My boyfriend and I had been dating about four months. Everything seemed to be going well. We liked all the same stuff. I was head-over-heels in love with him. I thought he was “the one.” But the truth was that we hadn’t really gotten down to the important questions that would determine whether or not we were meant to be together long term. So when our differences finally did begin to emerge, I would hear a little voice in my head telling me, “Is this the man I really want to spend the rest of my life with?”
I can still recall the exact moment that I first heard that little warning voice. My boyfriend and I were sitting on the tailgate of his truck, enjoying a break together from our college classes. We started talking about spending our future lives together—where we might live, the children we might have. And while I was still picturing how cute our children would be, he announced, “I wanna be hard on my kids.”
What? Who says that? I didn’t know quite what he meant by his comment, but I knew I didn’t like it. I had only known him to be a very gentle and kind guy, but at that moment, I felt that there was a side of him that I didn’t know. His harshness seemed incompatible with my tender maternal instincts. But I didn’t say anything. I only thought to myself that he really loved me, perhaps I could change his idea of being a hard on his children. I knew that we were two very different people, but I thought that our love was strong enough to overcome our differences. Turns out, it wasn’t.
Weeks rolled on, and suddenly I heard another little voice. I couldn’t dismiss it this time. I asked my boyfriend if he would be willing to give up drinking around my family. It didn’t seem like a big deal. I didn’t expect him to never have a drink again, just to put it away around my relatives. My family has a history of serious problems with alcohol abuse, and even the smell of it could threaten their hard-won sobriety.
He listened to my request, looked at me with tears in his eyes and said simply, “I can’t do that.” Not only that, but he told me that he wanted his liquor more than he wanted me. I was stunned. I never dreamed he would refuse. I loved him enough to give up anything for him, but my heart broke when he refused to give what seemed like a small thing for me. I knew that’s why he was crying—he knew this was the beginning of the end for us. At that moment, I realized it too.
Our differences were no longer little voices to me; they were fog horns. I knew I couldn’t cherish someone who wasn’t sensitive to the needs of my family, and I couldn’t respect a man that didn’t seem to value showing patience and compassion to our children. The discussion that led to our breakup was deeply painful, but I’m glad he was honest enough to admit he wouldn’t be willing to make changes for me. I couldn’t change him, nor could I force him to change for me.
Imagine how unhappy we would be if we had continued building a life together. We would probably still be nagging each other to change. I was so in love with him, I couldn’t see that he didn’t feel the same way about me. Sure, we were both considering marriage but he wasn’t planning to change in any way for me. I am convinced that love can overcome anything. But for that relationship, the willingness to fully give to the other was not mutual, so it was never going to work.
I eventually met another man who never gave me cause to hear any little voices. And now, every time I hear my husband discipline our kids with kindness in his voice, I thank my lucky stars that I listened to those little voices years ago. And every time I see my husband drink a beer, it really warms my heart because I know he will pitch it as soon as he or I think it may be a threat to our home or to those we love.
Are there things I would like to change in my husband? Sure. And I can bet you he would love to change a few about me too. But even when we do disagree, there is the effort on both our parts to compromise, to give a little and to reach a mutual understanding of each other’s needs. None of our differences are deal-breakers because he loves me as much as I love him.