My wife says I never listen to her.
At least I think that's what she said.
There it was, gleaming at me from the glossy pages of a catalog: the perfect slogan t-shirt, with its cheeky grasp of the truth. I reached for my purse, intending to pull out my Visa. My husband, Pete, and I don't have a ton of arguments—mostly because he's so nice—but his lack of listening skills has been the source of many of them.
I got as far as my wallet, then stopped and tossed the catalog in the trash. I knew that even the humorous tone of the t-shirt wouldn't soften the truth of the statement and any chuckle he got out of it would just be masking a wound. I realized that if I did buy the shirt, I wouldn't be going for a laugh. I'd be going for a "Gotcha!"
Less than one year into our marriage, we had the mother of all our later non-listening incidents. Pete is a huge Cheesehead and Packer Backer (that's "Green Bay Packer fan," for the uninitiated). One Monday evening in November, we sat at the dinner table with the tv on and clearly visible in the living room. The Packers were playing the Bears. At Lambeau Field. If that means nothing to you, well, back then it meant nothing to me either.
As we ate our dinner and Pete looked past me to the flickering image of Brett Favre's green-clad torso, I began to share the details of yet another horrible day at the office. At first Pete tore his eyes from the television at regular intervals, nodding and mmm-hmmming at the appropriate moments.
But then it was first and goal—both at Lambeau Field and at our dinner table. I'd just gotten to the climax of my story, in which a troublesome coworker had scolded and humiliated me in front of several others. As I dabbed my tears with a napkin, I glanced at Pete. He was mid-nod with his head turned toward me. But his eyes were cast to the side, riveted on the image of an airborne football headed straight for the end zone.
Clenching my jaw, I decided to conduct a little test. Beginning a new sentence, I stopped halfway through to see if he'd notice. Instead, he pumped a fist in the air and roared, "Yyyessss!" To Brett Favre and Sterling Sharpe—not to me.
I rose from my place at the table—oozing grace and dignity—and stomped between Pete and the television to the bedroom. There I flopped, sobbing, onto the bed. And waited. I was sure he'd tear himself from the game and follow me, devastated at the hurt he'd caused his precious young bride.
I kept waiting. I waited at least twenty minutes.
By then, it was halftime at Lambeau Field. In our living room, Pete snapped out of his football-induced fog and noticed something: His wife was gone.
Despite his profuse and sincere apologies, it's taken 12 years for me to find this story funny. Before I saw the humor, I carried it in my back pocket, whipping it out whenever I needed help winning an argument. Pete would swear I hadn't told him something—perhaps that I'd invited 12 people for supper. Into my back pocket I'd reach: Oh, really? Who was the likely culprit, considering our history? Clearly, it was more plausible that I had told him, but he hadn't been listening. Didn't he recall The Packer Game Incident?
Over the years, I've come to understand that intentionally wounding Pete because of his failings does nothing to inspire him to listen to me more, or to fix things between us. Actually, my actions and attitudes regarding the problem have been far more poisonous to our relationship than his, infecting it with a spirit of unforgiveness.
I wish I could say that Pete has learned to listen to me all the time. He hasn't. But I know he tries, and I know it grieves him when he fails. I wish I could say that I've learned to quit being angry and manipulative. I haven't. Apparently we're both flawed.
But there are some things we've learned: to laugh at the little things; to forgive the big things; and, believe it or not, I've learned to love football. Which means I don't want him talking to me outside commercials and half-time either!
Though I didn't buy the t-shirt, I did tell Pete about it. He got a good laugh and then thanked me, profusely, for resisting the urge to buy it.
Mandy Houk, a freelance writer, has been married 15 years. For Mandy's blog, go to www.forbetterforworseforlife.wordpress.com.
Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.