable experience that I can thankfully laugh at now. And yes, upon reflection, I agreed that the dress did make me look older. I guess we got there in the end!
I’m sure you can think of your own ‘old dress’ experience, where a small issue has exploded into a larger area of conflict that feels hard to contain. It’s never nice to feel like your spouse is the source of your upset, but this is something that you need to acknowledge. Problems snowball when the conflict is left unpacked, and instead sits building up on the sidelines until it starts spilling back into your life in more destructive ways. The following questions will hopefully help you and your spouse to find healthy ways to handle conflict:
- How effective would you say we are at resolving conflict on a scale of 1-10? Explain your answer?
- How do you feel when we don’t resolve conflict, compared to when we do?
- What did your home environment teach you about conflict?
- If you could change one thing about the way we handle conflict, what would it be?
- What is one thing that you think you can work on to help better handle conflict when it arises?