My Kentucky grandparents, Papa and Mama Farley, had been married sixty-one years when Papa was hospitalized during his last illness. Mama insisted on sitting for long hours by his bed, saying they had never been separated and they weren't about to start now.
As they talked in the hospital room about their long-ago meeting that included one of Mama's former suitors, eighty-two-year-old Papa took her hand and said, "I don't want anybody to ever take you from me."
As Mama softly told the account after Papa's death, tears welled up in my eyes to think their love was still so deep after six decades. And I was amazed, too, that Papa hadn't looked at her gray hair and wrinkled face; he saw only the beautiful girl with the hazel eyes and Cherokee cheekbones he had married. Mama continued to hold that scene in her heart until she joined him in heaven nine years later.
I hope it's every couple's dream to grow old together, as my grandparents were privileged to do. My husband's brain cancer kept us from reaching that goal, but I like to think what we learned in our almost seventeen years of marriage would have carried us through to old age. Here are two important concepts we learned:
Men and women usually have different decision-making styles. Women usually want to talk through a problem, while men, in general, need time to think and be alone. Too often we women try to get our men to talk before they're ready. We'll even follow them down the hallway and out to the garage, urging them for an immediate decision as they retreat from us. What if we women tried leaving them alone for a while? And what if husbands tried to be sensitive to the communication needs of their wives as well?
Barbara likes working through her decisions aloud. She'll argue first one side and then the other with anyone who is willing to listen. Hearing the various options helps her choose the one that will best suit her needs.
Her husband, Cody, though, prefers mulling over the various aspects of the decision and coming to his conclusion in his own time. If he is pressed for an answer, he will say, "Every wrong decision I've ever made, I've made in a hurry." Barbara quickly learned that the more she tries to hurry him--whether it's on what color to paint the kitchen or which elementary school their son should attend--the longer his decision takes. Now she presents the situation, offers a reasonable time by which she'd like an answer, and then gets on with her life. The home atmosphere is much less tense now.
Nagging accomplishes nothing good. A veteran husband once told me nothing wears him out faster than a nagging woman. I thought of his comments again when I was a speaker at a writers conference. The other speaker was a kind, gentle man who was chatting with several of the staff when his wife showed up.
She stepped into the conversation with a quick "You didn't get the paper." Immediately he excused himself and hurried across the lobby to the paper machine. I watched with great interest, wondering why she, a physically healthy woman, hadn't gotten her own paper. Apparently she had it in her head that such a chore was his job, not hers.
Within a few moments, he was back and handed her the daily news. She gave him an it's-about-time glance and turned to go back to their room. She didn't even thank him! She left him looking very much like a little boy who wanted to please someone who continued to ignore him. Would it have killed her to smile and thank him? As a widow, I watched, wondering what opportunities I had missed to show my own husband appreciation. Undoubtedly many.
And while women stereotypically are blamed for nagging, it's an easy habit for men to fall into as well. Let's all try to express more thanks and fewer complaints. That way if a couple does get to grow old together, the journey will be a pleasant one.
Adapted from Men Read Newspapers, Not Minds-and other things I wish I'd known when I first married by Sandra P. Aldrich. (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1996. Used by permission.) Author or co-author of 17 books, Sandra is an international speaker who handles serious issues with insight and humor. For booking information, she may be contacted at [email protected].