"Love's not what you feel. It's what you do." -
from A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle
Tomorrow, my husband and I will be married 16 years. "An accomplishment!" my 16-year-old says and I'm inclined to agree.
I'm not patting myself on the back. It hasn't been easy and it certainly hasn't all been fun. But I've learned a couple of things along the way. They helped me and I hope they'll help you. Hard won lessons usually don't mean a thing if they're not your own but sometimes they fall on fertile ground and, at best, provide an insight.
This morning I woke up and realized something: Caring is not in the eyes of the beholder.
In the early years of our marriage I would explode at my husband: "You don't care about me! You're not interested in me! You don't ask me what I'm thinking or feeling or going through! You don't ask me any questions!"
About once every six months I'd have a kind of fit about this. I'd yell, I'd cry, once I even smacked him on the chest out of frustration.
He would say, "Tami, I do care about you. I just don't ask questions."
I see that Dan doesn't show his caring in the way I expected, in the way I assumed a husband would care about his wife. But he cares. And how.
I'm curious by nature and a reporter by profession. Asking questions comes naturally to me. I couldn't fathom someone just not asking questions.
And then my little sister Lila taught me something. On one of our trans-continental visits, I began to feel like we were spending most of our time together talking about her life. When I told her this, told her I felt she wasn't really interested in what was going on with me (do you detect a pattern here?) she reassured me of her keen and abiding interest and then asked a good question: "What would it take for you to know that I'm interested?"
"You could ask questions," I said.
She thought a minute. "Oh. So you need to hear questions to feel that someone is interested, that they care."
To me it was a given. You're interested, you care, you ask questions. But to both Dan and Lila, that wasn't the case. Lila didn't wait for me to ask her questions (though I usually beat her to the punch.) She just assumed I cared about her and was interested in her life. And she was right.
On an anniversary trip a couple of years ago, I had another realization that moved me closer to the truth about Dan. We were reclining on lounge chairs, relaxing on the beach on a bright, beautiful day. We were both reading but I was also beginning to stew. If I was with a close girlfriend, I thought, we'd be happily yacking away hour after hour. The three days wouldn't be enough time to talk about everything we wanted to talk about, explore all the issues we wanted to explore, process everything about our relationship that we wanted to process. But here we were, Dan and I, away from kids and pressures, just having a good time - and there were long periods of silence - unless I broke them. I was just working myself up into a good anger when Dan reached over, took my foot and started massaging it.
I relaxed into it. There's hardly anything I like better in life than a good foot massage. And the thought popped into my head: He doesn't talk much, but he does massage my feet!
Last year, Dan went scuba diving with a male friend. They were away for four days. One of the highlights of the trip, Dan said, was the silence. "There would be hours when no one would say anything except maybe, 'Pass the beer.' It was great."
Over the years, my fits of anger grew further apart. Sometimes I thought I'd given up. Other times I thought I was maturing and learning to accept Dan for who he is. But just this morning I realized the truth:
Dan cares about me deeply and shows it in a million ways.
He knows I have a hard time getting up in the mornings, so he does the whole morning bit and always has: wakes up the kids, makes their cocoa, packs their lunches, helps those who still need it on with their shoes and socks. Sometimes he even makes me tea.
He knows my shoulders get tight and so he massages my back - often.
He kisses me and hugs me all the time.
He lets me go away for a weekend to visit a friend or for a week to a far away family wedding.
He does just about as much as I do in the house.
And when I need to talk, he listens.
I've already gotten my anniversary gift this year: My eyes were opened. I see that Dan doesn't show his caring in the way I expected, in the way I assumed a husband would care about his wife. But he cares. And how.