The secret to a happy marriage, said Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is sometimes being a little deaf.
I’d add it’s also important to sometimes be a little mute. As one of my mentors used to muse, “Wisdom is knowing what to overlook.”
This is true not just in happy marriages but in all successful interactions, be it with family members, neighbors, other drivers, and people at the deli counter. Some things, of course, can’t and shouldn’t be blocked out, and many times something must be said, but in order to create an environment that allows for my optimum awareness and satisfaction in life, I need to carefully choose what requires my attention, and what to overlook.
My husband, Ray, and I daily decide how we’ll interact with the other. At our best, we’re mutually attentive, respectful, patient, supportive, kind, thoughtful, and forgiving, but, neither of us is always at our best. Why not? Maybe we didn’t sleep well, or we’re hungry, or we don’t feel good. If one of us is off, the other usually rises to the occasion, and plays deaf, or mute. If we’re both off, there’s a much greater risk of conflict.
“This isn’t you who’s talking,” Ray, on occasion, has said to me. That means my current behavior is unlike me he knows and loves best. In those instances, I’ve given up trying to be in control of what I say, or how I say it. For Ray to call me on it, means that he’s given up playing deaf. It happens, not just with each other, but also with all others. On occasion, we might choose not to vibrate at our highest level with family, neighbors, other drivers, and people in the deli line.
“Will you give it a rest? It’s always the same with you.”
“Is that your car alarm that’s been going on for the past ten minutes?”
“Asshole.” Honk. Honk.
“Wait your turn. I’m next in line.”
Our ability sometimes to be a little deaf often corresponds with our age, and our experience. Many of us have learned that nothing is gained by engaging every unappreciated comment or behavior. It’s exhausting to be too vigilant about what’s right, what’s fair, what’s a slight, what’s annoying. There’s wisdom to some of the old adages, such as, “A happy wife means a happy life.” (What rhymes with “husband?”)
I choose to be a little deaf, and a little mute, in the world for a variety of good reasons, first of which is that I aspire to always be my best self. Doing so is its own reward. Second, I don’t really know the other person’s story, and what’s going on for them at that time. Third, I don’t like how conflict impacts me. Horn honking doesn’t calm me. Arguing about who’s next in line takes away the joy of selecting what I want.
Also, I embrace the belief that we’re all connected, and everything that happens impacts others, including the dog at home, children listening in at the other end of the telephone conversation, other neighbors, other drivers, and the butcher.
Oftentimes, I’ll take a good amount of time, and thought, composing a Facebook post that expresses my strong feelings about current events, particularly in politics and in religion. I’ll read and re-read the post to make sure it says clearly, and thoughtfully, what I want to say about the congresswoman from Georgia, the senator from Kentucky, the governor of Florida, or the archbishop in Detroit, and, then, I’ll click on the “delete” button.
I ultimately decide that nothing is to be gained by my joining in the fray. People who know me can accurately assume how I must feel about bad behavior, but, the post just isn’t the me who’s writing, at least not the me I aspire to be.
Every person who has ever lived has faced daily decisions about how to interact with themselves, their loved ones, strangers, and perceived enemies. Our intention to operate out of love, and our skill in maneuvering through the challenges to “happy marriages,” are impacted by any number of factors, including our childhood “normal,” role modeling, exposure to options, values, health, and age.
Ray’s and my nephews and nieces tell us that our relationship has provided them a role model for being a loving couple. They see in us the mutual respect and kindness they want for themselves. It doesn’t happen without effort. It’s often a challenge to let go of what I’ve seen or heard, and to bite my tongue. But, the quality of my life, of my marriage, have benefitted greatly from my, and Ray’s, self-control, ideals, and wisdom to know what to overlook.
Two Guys and A Dog is a semi-regular column from Brian McNaught, who has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. Visit Brian-McNaught.com to access his books and DVDs for free. “No one has done a better job of chronicling what it is like to be gay in America.” – Former U.S. Congressman Barney Frank.