This is the third installment about a young couple, Jordan and Mimi, whose marriage was about to be derailed. Last week, we got to know Mimi a little better and this week is Jordan’s turn.
Jordan is a smart, reserved boy who loves his work. He is one of a large family, the sixth of eleven children. Perhaps he became quiet because there was already too much noise in the house! Or perhaps that is just his personality. It would have been easy for Jordan to be lost in the middle but he saved himself from that by becoming quite self-sufficient.
At ten, he could put a piece of cheese on a piece of bread and pop it into the microwave and call it a meal. He could eat his sandwich, and then do his homework.
It gave him a sense of pride that he could take care of all his needs and not bother his overworked mother. Because he was nearly always at the top of his class, he was not asked to do too much in the house other than keep his own room neat, which he did.
As a result, although Jordan was a pleasant guy, he was not too tuned into others; they did their thing and he did his. This meant that when he got married, he was pretty unprepared to “read” women in general and certainly not a young lady who dazzled him when they were dating but turned out to be needy underneath.
He didn’t even know what a needy person was like.
Could Jordan step up to the plate as a husband? What exactly should he do that’s different anyway?
Marriage was meant to be a growth experience.
We marry the best person to help us grow in the exact area that we most need that growth. Since growth means moving out of our comfort zones, the process can feel uncomfortable.
When we recognize our discomfort, the correct response to it should NOT be: “That’s not me; I can’t do that.” Precisely because it is not you is why it’s good for you to stretch yourself in that area.
The right response, therefore, should be, “Help me learn this, please.”
Being a good learner, that’s exactly what Jordan did. He went to a mentor with his concern that the marriage was not going well. His mentor referred him to a couples therapist. The therapist saw them together and then each of them separately a few times.
During the session that Jordan had by himself, the therapist laughingly said that although he did absolutely nothing wrong, it seems he could make a bit more effort to forge a connection with his wife.
The therapist quoted a book on marriage which quotes a historic figure who pointed out that a man should “be compassionate with [his wife], and watch over her, as a person would watch over one of his own limbs.”
Similarly, Goodman and Goodman quote a 13th Century scholar who said, “Never be angry with your wife; if you put her off from yourself with your left hand, delay not to draw her to you again with your right hand.”
“So how do you think all that translates into being a good husband?” the therapist asked Jordan.
Jordan gave the words a lot of thought. He admitted to getting annoyed with Mimi for her complaints.
However, he now saw that the one thing he did not give her was the one thing he had learned growing up that he did not need: conversation.
Being reserved worked for him in a family of eleven and it worked for him at work.
It did not work as well in marriage.
“On the other hand,” the therapist pointed out with a smile, “it won’t be as difficult as you think, Jordan. All you have to do, really, is be a good listener. You won’t need to come up with things to say, at least not too much.”
“Here are the keys to being a good listener,” the therapist said:
- Smile when you walk in the door; don’t anticipate a poor reception even if you have been getting one. After all, you’re both working on this.
- Say, “How was your day?” As much as we think that’s a tired old question, people want to reconnect at the end of the day. It’s actually a wonderful question.
- Don’t think of anything else when your wife is talking. Really listen.
- Ask her good questions to understand what she’s getting at.
- Reflect back what you think you heard if it’s a complicated discussion.
“That’s it! You’re done,” the therapist concluded with a smile. “That’s not too hard for a smart boy, right?”
“Right,” Jordan said, relieved that it didn’t seem difficult after all.
As if the revelations opened up in individual sessions weren’t mind-expanding enough, Mimi and Jordan were to learn just how powerful couples therapy could be. At their first joint session since they went alone to therapy, the counselor asked them, “Have you applied the new tools that we discussed? I don’t care who goes first.”
Mimi went first. “You know, I kept telling myself that I am a capable person, but somehow, although it did feel good, I don’t know, it kind of lacked punch. I felt so lonely. Lonely like I was when I was all alone with my little brother and sister.” She started to cry.
Jordan was visibly upset by this, as if he’d done something wrong when he was just living his life and not bothering anybody.
The therapist asked Mimi what she would like to see happen.
Through her tears, Mimi said, “I am Jordan’s wife, after all. I would like to hear something, anything from him.”
“Jordan, did you do your homework?” the therapist asked.
“I tried. I walked in with a smile and I asked Mimi how her day went but she walked out on me. I didn’t know what to do. I figured she really doesn’t want to talk to me after all.”
“Well, that’s interesting,” the therapist commented. “You’d like a kind word, Mimi, so why did you walk out on Jordan?”
“I’m sorry,” Mimi sobbed. “I was just upset.”
“Mimi,” the therapist asked, “is that how you handle stress? You, kind of, give up?”
“Yeah,” Mimi answered.
“This isn’t the time for giving up!” the therapist said. “Give Jordan a chance. How can he be there for you if you just walk out?”
“You know,” Mimi said, thoughtfully, “when I was watching my little sibs I thought my life would go on like that forever. I did feel hopeless. I really did.
“So that’s where you learned hopelessness,” the therapist reflected, “but now is the right time to unlearn it. Why don’t you give Jordan a chance right now? Go ahead, Jordan, try again.”
“So,” Jordan said with mock enthusiasm, “and how was your day?” They both laughed.
Through her tears, Mimi answered, “It really wasn’t so bad. I don’t know what got into me. How was your day, Jor?”
“It was good,” he answered, “and I think right now, it’s getting better.”
Sometimes, the key to a good marriage is just to practice doing good things. That’s all these two lovely young people need to do.