Talking to myself

Is your spouse's schedule such that you have to talk to yourself to have a conversation with an adult?

Gail D. Robinson writes from Greenwood, Indiana.

It was a typical day. I held off the children's dinner as long as I could. When the youngest started gnawing on a chair leg, however, I decided to go ahead. By the time my husband, Bob, arrived, his usual 30 minutes late, the rest of us had finished eating, so I warmed up his dinner in the microwave.

"No wonder you think I'm a terrible cook. You haven't eaten a warm meal in two years," I joked.

"Sorry," he replied. "I had to catch up on my charts at the hospital or I'm off the staff."

"I suppose they've disconnected all the phones at the hospital," I suggested. My sarcasm was lost in the jangle of the phone ringing. Resignedly, I put the phone on the kitchen table so Bob could take the calls from his answering service, call back the patients, and perhaps call the pharmacy.

"I think they wait until office hours are over on purpose so they can talk to you instead of your nurse," I teased. I should have saved my breath. He was listening to the person on the phone, not to me.

By the time Bob had finished his sup per and his phone conversations, I was deep into algebra with my son Rod. Then it was time to take the girls to piano lessons. At nine we started the bedtime ritual—picking out tomorrow's clothes, taking baths, saying prayers.

Nine-thirty. I headed for our bed room, where I was sure Bob would be reading the newspaper. Now we would have a chance to talk. But Bob was put ting on his jacket as I walked in.

"You're on call?" I asked with a sigh.

"Yep. There are two patients in the emergency room already. I'd better go."

So much for the stimulating conversation I had looked forward to all day. The rest of the evening was lonely. I went to bed, as I did many nights, wondering if there wasn't more to marriage than passing each other on the stairs. My last waking thought was Now I know why people talk to themselves.

A few days later I visited a friend who was in the hospital for tests. An evangelist's wife, she was from another city, and I didn't get to see her very often. My husband, her doctor, told me that she would be in the hospital for several days.

I'd planned to visit just a short while, but soon Mrs. D. and I were deep in conversation. We found a lot of similarities between the demands made on her husband and those made on mine.

With a familiar twinkle in her eye, Mrs. D. told me that her husband had just returned from a week-long revival. "My sister was visiting me when he returned," she said. "She stayed for dinner and spent part of the evening with us. Before she left, she took me aside. 'What's wrong with you two?' she asked. 'You hardly speak to each other!'

"I just laughed," Mrs. D. continued. "I told her that when Mr. D. has been away for a week, he comes home tired. All week he has stayed in other people's homes. He has done a lot of counseling during the day, preached at nights, and has had very little time alone. When he comes home, he's looking" forward to some peace and quiet. I don't bombard him with questions. I know that by the next day he'll be rested and ready to tell me all about his week. I've learned to wait until the right time."

I listened with interest as I realized how similar our situations were. My husband also ministered to other people all day long. Although he dealt mostly with physical problems, many people also brought him their emotional problems. Since the unchurched person doesn't have a pastor to go to, Bob often found himself listening to the problems of the newly divorced man who can't cope, the unwed pregnant teenager, or the agonizing family of the terminally-ill patient. All need a listener. No wonder Bob retreated to our bedroom with the newspaper almost as soon as he walked in the door.

As I left the hospital I began to look at my problem of loneliness and lack of conversation with my husband from a new perspective. Now, instead of thinking of myself, I focused on Bob and how he felt. I visualized him driving home from the office, weary and tired of people. But for him there would still be phone calls from patients, interrupted sleep, and perhaps a drive to the hospital during the night. I realized that I needed to protect him from unnecessary intrusions. I could wait until the right time to initiate a conversation. It was unwise of me to bombard him with family problems the moment he walked in the door.

Focusing on Bob's needs rather than my own also made me view his busy schedule differently. Now I looked at it as a challenge rather than a source of irritation between us. Once I started looking for solutions, instead of playing a martyr's role, I found new ways of becoming part of my husband's busy life.

For one thing, because Bob seems to come alive about 10p.m., I have become more of a late night person. Now we often take walks down our half-mile drive way just before we go to bed about—11:30. By that time Bob has finished his desk work and is relaxed and ready to talk. These strolls in the quiet country air have been a tonic for us both.

Another solution we have found is the mini-vacation. I used to dream of a week away together, and my dreams were usually dashed because Bob couldn't get away for an entire week. However, he began taking Fridays off once in awhile. This gives us a long weekend to go out of town. Once we are away from the phone and the pressures of his job, Bob relaxes and becomes more talkative. Three days is enough time for both of us to return home refreshed.

My friend's commonsense approach to her problem changed my attitude. Now before Bob comes home, I talk to myself, reminding myself that we can find time to be together—and we have.

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Gail D. Robinson writes from Greenwood, Indiana.

September 1988

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