This is my story of learning how to communicate my true feelings to my wife. Since that special day, I realize that I was never alone.
As a Chinese man, I was taught many good traditional values about family, marriage, and children, but I had one struggle in my life that could have destroyed everything. My marriage and my relationship with my daughter used to be a bittersweet story. Now it is much better.
I’ll never forget what it was like to sit with my friend, who was also a family therapist. His name is Daniel. I am fortunate because I didn’t need to pay hourly therapy fees. Instead, we spent time together as friends and colleagues. When I visited with Daniel, often my daughter was with me. After more than one year of building our friendship, I prompted a conversation that changed my life for the better.
This is my story.
While having a meal with Daniel, Hanna also had accompanied me. She is a joy. She always has been and always will be. However, she is also a very active child, never wanting to sit still. Her behavior was frustrating me because I wanted to have a talk with Daniel about a topic that I had been afraid to mention before. I didn’t know how to start, so I spoke whatever words came.
“So, what do you think of my family?” As I spoke, I felt my nerves jump.
“My friend, you have a lovely family. Your daughter could not be more adorable, and you are such a good father.”
I smiled, knowing that wasn’t really what I wanted to talk about. I wanted him to be more honest. Though what he had said was true, there was more to say.
“Thank you for your kind words. However, I want you to tell me the good and the not-so-good.” My heart sunk. I was happy I had said this, but I knew he had thoughts about how I could improve my relationship with my wife and daughter.
While our conversation was progressing, Hanna was nearby, pulling on my arm, over and over, to remind me that she wanted to go home. This was often the case when she accompanied me while I visited my friends. She had been taught good manners, but she was filled with energy, so she was often restless.
When we regained eye contact, Daniel spoke. “OK, so what you are really asking me is . . . what you can do to make things better at home. Right?’”
“OK. Fair enough. Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course, but be kind.” We laughed.
“Your daughter told me that your relationship with your wife is strained, can you tell me about that?”
I was startled by his question. “What do you mean? She has said little or nothing to you. In fact, you know that her English level is low.”
“. . . but her body language is very good—its more revealing. So again, is the relationship between you and your wife strained?”
I nodded yes, feeling both uncomfortable that this secret had been revealed and happy that I might be able to put into words the very frustrations I had been feeling. Before this day, I had never been able to express to others how I had felt in my heart. I knew this was my chance, and I knew I wouldn’t have to explain much of my life story to my friend Daniel. For he already understood.
He continued. “OK. So, I am going to ask you a question. All I want is a yes or a no. Can we agree?”
My courage grew. I knew I was ready because my heartbeat was speeding up.
“Good. Did your wife get pregnant with your daughter before you were married?”
“Yes. How did you know?” I sort of remembered telling him this, but it was a while ago.
“I thought you had made a comment about it before. Next question.” He was ready. “On a scale from 1 to 5, how do you rate your marriage today?”
“A 3 or 2.5.” I broke eye contact with him as I said this. I wanted the number to be higher, but my response was honest.
“OK. So, are you ready to raise that number to a confident 3 or perhaps a 4?”
“Yes!” My confidence surprised me.
“Did you ever have a talk with your wife about how important she is to you?”
“Huh?” A second after I made this sound, I was surprised with myself. We had had many good conversations in the past, my wife and I, but I knew I had hidden special details in my heart that I had not said to her but had really wanted to say. “Yes. But there are a few details—tell me your ideas.”
“Good answer. How would you like to have a memorable experience tonight or tomorrow? An experience of starting to achieve at least a strong 3 or 3.5 in your marriage?”
My eyes stared at an unknown target in the room. My stomach tightened. He had invited me into the place that I wanted to be, but going forward meant I would need to take a step or two, and after I followed his advice, my life would change. I felt the need to end the conversation at this point. I couldn’t help thinking that I wanted to stop my daughter’s restless behavior, and I was just given the invitation. However, I would need to put the invitation on hold. Soon, we would continue our chat in a different setting.
A few days later, we were sitting at Daniel’s house on his balcony, immersed in conversation. This time my daughter was not with me. I was happy because I needed to focus. I bit of guilt came to me as I thought about my daughter’s absence, but I shrugged it off. What was most important to me now was my relationship with my wife. Once that improved, everything else would follow.
“Our last conversation was so refreshing . . . I really want to talk about Susan again with you.”
“So, what number do you want your marriage to be?”
“I want to go to at least a 4.” My words were spoken shyly. “I’m feeling a bit . . . strange now.”
“I am feeling a bit unhappy with . . . myself.”
“That’s fine. And it’ll pass soon. The good news is these feelings have a wonderful purpose. They will guide you to a place where they will turn into joy, real happiness. Are you ready?”
I was ready. I knew what he was saying was true.
“OK, what do I need to do?”
“Tonight, when you go home and you and your wife have a few minutes of together time, you only need to tell her one thing.”
I stopped breathing, but I was still able to speak. “You mean tell her—?” I paused.
“Yes. Do not spend time preparing your speech. Speeches never work well because, when you really get into the emotions, you will forget the speech and speak from the heart anyway. All you need to do is keep your mind on the topic or subject matter.”
“So do you mean . . . I am not sure what the subject matter is!” I hadn’t been able to put it into words, but I knew, with a little help, I would be able to find the words.
Daniel noticed my mind had gone blank. “Yes you do, you know. But allow me to put it into words for you. You have felt resentful towards your wife because she often leaves you to take care of your daughter, and so you feel like a single parent because these are the behavior patterns you’ve both adopted to avoid the root of the pain. Unconsciously, she has never felt connected to you as a husband, only as a lover and father of her child. She felt used, even though she was a consensual partner when she became pregnant. When she sees you and her daughter together, she has mixed feelings.”
“Of course. But you have the power to heal it.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just listened. I felt a deep-down joy because I was finally hearing what I had been feeling for so long.
“Sam, all you need to do is go and tell her, in your own words, by letting your heart guide you, that you will do whatever is necessary to take your relationship to the place you both have wanted it since the day the negative feelings about being bad people and bad parents began to guide you. Your daughter has also picked up on it emotionally, but her ability to communicate it into words is—it’s a little too much to ask of her at this time.”
“Yes. So do I need to remember when and where that started?”
“No. This is not about remembering a specific date in the past. It’s much easier. Instead, all you need to do is tell her the truth—that she is very important to you and always has been.”
My eyes watered. My face turned bright red. I was starting to feel what I had been wanting to feel for so long. I really did, deep down, love my wife, but I had never actually told her this, in this way. I felt choked up, so I took a few seconds.
“So no long speech is needed?”
“Sam, most often saying a lot is not good. If my guess is right, she has been waiting for you to take your place in her life as her best friend and husband, not just lover and baby maker.”
After these words, I knew Daniel was right. I didn’t need a memorized speech, only to stay on topic, and that would be easy. The conversation shifted, and I stayed another 40 minutes, knowing my life was going to change when I got home. Every few minutes, I glanced at my watch. I really wanted to time the evening well. I had to guess the time she would arrive home and how long it would take for her to settle in. It was now all about the timing. As the minutes passed, so slowly, I continued to repeat the topic in my mind:
[It’s time for a change, honey. I want to hear your thoughts about how we can improve our marriage and family life. But first I want you to know that I am so happy you are my wife and I could not be happier with our daughter . . .]
Each time I got to this ending, it seemed like I had said enough. I only hoped she would agree.
The trip home took a long time. Once I walked in the door, I was pleased because my timing was good. Susan had already arrived, and she was finishing a task in the kitchen. I knew there wouldn’t be the perfect moment. Instead, I would need to create the special moment. Since our kitchen was small, I leaned on the door without entering, trying to act relaxed.
At first, she looked at me and smiled. Then she took a second look. I was just standing there, looking at her with a big smile on my face. My behavior was a bit unusual, and I knew she noticed it.
“Hi.” I spoke first.
She gave me that look that says, “Why are you acting that way?”
“What?” I made a nervous laugh.
Her eyes returned to cleaning a pot. She knew I was behaving different, but she wasn’t about to guess why.
It was my turn. “I’ve been thinking about our family.”
She looked up at me, offering her full attention.
“Well, I think we need to bring some changes, and it can start with me.”
“OK.” I heard skepticism in her voice.
At that moment, my mind went blank. I knew what I wanted to say, about one minute earlier, but my thoughts vanished.
She looked at me again, waiting for me to speak.
OK, I’ll admit it. I had practiced more than one speech on my way home, but none came. I only remembered two of the things Daniel had said to me during our talk: “Focus on one idea, and don’t try to give a memorized speech.”
“I just want to say that I think our relationship is . . . well, it needs improving. So I want to take the first step.”
She smiled, still offering her attention. By this time, she had finished cleaning. She changed her stance and looked at me with her arms crossed, covering her chest. This meant her guard was up. She was ready to listen, but she couldn’t imagine that I would have anything important to say.
As I found out in the weeks and months to come, she had often made subtle comments to me in the past, but I didn’t catch them because I had been so busy doing all the things that I thought would make things better. She had given me cues, and I had missed them.
“Thanks for your attention.” I cleared my throat. “I just want to tell you that marrying you was the best choice I ever made. I often feel like maybe you think we married because of Hanna. But even if something happened to her, God forbid, or if she had never been born, I would still have chosen you as my wife.”
I had finally said it. I wanted to add a lot of other details. But I had said it. She stared at me. No words came. I was sure I saw tears come to her eyes.
Finally, she spoke.
“Oh. Um, . . . what made you think to say this?”
Daniel was right. The words did just flow.
“Because I know I never told you this. But I have wondered what you might think, so . . .”
“Well, that’s good. I mean, I have wondered at times—“ she stopped.
“We can discuss it much more later. I don’t have a long speech. I only want to tell you that am I happy we are together, as a family.”
Susan exhaled and leaned into me with a hug and kiss. That night as we climbed into bed, I felt a new joy. There was freedom in how we talked, laughed, and held each other. Although the words were few, I felt that my life had just changed for the better. The rest of the details of that evening are just between her and me.
Hanna was in her room. She had quietly finished her homework and was also slowly drifting into a night of rest. The whole house was quiet and filled with peace. It hadn’t felt this way in a long time.
Although my journey has not ended here, it was a big first step.