Ross and Julie just had their first child, a healthy 8-pound boy. In less than two months, Julie was back within five pounds of her normal weight and had returned to work. On the surface, things couldn’t have appeared better. After all, they had every reason to be happy. But that wasn’t the case. Julie complained that she was tired all the time and demonstrated signs of post-partum depression. Meanwhile, Ross was conflicted. He felt a mixture of joy and emotional loss. He was delighted to have a son, but he resented the changes in his lifestyle. The amount of work and time the newborn required bothered Ross. Moreover, he was jealous of the constant attention Julie gave the baby, but was embarrassed to admit it.
To say the least, Ross’s experience with fatherhood was disappointing. He was incensed by Julie’s complaints and dissatisfaction . At times, he even lamented having gotten married to begin with. He wondered if he had made a mistake and if he really wanted all the responsibilities. On those occasions, he meticulously searched for Julie’s every flaw or misbehavior. He held on to any statement that could be construed as negative or rejecting. It was as though he was searching for issues that he could use to demean her and justify his dissatisfaction.
Intellectually, Ross knew, by virtue of the therapy he had already had, that “we marry who we are”. It’s a phenomena that occurs in every marriage and results in spouses holding onto and finding fault with everything they see in their partner that they can’t abide in themselves. He also understood that it was his problem and that there wasn’t anything major wrong with his wife. On the contrary, Julie was an attractive, bright, warm individual, who added a great deal to his life. Nonetheless, he found it increasingly difficult to return home every night. He couldn’t stop himself from being critical and pushing her away, physically and emotionally.
Despite his own awareness, Ross felt incapable of changing his home situation. His solution was to concentrate on work, face the problems there, solve them and feel some sense of productivity and self-sufficiency. I suggested that this behavior did not help his wife’s post- partum depression and certainly didn’t contribute to her feeling positively about their relationship or marriage. He was quick to remind me how often he had heard me say “You can’t change anyone else, you can only change yourself. Therefore, you have to look inside to see what you can do differently to resolve the problems in you.”
“That thought is still true. You can’t change someone else, but you can influence their world and their being. You can help them to either feel better and more worthwhile, or insufficient and unworthy. To illustrate, I told Ross how, five years previously, while sitting, bored, in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, I picked up an old issue of Reader’s Digest. Inside was the story of Mr. Lingo, which not only related to Ross’s problem, but seems extremely pertinent to the dilemma presently faced by men and women who compete rather than lift each other up.
A gentleman was in Indonesia on business. After his meetings were over, he decided that prior to returning home, he would fly to an island acclaimed as one of the best bonefishing spots in the world. When he arrived, he had no gear or clothing appropriate for a fishing trip. Consequently, he asked various people who was the best person to contact to help him make arrangements. In every instance, the answer was the same; “Mr. Lingo. He’s the best bonefisherman on the island. He has the best boat, the finest gear and the most fishing skill”. However, in every instance, after the individuals finished, they had a small smile on their faces. Eventually, he said to one of them “Why is it that everyone recommends Mr. Lingo, but in each case, there’s a small smile that accompanies that recommendation? I’m wondering if you’re all putting me on.” The answer was “Not at all. Mr. Lingo truly is the most knowledgeable and capable businessman and fisherman in this area. He’s tops at everything. But the reason we smile is that Mr. Lingo recently got married to a very nice woman of average beauty. However, for the firsgt time that any of us can recall, Mr. Lingo was outwitted when he bargained for his wife. He could easily have gotten her for four or five cows, but he agreed to pay twenty-four cows. Our humor reflects the small satisfaction we have in knowing that no one’s perfect, and that even the best of us can be outsmarted.”
With that assurance, the traveler set off to hire Lingo. When he arrived, he saw a very tall, muscular gentleman repairing a net. He asked “Are you Mr. Lingo?”
The man said “Yes, I am.”
“I’ve been told that you are the best bonefisherman in the area. I’d like you to arrange for my supplies and be my guide.”
At that moment, a woman walked past them. She was attractive, strode in an almost stately manner and gave off an air of royalty.
The traveler turned to Mr. Lingo and said “Is that your wife?”
Mr. Lingo nodded and said “We married several months ago.”
“I know”, the traveler responded, “everyone told me”.
“What did they say?” Mr. Lingo asked.
Hesitantly, the traveler answered “They said that she was a very fine woman, but that, in negotiating for her, you were overly generous.”
“That’s correct”, Mr. Lingo said.
“But why? You’re said to be the best negotiator in the area, and yet you paid twenty-four cows for a woman most people thought you could get for four or five. Why did you do that?”
He simply said “Because I wanted a twenty-four cow woman.”
I’ve never forgotten that story. I hope that Ross as well as all of you, won’t, either. It has a message that we all need to remember. Personally, I am chagrined to admit that, on too many occasions, I fall far short of Mr. Lingo’s behavior. My wife and I have been married for over fifty years, but I am embarrassed to think of the times that I have attempted to make her into a three or four cow woman because of my own fears, inadequacies and need to defend myself. I know that it was because of my shortcomings, not hers. I also know I am not alone in this behavior. Nor are these actions restricted to men. Too many times, I have been in groups where either a husband, a wife, or both, have seen fit to find fault, criticize, or undermine their spouse. Sometimes with humor, on occasion with anger, but most of the time without malice aforethought or conscious recognition of the hurtful nature of their behavior and the impact it had on their spouse.
Hopefully, as a result of reading this article, each of you will take the time to ask yourself this one question. “How many cow husband or wife do I want?” Then, don’t try to change that person. Change the way you treat them, and help to make them into the twenty-four cow person that each of you, similar to Mr. Lingo, wants and deserves.