Sometimes birth order can influence us a great deal and bring yet another challenge to marriage. I was probably about ten years into it before it occurred to me that this dynamic was going on, too. Hubby and I are extreme examples of birth order, I am the oldest from a very dysfunctional family, while he is one of the youngest of a big family, 15 brothers and sisters.
There’s a saying, “I’m the oldest, I make the rules, I’m in the middle I’m the reason we have the rules, and I’m the youngest, the rules don’t apply to me.”
There’s some real truth hidden in that little cliche. Being the oldest I make the rules. Hubby being the youngest, simply assumes the rules don’t apply to him. He had 9 sisters too, so he already honed and refined his skills, long before I met him, and become and absolute expert at it. Impervious, I tell you.
I really started to catch on when my son was a little boy and he just wasn’t talking much. Part of the problem was that he didn’t have to, he had 3 sisters and two parents who would anticipate his needs and respond to them before he even said a word. So began the process of pointing out to him, “use your words.”
This went over like a ton of bricks, but it went over even worse when I started saying it to hubby. He would never actually ask for anything, he would just rattle his coffee cup on the table and look at me expectantly. “Use your words,” I’d snap.
Hubby really didn’t believe he needed to use words to communicate and people around him were simply supposed to psychically discern what he wanted or needed. Being the oldest I had some of those psychic skills, but it wasn’t a particularly healthy dynamic. He’d get annoyed when my antenna weren’t working and I couldn’t read his mind and I’d get resentful that he’d even expect such a thing.
It felt so arrogant, demanding…..bratty like the youngest child often is. And then it dawned on me, that’s exactly what was happening, I was engaging with him like a big sister trying to respond to the youngest child. In truth, hubby isn’t arrogant or demanding at all, but those were the feelings I projected onto him, that was the communication gap we got stuck in for a while.
While it was clearly hubby’s behavior that was the root of the problem, I had no idea how resentful I was about having been the oldest child, about the feelings I still had around being forced to run about putting out fires I couldn’t control. Those were the feelings hubby’s behavior tapped into and they actually had nothing to do with “us” so to speak, with our marriage. They were remnants from the past.
Sometimes in marriage, people don’t need to change their behavior, we just need to change how we perceive their behavior.
Today hubby uses a lot more words, his expectations of those around him are lower, and his awareness is much better, but he still rattles that coffee cup and looks about expectantly without saying a word. It doesn’t feel bad anymore however, it feels kind of cute, familiar, and sometime we will catch one another’s eye with a bit of good humor. He knows what he is doing, I know what he is doing, but it is okay now.
Often when I look back on marriage, I cannot help but see the miracle written into our rather ordinary lives, the huge obstacles that were in our path, the hurdles we have somehow managed to scale. God has been very faithful and kind. He has caused seeds to sprout in what appeared to be unfertile ground, He has brought forth fruit in what should have been a desert, and in the process He has made me believe in fairy tales again. Perhaps the kind of fairy tales that are a bit rough around the edges, but all the more real because of it.