TIME relationships

How an Insensitive Jerk Saved My Marriage

Troels Graugaard—Getty Images

Never ask a woman if she's pregnant—or forget to tell your wife she's beautiful.

“Oh, you’re pregnant again!?” one of my wife’s colleagues (who does not work with her on a daily basis) asked. Upon seeing her reaction, he tried to backtrack. But the damage was done. Allie hid in her office for most of the day and refused to eat even one of the delectable Munchkins sitting, so temptingly, in the kitchen down the hall.

Someone called my wife fat. It made her upset. That makes me upset. When she told me, I wanted to kick that dude’s ass!

Everyone knows: You don’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant! EVER!!! Not unless you’re her gynecologist and you see her crowning. And, even then… try to get her to mention it first.

Allie is not fat. Maybe she didn’t lose all of the baby weight from our second child, but she is not fat. She is, however, self-conscious about her weight.

She works long hours, and would rather spend her time off with our kids than at the gym. She did not grow up with the healthiest or most diverse diet, but she tries to eat right. Easier said than done, since she usually just takes a quick lunch at her desk. Allie doesn’t drink alcohol. So when she’s stressed or depressed, she has a tendency to turn to food. (We all have our vices.)

Believe it or not, Allie wanted me to write this article. Not for her, but for our children, especially our little girl and the body-image issues she may have to face as she grows up. Penny is undeniably beautiful, which she hears all the time from strangers and relatives alike. Allie and I are not immune from letting her know pretty she looks, but we also tell her how funny and intelligent she is. We make sure to heap on the praise when she tries something new or really puts effort into accomplishing a goal (especially after she has suffered setbacks). Penny has so many amazing attributes.

I want her to be aware of, appreciate, and improve on everything that makes her unique. I want so many things for her! I want her to have high self-esteem and know that she can get things done when she sticks to them… I want her to feel beautiful all the time, no matter what other people think… I want her to know her jokes are funny, even if no one else is laughing… I want her to be kind, even when no one notices… I would rather she be healthy than thin… I want her to know she is awesome.

As I write this list, I am no longer sure if I’m talking about my daughter or my wife. For Penny, I want these things in the future. For Allie, I want them right now.

This article is probably not the one my wife expected. It is not about our children, it’s about her. And it’s about me.

If Allie’s self-esteem were higher, she would not have given a second thought to what that jerk said. Truth is, he wasn’t trying to be mean. He just said something really, really stupid.

My wife is awesome. (Where do you think our kids get it from?) If she were looking from the outside, she would see it with undeniable clarity. She always finds the best in people, including me. I’ve suffered my own bouts of low self-esteem and depression, and she helped me (continues to help me) battle my demons. It can be difficult to see the best in ourselves, especially when the fog of depression clouds our vision. We all need a little reminding, sometimes.

As her husband and best friend, I was failing my wife. I wasn’t reminding her enough. I wasn’t making her feel special. She was vulnerable (in addition to the weight, she has also had some hair loss), and I wasn’t providing the support she required.

She is still beautiful. But I forgot to tell her, when that is what she needed to hear.

I never said anything to actively insult my wife, but my passivity was more detrimental to her self-esteem than anything anyone could say. It became a downward spiral. Allie would feel bad about her weight or her hair, and I would shrink further from my husbandly responsibilities. I just didn’t feel like dealing with. It was too much for me. I was stressed, too. I wanted my cool, fun wife back! I’m the one with issues. I’m supposed to be able to lean on her… she’s the strong one!

That guy who made the dumb comment about Allie didn’t need a kick in the ass. I did.

Like the Stones said, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes…you get what you need.” I didn’t want to get into a big fight with Allie. I didn’t even understand how it happened or really what it was about, not at the time anyway. She was upset because I was ignoring her. I had excuses and tried to pretend that her accusations weren’t true. But I knew she was right. I was being inconsiderate, in that I was literally not considering her feelings and needs.

I’m trying to be better.

I’ve seen the changes in her. She’s been smiling more lately. She started exercising. Hell, even her hair has been growing back. I feel like I have my wife again. It’s fantastic! She still gets into occasional funks, but I’m there for her.

All of us could use a little help sometimes. My wife needed me to be there for her, like I’ve needed her so often in the past.

We focus so much of our attention on our children, guiding them to become the people we know they can be. Their personalities and self-esteem, however, are formed in those moments when we’re not looking and they are. Children see, hear, and sense much more than we realize. Our kids need us, and more specifically, need us to be there for each other.

And that dude who asked if my wife was pregnant? Maybe I should thank him for making me understand that I was being an insensitive jerk. But what he needs is to just shut up for a while.

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