I was talking to a long-term, married couple the other day. I’ve not known them long, but they certainly appear to be in a shocking marriage. The wife was
recounting a story of something that had occurred during the week. Truth be told, the story went on for considerably longer than it needed to. There were starts, stops, corrections and endless details that had little to do with the point she was making. But her husband patiently stood at her side, listening and nodding his head in support.
As I observed this, I felt quite convicted. He was very intentionally supporting his wife through his presence and his silence. This is something I honestly struggle with. If my wife is in a similar situation, I find myself far too often interrupting to correct her (if her “facts” aren’t exactly as I recall them). I’ve even jumped in to bring a story to a close, if I felt she was going on too long. In my mind, I was doing this as a “service” for her listening audience, trying to prevent them from hearing wrong information or from being trapped in a seemingly endless story.
Without intentionally doing so, I was sending a strong message to all present that the audience was of far more importance to me than my own wife was. Somehow I was trying to spare them from her, as if my perspective or version was somehow superior to hers. My interruptions not only disrespected her but also embarrassed her in front of her friends. In my mind, getting the story “right” was more important than honoring her or protecting her feelings.
In my mind these instances weren’t a big deal, it was just part of normal group conversation. I’m usually made aware that she doesn’t share this same view after the party or on the drive home. Sometimes she’ll tell me outright how I upset her, but most often I notice her mood has fallen and she is very quiet. Even once I notice that, I often don’t make the connection between her silence and my specific infraction. With a little prodding, she’ll open up and let me know – in no uncertain terms.
When I think about it, it doesn’t really matter if she saw somebody on Maple street instead of Oak street nor is it important if she talked to someone on Friday night instead of Saturday night? The reality is, half the time I’m wrong on my facts and she is proven right, after we’ve had an embarrassing dispute in front of our friends. Unless she is recounting details of a crime to a police detective or something of similar importance it doesn’t affect the story at all. But it does affect the relationship.
It just goes to show you that every relationship can be made better. As often as I’ve vowed to not interrupt her stories again, it took seeing this behavior modeled in another couple to really appreciate what it should look like. I’m pretty sure that he and his wife went home happy.