I have a graduate degree in Marriage and Family Counseling. I work with married couples weekly, and I regularly write about how to improve marriage. Still, it was an elderly couple at McDonald that taught me my most recent lessons on marriage.
Early one morning I was sitting at McDonalds with my laptop open and a Normal Marriage post to write. I had just gotten into a good working groove when a short, squatty couple with linen white hair, deep carved wrinkles and stooped shoulders sat down at the table next to me.
When they sat down, I thought to myself, “They don’t look like they’ll make much noise. I should still be able to get some work done.” Little did I know I was about to get an unexpected lesson in marriage that would trump anything I was writing on the screen of my laptop.
The elderly man sat down, gave his wife her food, and then with his head down quietly began eating his breakfast. As soon as he started eating, his wife began to talk. She talked, and she talked, and she talked. It was a sort of stream-of-consciousness type of talking that was constantly bouncing from topic to topic like a pinball frenetically bouncing from one bumper to the next. She talked about the conversation she had just completed with a fellow McDonalds patron. This led her to talk about an experience that happened between her and this person years ago in high school. This triggered her to talk about how one of the people from this high school memory currently doesn’t have any religious inclination. And that sent her off on yet another verbal rabbit trail.
This drone of verbal processing continued for a good thirty minutes, and by now I was totally sucked in to what was going on at their table. I glanced over to look at the husband and he was quietly eating and listening. He wasn’t tuning out his wife, because he was nodding at the right times and occasionally he would give a one or two word responses that showed he was tracking with her. But for the most part, he said little to nothing. He just listened.
At first I thought, “He’s a better man than I am. God bless him.” Then I began to feel sorry for him thinking, “Poor guy. He’s so passive. I bet she calls all the shots in the marriage. He probably never gets to say anything or have any kind of opinion, and if he does I bet he’s quickly over-ruled.
Then something happened that totally changed my opinion of this husband and this couple. At some point in her on-going monologue, his wife said something about her plans for them to go and visit a certain family. With that, he suddenly and calmly raised his head and said in a clear and concise voice, “I don’t want to go there.”
She began to attack his response like a bulldozer moving a mountain of dirt, but he would not be moved. Before she was two sentences into her rebuttal, he once again said, “I don’t want to go there and I’m not going to go there.” She said, “Yes you are” to which he calmly replied, “No I’m not.” Then she said, “Well I want to go.” He quietly said, “And I don’t.” She said, “Well I’ll just go by myself,” to which he replied, “That’s fine.”
You might think from reading this exchange that the dialogue between them became elevated and angry, but it didn’t. They were both very calm and matter-of-fact about it all. They eventually dropped the topic and continued to talk about other things as if nothing had happened.
As they were getting up to go, the husband said that he wanted to go do something before they went home. His wife said, “Well I wanted to go and visit that family, but you said I can’t.” They smiled at each other then slowly shuffled out the door with the morning sun lighting up their white heads.
Here’s what I learned from eavesdropping on this marriage at McDonalds?
- A couple who appear sorely mis-matched can still work well together. One spouse may be a spender and the other a saver. One spouse may be overly optimistic and the other overly pessimistic. One spouse may be an extravert and the other an introvert. But good marriages are not about two spouses with matching personalities, but rather two spouses with matching and unwavering commitments to one another.
- No matter how much one spouse talks, the other still needs to listen. Don’t tune them out. That’s the ultimate act of disrespect. What you’re spouse is saying may not be important to you, but it is important to them…and that makes it important. You need to listen to your spouse the way you want them to listen to you.
- You may be the quiet one, but you still need to speak up when something is bothering you. So many spouses will not speak up because they think it’s going to cause a problem or an argument. Don’t be that spouse. It will only make your marriage worse, not better. You don’t need to be mean or rude, but you need to be honest when something is bothering you.
- No matter the disagreement, when all is said and done, smile at each other and walk out the door together. Don’t make your disagreements the end-all-be-all of your marriage. You have different up-bringings, different views, different hormones, and different body parts. You’re not going to agree on everything, and you don’t have to. A good marriage is one in which commitment trumps disagreement.
One day, we will all be that McDonalds couple. The question is…what will the people sitting next to us learn about marriage from eavesdropping on our table?
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from other older couples. What lesson do you still need to learn in your marriage? What is the first step you need to take to have a better McDonalds marriage? Leave a comment and share your insights with the rest of us.
Copyright © 2015 Bret Legg