, Port Arthur, Texas


September 12, 2012

Something you want? Just speak up

“Shoulda”, woulda,  coulda … my ex-husband is in the trunk”. That’s an expression I learned from my dear friend, Virginia.  An older and wiser next-door neighbor, she was my sounding board through early marriage struggles.  The two of us laughed every time she uttered the phrase even though neither one knew what it meant. However, as is the case with old adages, there was truth buried in it. The part that resonated loudest for me was “shoulda”.

As in, “I shoulda spoken up sooner”.  Last night, my six girlfriends and I went to see “Hope Springs”. It’s a heavy movie about an older married couple mired in a deep rut. Both husband and wife know they have settled into mediocrity, but he is content to accept status quo while she longs for a “real marriage”. The conflict begins when she signs them up for a week of intensive therapy. It’s a common scenario and veteran couples can relate to it. It sure struck a chord with us.

In the movie, the repeated kitchen scene was my favorite.  He walks in dressed for his day at the office, drapes his jacket over the chair, places his briefcase on the table and plops down in his chair. His dutiful wife puts the same plate of fried cholesterol in front of him within moments of his arrival every morning. The film maker’s message was clear.  Their marriage was monotonous.  I got that, but it triggered a question. Did that scene reflect a rut or a ritual?

Watching the characters plod through their uninspired life together, I realized something.  It’s not the sameness that takes us down. Routine can serve married life like backbone serves the body. It holds the whole thing together.  Doing the same thing over and over can provide a comfort.  A snuggly coat on a wintry day.  It’s not routine that sours relationships. It’s those expectations left unspoken.

When my sister, Candy, was in high school, she had a serious boyfriend. Like most serious boyfriends, he hung around our house a lot. In his frequent visits, he noticed that Candy had to fight for a turn under the family hairdryer. Five sisters wearing giant brush rollers waited in line for that plastic bonnet and hose contraption every Friday afternoon. So many wet heads made getting to that night’s football game before the kickoff a real challenge.

He marched right over to Sears and bought her a hair dryer for Christmas. I watched him present it, a big smile on his face. She ripped off the wrapping paper and burst into tears. He knew he had disappointed her but she never admitted wanting a charm bracelet instead. I found her reaction confusing.  Why didn’t she just reveal her heart’s desire?

After getting married, I asked myself the same question. Why don’t I just say what I want? It’s like we expect loved ones to read our minds. When you live under the same roof, sleep in the same bed and breathe the same air, one might think your spouse knows you well enough to do and say all the right things. That was me. For some reason, I expected romance to rain on my marriage like April showers on spring flowers.

But men are from Mars and women are from Venus, remember? So what have I learned in 35 years?  If I decide I want something or to go somewhere he isn’t interested in going, I simply say: I really want to go to this. Will you go with me? He rarely says no to requests phrased in this language because I use this code sparingly. An interesting thing happened when I started speaking up for what I really wanted. I started getting a lot more of it.

I don’t want a mind reader for a husband. I want a husband who listens and cares. Isn’t that what everybody wants in a relationship? But more than that, I want to be a better listener. I’m betting that if couples learn to speak up and tune in to each other, romance will naturally follow.  

At least, it’s worth talking about.

Donia Caspersen Crouch was raised in Southeast Texas and lives in Austin. Contact her at

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