"My wife, well ex-wife, says that each time I tell a story, a little more information comes out. Recently, I had some opportunity to discuss jobs I had before becoming a professor, and I told a story from when I was at university. I had a job at a sewer works one summer. I didn't have any really old clothes, so I wore the oldest thing I had, which was a white shirt and black trousers." He laughed. "I hadn't told her about the clothes or how much it disgusted my coworkers for me to wear a white shirt. I only had the job a week."
We were gathered at Wings for our first ever Beforemath. As usual, we drank beers and ate greasy sport bar food. Near the end of dinner, Dr. D told this story, and it led to a discussion about the things we leave unsaid.
I have heard L tell stories of going to Tijuana with his Navy buddy who liked to haggle. In the most memorable one, his friend bargained for a marble chess board with hand-chiseled marble pieces and set in hand-carved wood. L went back to San Diego having paid about $12 for it. What I hadn't heard before was that he also picked up the leather wallet that he still carries. Of course, this isn't a life-altering revelation, but as much pride as L takes in being cheap about certain things, it is the perfect ending to the story.
"Well, at least he tells you the important things," Dr. E said.
"Yes, and you tell him the important things," Dr. D added.
I set my beer down and said, "It only matters if the person you're telling listens." This comment got nods from around the table.
See, Dr. D's ex-wife claimed that he neglected her, and he did, but she never complained or mentioned it to him. This was why, "I want a divorce," were the most startling words he could ever imagine coming from her, especially when they did. Seeing some parallels between my own first marriage and his situation, we discussed this several times before his divorce was final. For him, it was too little too late, which is unfair since she never gave him a chance until she had already closed her heart.
Therapists say that communication is key to a relationship, and this is only as true as how much you are willing to share with your partner. If you don't tell them how they hurt you, they can't know. If you do, and they still don't make an effort, then at least you can say you tried. In twenty-five years of marriage, Dr. D's wife never said anything until she said she was done. He never had a clue.
When I ask, he says, he's okay, which is an improvement over last winter. He wears silly bands his daughters gave him in place of his wedding ring. He told L, "If you love her, put your wife before everything else." It goes both ways.