My wife and I have been on an exciting, excellent path of late. We were well into 24-years of a good, but far from great marriage when my wife took her first paying job since before our daughters were born. I became the traditional breadwinner when my wife was ordered to bed rest for minor complications in her pregnancy – and they were only minor because she stuck to what was prescribed for her. When she gave birth to our beautiful daughter, she asked if we could try to make it on one income so she could stay home and raise our kids. I was fearful, of course. I wasn’t making all that much money, but I hoped we had a better chance of raising good children if we stuck to the older style of splitting duties. Divide and conquer.
We were not mistaken.
Over the years, my wife would complain every now and again that it would be nice if I’d call her at lunchtime to say hi and talk about my day with her. Going into breadwinner mode and making assumptions about how I should handle myself according to what I thought that meant, I focused hard on work – especially when I went out as an owner for 13-years. I tried to call my wife on a regular basis, but often would get lost in what I was doing and didn’t think beyond my work till I got home. Eventually, I learned to call my wife, but I never really understood the “why” of her asking me to. After all, I had dragons to slay and demons to banish to hell so I could make our money! I did well at the money part. We made enough that we had a humble but nice house, two cars, and a semi-comfortable life. [ED: Notice I didn’t put what I did on “society”? Blaming “society” is an excuse for an emotionally compromised person who can’t think their way into responsibility for their own actions and decisions – in other words, “society” as an excuse is a copout, best I can tell].
My wife learned to cope with the lack of connection during office hours. Even when I did call, it was rarely sterling conversation. She made the most of it, but eventually the lack of connection took a toll on her heart. She built barriers to protect her emotions and often “punished me” emotionally and otherwise for not understanding her needs better.
So far, if this sounds familiar, please give me two paragraphs to get to the good stuff.
I’ve recently come to find that I was something of a clueless narcissist. I had no idea, until I started listening to a YouTube series by Richard Grannon on the way to work on narcissism – thinking my wife was the narcissist (and she is, most certainly). So here I am, listening to this lecture, doing the “yeah, she does that, and she definitely acts like that“… until I hit a snag. The fourth item in, I did. Then the fifth and sixth… my jaw literally dropped. I knew my wife was a bit of a narcissist. The shock was, I was, also.
With the truth out in the open, I set about fixing myself. I broke down all of my defenses and let my emotions see the light of day for the first time in quite a while – and I was not prepared for what came next. I’m a big manly man, after all. I have command of my faculties and emotions, etc., etc.. Right? Nope. With my emotions now on my sleeve, having finally seen the light and realizing I could have done a lot better as a husband and father, I had a bit of a breakdown, but in a good way. I called my wife to talk about what had happened. I ended the conversation in tears, maybe the third time in 20 years I really cried – happy tears, like when my daughters were born, excluded. I’d broken my own heart, listening to a lecture about narcissism.
Now, fast-forward a month and with my wife at work, I find that I now need that connection while we’re both at our respective offices. All of a sudden I know exactly why the woman I love asked me to call her once or twice a day to make a connection – and I had a difficult time living up to such a simple request.
The realization of what I’d done was devastating. My wife, who had to build up emotional barriers over the years so she could go about her day detached from me was now, naturally, doing exactly what I’d done to her, and it hurt. All those years and I had no idea what I’d done to her. I built those barriers with my actions just as much as my wife did as a response. Man, it was eye-opening and brutal. In fact, it’s hard keeping from kicking my own ass for not understanding what my wife had to go through. It’s a lesson worth learning, though.
I didn’t have to worry about thinking outside of the box. I needed to think outside of the gray matter between my ears.