When I was a bride more than 35 years ago, I was going to be the best wife ever. I'd put Donna Reed, June Cleaver, and Harriet Nelson to shame. I resolved never to serve frozen packaged food. Every night at 6:15 p.m., I'd serve a four-course dinner prepared from scratch.
I soon gave up the frozen food maxim. Now my idea is that if Sara Lee can do it better, let her! And I have a new resolution: Never serve frozen food—without thawing it first.
Don't get me wrong. I still have ideals. In fact, some of them have been strengthened by doing the things I said I'd never do. I've learned that on the other side of every Never is an Always. And bridging the two is real-life experience.
Following are some of my marriage "nevers"—and how I learned to balance my best intentions with common sense.
I'll never hide credit card bills.
Actually, I'm not sure I actually said this aloud. It seems so obvious, it shouldn't need saying. As a newlywed, the Proverbs 31 woman was my model. I would be a woman whose "husband has full confidence in her." Yessiree, my husband, Bill, would be able to trust me to keep a tight rein on our finances. Never mind the fact that before we married, I enjoyed generous lines of credit using my parents' charge cards. If I needed something, there was only one thing to do: Buy it.
I knew that after we married, things would have to change, especially since Bill was on the starve-as-you-go plan at graduate school. But eternal optimist that I am, I figured saying "I do" would miraculously transform me into the consummate frugal homemaker. It didn't happen. I had the right ideal but the wrong game plan.
True confession: A few months into marriage, I opened an account at a local department store and started charging a few things I needed. Actually, a lot of things I needed—or at least thought I did. When the statement arrived, I felt weak (one might say debilitated ). I didn't have a clue as to how I could pay the department store bill without my own Bill finding out. So I ate my words and did what I said I'd never do. I hid the bill.
Of course, when you hide a bill, it doesn't go away. It still has to be paid. But worse, as I found out, deceitfulness is the enemy of intimacy. Suddenly, I had a hard time looking Bill in the eye. I felt the burden of a secret, and it played out in our marriage in my subtly expressed shame and withdrawal. I felt our communication lines closing down.
I had made a costly error in more ways than financial. It bruised the trust between Bill and me for a while. I learned the hard way that open communication doesn't mean waffling and sugar-coating everything. In this case, it meant honestly confessing to Bill what I'd done wrong, asking his forgiveness, and devising a plan to pay off the bill little by little. Even though I broke this Never only once, I'll never hide a credit card bill again. Instead, I'll always try to keep the lines of communication open, even when I've misbalanced the checkbook or overspent our budget. And that's a good intention I can live up to.
I'll never wear a flannel nightgown to bed.
It's amazing, but true: Some how-to-stay-happily-married books put flimsy lingerie at the top of their must-do list. You know the type. They suggest wrapping yourself in cellophane before climbing into bed. I mean, how sexy can a woman feel when she looks like a leftover submarine sandwich?
Maybe even more amazing is that, as a young bride, I fell for this theory hook, line, and sinker. No way would I go to bed in a granny gown!
If you think a scanty nightie induces romance during a Winnipeg Clipper gale, think again. Take it from a woman for whom frigid took on a new meaning. I simply can't think romance when I'm raw. How sexy are chapped lips?
Of course, practicality won out. And surprise, wearing a flannel gown didn't make a difference in our sex life. After all, the best sexual intimacy happens between a husband and wife who are comfortable with their own bodies and with each other. Sometimes, especially when the temperature is below zero, flannel is what makes me feel comfortable. At other times, I've been known to like the smooth, cool feel of silk, not to mention the look on my husband's face when he sees it. Now, instead of never wearing flannel, I've decided I will always try to dress for bed in a way that keeps my husband attentive while attending to my own need for climate control.
I'll never lose my temper over little things, no matter what time of the month it is.
I've always been an individualist. I want to be different. When I read somewhere that 98 percent of women in America suffer from mood swings during PMS, I immediately recognized myself as part of the 2 percent who don't (in the face of a mound of evidence to the contrary). You'd think I'd have been happy to know there was a physical cause for my sobbing at long-distance telephone commercials or losing my cool over a lost computer file. Not me. One thing I was never going to do was be ruled by my hormones.
This Never never had a chance—I broke it the first month after I said it. When I stormed into the house, slammed my purse and car keys down, and lambasted Bill for missing a meeting (I discovered later I hadn't told him about it), he patiently responded, "Honey, do you think you could be experiencing a touch of PMS?" I burst into tears. "How dare you accuse me of something so . . . so average. What a cruel thing to say!"
It took a while, but finally I admitted to myself and Bill that I do experience premenstrual mood swings. My new resolution is to try not to lose my temper over little or big things. But when I do, I will always A) apologize, and B) not beat myself up for doing it. After all, we're all human, even husbands, even wives.
Now that I think of it, after looking at both Never and the other side, Always, it's smarter never to say "never." That doesn't mean I won't strive to keep my temper under control. And I'll continue to work toward things like open, honest communication. I want to bring good, not harm, to my husband, my family, my community and myself, as much as I am able. Until God perfects me, though, I suppose I'll continue to do some things I said I'd never do, and God willing, keep learning from the experience.
And that's the key: After more than 35 years of trial and error, I have to say my best efforts and the well-intentioned advice of self-help books have educated, not perfected, me. God is the only one who can do that. And fortunately, along the way, he never condemns and always forgives.
Kathy Peel is the author of twelve books, including The Family Manager and Discover Your Destiny. She and her family live in Tennessee.
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