I just finished the book Sidetracked Home Executives by Pam Young and Peggy Jones. Over the course of a hundred years, I have probably read this book a dozen times and not realized it until page 20.
There is a part in this book I really want to share. It’s an Oprah Ah-ha moment, and I made Mark read it. It’s several pages long, but, it’s worth me typing it and you reading it.
Together, we are working towards flourish…
I vowed that when he came back home (from Vietnam) I would be a wonderful wife and do everything in my power to have our home perfect for him.
It was a promise I didn’t keep. Although I loved to cook, meals were never on time. I loved feminine things, dresses, makeup, delicate jewelry and perfume, but at some point I’d stopped wearing them. I loved to go out with Danny to the movies or to dinner, but I was never on time, much to his irritation. I wanted to make life at home easy and comfortable, but in all the clutter and disorder, our home was tense, and it was difficult for him to relax. I tried to make up for all my shortcomings by being affectionate and lighthearted.
After putting up with five years of running out of toilet paper and finding empty toothpaste tubes, damp underwear, no handkerchiefs, wrinkled shirts, cat hair on his police uniform, lukewarm TV dinners, and overdrafts- not to mention a home that he was embarrassed to have friends visit unexpectedly, and a wife who always wore a scarf on her head, no makeup, and the same old ratty pants and striped shirt- our marriage was in real trouble. He told me finally, “I’m not happy.”
We visited a marriage counselor and were told to make a list of the things we liked and disliked about each other. The list was not to be shared with each other but was to be totally confidential.
I ransacked his desk drawer and found his list (I’m so ashamed), and it was very puzzling to me. The list of things that he liked about me was a long one. It had all the virtues you’d expect of a saint: honest, faithful, kind, affectionate, loves children, joyful, good sense of humor (doesn’t brag about virtues, oops, I added that myself),
etc. I thought, “Wow, if I’m all those things to him, how come he’s not happy with me?”
Then I turned the list over to the “don’t likes” and found at the top of the list “Doesn’t try hard enough to keep herself looking pretty.”
“Oh, brother, that’s a cheap thing for him to say,” I thought. I looked in the mirror objectively for the first time in years. He was right.
“Oh, well, he was just grasping for something nasty to say,” I thought, and went on to the second complaint: “Doesn’t have a regular wash day.”
“Oh, come on, Danny, get serious. A divorce? Over this?”
The rest of the list was more of the same and made no sense to me at all. Those things seemed so trivial and so unimportant in the whole scheme of things, yet it was all those little things that were ruining our marriage.
It was another five years before I changed, but somehow, with the help of God, Danny had decided that he would have to be the one to change. He quit criticizing me about the house, he stopped arguing about whose job was whose, and he tried to help me. He would come home from working eight hours, delegate small jobs to the kids, and grab the vacuum cleaner.
I would scurry around with a defensive attitude: “I was GOING to get that done and I would have, too, but… blah, blah, blah, blah.”
“I know you’ve just got too much to do. I’m not criticizing; I just think you need some help.” He stopped trying to change me and accepted me just as I was. By the time we had our third baby he had become mellow and more flexible, and he was always understanding of my good intentions. He gave me the perfect soil and climate in which to grow- love free of conditions and understanding without criticism.
We know that marriage takes more than love. During all those tumultuous first five years, we loved each other, but after we had children and learned how to give more and demand less, after we stopped trying to manipulate the other and decided to accept each other and appreciate all the good we recognized- after we grew up- that’s when our marriage started to thrive.
I want to share something with you that I’ve only recently begun to understand myself. Haven’t you heard that love reflects love? That if you give love, you’ll get love in return? It has been said, “Whatever you want to receive, that is the very thing you must be willing to give.” Well, I am a romantic. I love flowers and candy and surprise packages. I longed for Danny to come home from work one day with tickets to someplace exotic. Instead of tickets, he gave me a $30 gift certificate good for Roto-Rooter’s next house call. When our last baby was born, he brought flowers to the hospital with a card inscribed, “TO A JOB WELL DONE.” The card was signed, “Danny L. Jones.”
For anniversaries and birthdays I received things like an automatic weenie cooker or a set of smoke alarms, but never anything personal. Gifts that I gave him were the kind I would have liked myself- but it didn’t seem to work in return, according to the promise that “love reflects love.”
Before I say anything more, I must tell you that Danny is a wonderful man. He is good and kind, and he loves me and our children beyond anything. All I would have to do would be to complain about the jerky old linoleum in our kitchen and the next day he’d have ripped up the whole
floor. If I mention that the handle to my frying pan is wiggly, immediately he’s there with a screwdriver, tightening everything in the cupboard. After working all day he comes home and starts working on something around the house that needs fixing. He is always the same (…), always calm, always on top of things, and wise beyond his years, I’m sure.
But it is not natural for him to be gushy or flamboyant. He’s too reserved to let his emotions show publicly. It’s always been very easy for me, on the other hand, to express my affection for other people. If anything, I’ve learned how NOT to be so expressive. I’ve hugged some people spontaneously and felt them shrink with embarrassment. Then I’ve realized that NOT EVERYBODY LIKES TO BE HUGGED!
Well, here comes the big revelation: There are two different kinds of love-personal love and impersonal love. The first is the kind that I find so easy and natural. It’s the one-on-one kind: I grab you and say, “I love you.” It’s the kind I craved more of. Impersonal love is expressed in different ways. It goes beyond one-on-one; it’s given through work and serving others.
Suddenly the light went on. Love reflects love, but personal love returns impersonal love and vice-versa. I had seen it happen in my own marriage and hadn’t understood why. Since I’d made the effort to change, to clean up my act and make our home what it was intended to be, I found myself giving more of the impersonal love. (It was as unnatural at first for me as anything unpracticed would be.) I found myself giving my time and energy, and those things returned to me, multiplied. I was loving more, being more, doing more, having more and it was
exhilarating. Something else was happening, which was even more exciting. Danny was beginning to express more personal love. He was more affectionate in ways that I had always hoped he would be.
Recently we were talking about the changes in our marriage that have made it grow into such a beautiful relationship, and Danny said, “You know, I always thought that I loved you much more than you loved me.” I couldn’t believe my ears!
“How could you ever think that? I was always the one to be demonstrative. I was the one to take your hand and say, ‘I love you.’ And you’d just say, ‘Thanks.’ Didn’t you know you were the most important person in my life?”
He said, “I heard you say those things but then your actions didn’t match your words. I thought that if you loved me, then I wouldn’t have to go to work hungry and wearing wrinkled clothes. I figured if you really cared, you’d try harder to look as pretty as you were when I married you. I guess I though all the outward affection and flower talk were superficial.”
For the first time I could understand how he’d felt. He saw my change as an expression of love, and he was right. It was an expression of love- impersonal love, the kind that’s easily recognizable to him, since that’s the kind he’s always expressed himself.
Today we each practice giving and receiving both kinds of love. After all, it’s all love, just expressed in two different ways. We accept each other’s love in whatever form it comes, and in so doing we’ve reached a balance between personal and impersonal love. He no longer hears my words as superficial because the actions are there to substantiate what I say. I no longer think of his handy work around the house as “convenient,” but instead
I realize it is his way of showing love for his family. I think of all the years I closed myself off to receiving that love and felt sorry for myself because “I was giving so much more.” Ha!
Since I’ve been organized I asked Danny to tell me in which order of importance he would put the following things: a pretty, clean home; dinner on time; a happy and contented wife.
He said, “I like to come in the back door and hear you singing. Then I like to smell a good dinner, and, finally, I notice how nice the house looks.”
… My marriage has flourished …