I talk about my husband a lot. In person. On social media. To random people at the grocery store. And the things I say about him are 99% positive. It's rarer than rare that I have complaints about him and even then, I pretty much only share those details with a dear friend. In part, I talk well of him because he deserves it. He's an incredible person, the best kind of friend, a dutiful and tender father to our children, a patient, loving, devoted, and selfless spouse. He deserves to be spoken well of. But it's not the only reason I talk about him this way.
In the early years of our marriage, I didn't speak poorly of my husband, but I didn't sing his praises. In public, I was brusque with him. Distant. I joked with him and gave him a hard time in front of others. I didn't really realize I was doing it until one day, my little brother's best friend said of me, "She's the meanest wife, I swear."
It floored me. I had no idea how I'd given that impression. I adored my husband. He was everything to me. How could he think that?
My husband used to travel for work. One time, after he'd been gone for two-weeks, I mentioned at church how while he was gone, I'd told myself, "I could so be a single mom. Look how much I got done! We did fine on our own." And then my husband came home.
And I realized that not only could I not hack life as a single mom, I couldn't handle being separated from my husband for long at all! (*Note* You single & working moms are amazing. I am humbled by all you do.) When he came back, I realized that he'd left a gaping hole in our family, physically and emotionally. We were not whole without him. So I mentioned this realization at church (which totally embarrassed my husband because I was all weepy and shiz). Afterward, a woman who knew me came up to me and said, "I was so glad to hear what you said about your husband because sometimes it seems like you don't like him much."
Again, I was devastated to hear it. I went home, pulled my husband into our bedroom and asked him, "Am I mean to you? In front of other people? Do you feel like I don't show my love for you?"
With a soft, little smile he said, "No, you're not mean to me, and no, I don't feel like you don't love me." So I told him what people had said and he replied, "Sweetheart, I know how you feel about me. I know how much you love me. I also know that when we're around other people, you wear a very careful mask. You protect yourself."
And he was right. Where I came from, showing any kind of tender, soft emotion was deadly. If you did, you were sappy and weak and just asking for someone to rip open your soft underbelly. (As we've aged, it's gotten much better.) And the few times I had been vulnerable and open with people, I got burned so badly I had vowed to never open myself up to others again.
But my husband—he had never burned me. Ever. He had always been my safe haven, long before we were married. He'd never done anything but love me, shelter me, encourage me, and make me laugh. And the idea that other people couldn't see how smitten I was with him was just wrong—mask or no.
Since that day, I have worked tirelessly to change my behavior where he's concerned. I sing his praises all day long. I hug him, kiss him—Eskimo kiss him—as often as I can manage. It doesn't stem from some desire to put on a pretty face for the world. It isn't so my life can look "picture perfect" to other people. It's simply because I cannot bear the idea that my love and appreciation for my husband could ever be misconstrued as anything other than what it truly is: outright adoration.
This has led to some uncomfortable situations. I've had people I know tell me, "Not everyone has what you have, Laura." And sometimes when I've said something in front of other couples about how awesome my husband is or how sexy he is or how I just freaking LOVE THAT MAN, I've gotten other husbands in trouble because they say to their wives, "Why don't you ever say things like that about me?" (*Note to husbands* Don't ever do that. Ever. You're just asking for couch-sleepy-time.) And I've worried that it just sounds like I'm bragging—even though I'm really not.
I mentioned this to my grandmother once—who I probably have the closest relationship with outside of my husband—because I worried if maybe I ought to stop or tone it down a bit. And she told me, "Laurie, don't you ever stop praising that man. He is a jewel. There aren't men like him in the world and there are women around the world who would give anything to have a man like that." And she knows what she's talking about. When I expressed concern about offending those other women, her answer was simply this: "Have compassion for those who don't have what you've got. But don't be ashamed of it and don't hide it because it's a gift. To you. To your children. To other people who are happier by seeing you happy."
There are still sides of me that only my husband sees. I still wear a careful mask but the expression on it has changed. I don't hold back when it comes to extolling his virtues or being grateful for all he does for me and even though I know some people mistake that for wanton braggery, I refuse to hide that love away. And I've seen good come from it. I've seen other couples emulate some of the things we do. (Like write love notes everywhere around the house.) I've seen people smile. I see it in the faces of my children.
At my grandfather's funeral, my dad said, "The best thing my father ever did for me was to love my mother." And no one could accuse my dad of not following in his dad's footsteps. His adoration for my mom taught me to want nothing less. And if my kids watch my husband and me and make themselves a similar promise, I can only see good fruit grow out of that.
It's been eight years since I decided to change my behavior toward my husband. And I know I've changed. At a book signing in November, a friend told me, "You know one of the things I just love about you? How much you love your husband. I've never heard you say a bad word about him."
I hear that a lot, now. And it is one of the best compliments I've ever been paid.