By Kristin Owens
Married life is mighty ironic.
See, I talk a lot. And after 30 years of companionship with my own constant chatter, I wound up marrying an introvert. No longer the star of my own show, I had a supporting cast member with thoughtful, intelligent ideas…he just needed more time to express them. I quickly recognized for a long and happy future with this wonderful man, I had better learn to keep my yap shut.
There were hints of my verbose affliction in early childhood. In kindergarten, I received all outstanding marks except for scoring a needs improvement in ‘self-control.’ Apparently, my desire to be the naptime Wake-Up Fairy was so disruptive, it prevented students from snoozing. In fourth grade, I corrected my classmates on their word pronunciation as they read aloud. The exasperated teacher finally stuck me in the corner, presented art supplies, and asked me to draw fish…quiet fish.
Fortunately, I found the Drama Club in high school. The director encouraged me to speak even louder with oversized gestures. I could even tap dance. Finally, I found a home on stage and applause rewarded me at the end of productions. Since speaking in front of large groups became natural, I ran for and won the Student Council President’s position. The podium became my best friend and I looked forward to giving speeches to my fellow classmates, just to hear my own voice reverberate over a microphone and fill the auditorium.
In my twenties, I became a welcome guest at dinner parties and small gatherings. Hosts counted on my engaging and witty self to liven up their crudité platters. I never failed them. I found shared interests with a South Dakota wheat farmer or a Chinese statistician. Later in the workplace, I became the go-to-gal for presentations. I volunteered first; never one to shirk the spotlight. Given a whiteboard, markers and flipchart, I could speak AND draw at the same time, providing even more dynamic performances. This resulted in entertaining clients and garnering more sales.
I postulate any professional achievements were not a sign of high work ethic or above average intelligence. Only impatience. Or maybe just a bad memory. I had lots of ideas and opinions. If I didn’t express them (quickly) they may have been lost forever. The horror of forgetting resulted in saying everything on my mind. Delightfully charming at times, my actions bordered on high annoyance for most others.
In my thirties, my gestures and hand-waving became liabilities. People at parties gave me a larger radius because I inevitably would spill someone’s drink. Once I had a broken hand in a cast and almost knocked myself out explaining to a mechanic what was wrong with my car. I wondered if I would, or even could, learn to stop.
Enter the husband.
Once hitched, my faults gloriously magnified and exposed themselves full-frontal. I realized for my marriage to be a successful partnership between two people, I had to change…otherwise the poor guy didn’t stand a chance.
I started with the best intentions and began making small modifications. I counted to ten (okay five) before speaking. I provided more time for him to answer questions before I answered for him. I clenched my lips together and nodded instead of spoke. I practiced not finishing his stories, even though I knew the endings perfectly well. Change is good, but improvements are better. Marriage illuminates this fully.
I discovered a few things while practicing my new skills. Just because a thought isn’t expressed verbally, doesn’t mean creative ideas aren’t percolating. Some folks are just more selective in sharing. Also, there’s no reason to express everything all the time. You need to edit. In addition, listening is incredibly valuable, even though you may add nothing to the conversation. Generosity is allowing people their own verbal space.
It’s been over ten years. Recently, my husband started taking Spanish lessons and a homework assignment tasked him to write about his favorite person. He wrote about me. He said in his elementary Spanish, “I love my woman. She has big hair. She talks much.” Now, it may be a coincidence these particular words constituted about 80 percent of his vocabulary, but in case they didn’t, I may need to work harder. And quieter.