“Either my wife is not too smart, or I am missing something. Why on earth did I marry her?” I used to say this too myself during our early years of marriage. Things have changed since then.
I am sitting in my backyard watching my son, Emerson, play. Every now and then, he runs to me and gives me a kiss on the cheek and runs back to play, giggling all the way. Often, I get up and play with him, but today I am just sitting and watching. Our family time is great, but it wasn’t always this way.
Emerson is almost four years old, and I am very pleased that over the past several months, his life has improved because his family life has improved. I know this because he tells me.
Recently, my backyard went from very small to very big because someone knocked down the fence. The open area is just what I needed — what we all needed. The fresh air and better view have ushered in a nice change.
My wife, Daisy, started encouraging me to sit out here and watch our son play. I like that she made this suggestion before I thought of it myself. The reason is when she makes suggestions that I did not think of, she notices a spark in my eyes that reveal my genuine enthusiasm for her and the joy I feel in those moments. Also, I love the look in her eyes, when she realizes how much I appreciate her. On the other hand, if she offers a suggestion that I already considered, although I am happy to act on it, the connect isn’t as strong.
She has made more of these little suggestions recently, and most of them are good. More and more, I see the wisdom in her outsider’s view to my thought life and what will make us happy as a family.
How did all of this begin?
They told me that an international marriage would be challenging, but I didn’t listen. Who is they? They refers to most of the people in my life, like friends, colleagues, and family. My wife is Chinese. I am Australian. Way back when Daisy seemed to attract me for the wrong reasons: She was beautiful and nurturing, and I was lonely — I was a foreigner living in China. After a year passed, I kind of concluded (thoughtfully), if I marry her, my life in China might become easier and I won’t be so lonely. Plus, she is very beautiful, and I really do like her. I wasn’t smart enough to understand the psychology of it at the time, but many had offered me the advice, “Go with your gut,” so I did.
I was the type of husband who made a common mistake: I believed I was much smarter than my wife, and I let her know it, regularly. In the past, when she made a request that seemed really stupid to me, I explained to her why her request was stupid and felt proud that I saw the obvious. However, this all changed recently. The secret of going from a frustrated husband and father, to a happier husband and father took place at the same time because they are connected — I learned that when I make the choice to be a better husband, the job of being a better father requires less effort. You could say, the two work together nicely. I just needed the right balance.
A little background: My environment during my teen and early college years was common for an Australian household in my hometown. No one bragged about great marriages or family life, so the idea that I thought my married life would be great didn’t come from my family history. I think the fantasy of a perfect family life came from TV shows or movies, but not real life experiences.
My relationship with Daisy improved when I decided to test out my theory that I had not figured everything out. This included accepting that I often took my wife’s comments too literally. Part of my secret experiment was making an honest effort to not take Daisy’s comments literally, especially when she is angry. After a short time, I noticed how my life got easier.
One of my friends, a therapist, reminded me on many occasions that women often speak in hyperbole and metaphor. I didn’t fully grasp what this meant when he first mentioned it. For example, she used to love reminding me, “You never spend time with your son.” To me, this was an utterly foolish thing for her to say, but I had heard her say it many times. My most vivid memories of her telling me this was when my son was playing nearby me. I am a good father, but I used to work a lot of over-time because I wanted to launch a new company to increase our family income. I was annoyed that she couldn’t or didn’t want to see why I made the effort that I made.
My changed behavior started after I considered one question. “Is it possible she is speaking hyperbole or something like that?” In my thinking, words like hyperbole and metaphor were fancy terms from literature, so they had nothing to do with real-life relationships. Although, I had never thought of her as a novelist or poet, I was willing to consider this possibility that she had a better grasp on literary terms than I did. After all, either I married a woman who was completely out of touch with our family life, or she was much smarter than I gave her credit for. I was hoping for the latter.
Although I’m not sure when I first realized that her attitude had changed, my gut tells me that her singing played a part. She has enjoyed singing for years, but I saw it as annoying, instead of enjoying it for what it should be, a pleasant home tone setter. For example, I didn’t think her singing was appropriate if her house chores weren’t done. I worked more than full-time while she stayed at home with our son.
How did this change happen? One day it dawned on me to change my attitude about her singing, so I started listening. This often happened when I was doing chores. I quickly began to enjoy this routine because she is a good singer with a beautiful voice, and our son loves to listen and watch his mom smile. Imagine the scene. Instead of complaining, I happily focused on my duties at home while listening. On occasion, I even did her chores.
Her response came quickly. Upon experiencing my changed attitude, she soon gained the confidence to make polite suggestions about how we can improve our home life. One of her first suggestions was I needed to be more mindful of my time management. Even her tone seemed to have changed. After a short chat with her, I understood her idea, “You need to spend more time with your son, and schedule it.” The best part was, I learned what she really meant. She wanted a guaranteed day and time, the same days and times during any given week, when Emerson and I would be together because, on occasion, she might want to invite herself along. Emerson and I happily obliged her. Her self-invites always work nicely. Emerson really loves his mom, and I can see why. They have a nice connection, so when she decides to tag along, he always smiles.
After I saw this success, it prompted me to become a bit more insightful. This included me showing my appreciation to her. It is easy to do this. I would deliberately make an effort to do the things that made her happy without her needing to make the suggestions again.
The months passed and life became easier and more predictable, so she had the nerve to suggest that we needed to move to a bigger home. When she first made the comment, she noticed my non-verbals. I wasn’t happy. However, as the days passed and I was by myself, I took a moment to put this in perspective. I knew she didn’t mean today or tomorrow. Instead, she was actually speaking my thoughts. I had not put a plan into action to make this happen, so knowing me, I had made a comment or two in the past about this and had forgotten.
However, when she first made the suggestion, all I thought about was the bigger monthly payment. This idea got me nervous, but I knew we would make this move sooner or later. We both had the same dream, so the request went beyond buying a “bigger building” we call a house. It meant having a home of our own. Allow me to paraphrase both of our thoughts: “I want a place I can call my own, so I can spend quality time with my family, after my busy day of work.”
Another event followed that took my breath away. After I started responding to her suggestions, she responded to mine by getting a part-time job, a career move. Once she successfully started a job and a few more months had passed, she made the request about buying the home again. This time I was not surprised.
Like I said in the beginning, either she was kind of stupid or really smart. I think you are getting the idea of why my gut told me to marry her. I am a very logical person, but often I focus on now, today. Since Daisy typically thinks about both today and the future, I am learning to be less surprised about her future plans.
When I compare the early days with Daisy to now, I have begun to put the puzzle together. When we first started dating, things were ok. After we got married, I saw the pressure and it made me nervous. When she saw the change in me during those early days of marriage, she sort of panicked. My behavior changed from the nice boyfriend, to the panicked husband. This is a common phenomenon that men experience globally.
It’s hard to describe what it’s like when you marry a woman from a different country whose culture is very different from your own. The culture and language differences stick out regularly as a challenge. However, we are learning, as a family, to focus on being more culturally diverse. We are not a Chinese family and we are not an Australian family, anymore. We are a diverse family that is part of a global culture, so we have freedom to choose our culture, as long as it works for our family and community.
Today life is different for us. Although we have a long way to go, I am more excited than ever to move forward.
It’s hard to imagine that our home life went from a place we had tried to avoid, to a place where we look forward to spending time together. We’re in the new house now, she has a job, and things are moving along steadily. I feel less pressure and I enjoy our family time.
Daisy had attempted to get my attention for years, so when I made a few small changes, although she needed time to adjust, I see the mystery of why I married her. She saw in me a man who wanted to be everything to her: a friend, lover, and father to our son.
I am learning how to be this man.