ORIGINAL PUBLICATION: July 1, 2007
The simple truth is that if you want to be heard by your husband, you must speak a language he understands.
An example: A friend of mine is married to a wealthy spendthrift who used to drive like a maniac — tailgating, speeding, weaving between lanes. My friend repeatedly expressed her fear about his dangerous habits but he didn’t modify his behavior; money was the language he spoke. She gave him one final warning: slow down or else. He didn’t, so without any fanfare, she withdrew $40,000 from their bank accounts and bought herself a luxury convertible. I hear he’s a pretty safe driver now.
My husband is a lawyer, so naturally the language he best understands is that of the legal profession. For more than two decades we have enjoyed a peaceful relationship of love, respect and decency.
Until six weeks ago, that is, when I stumbled off a curb on the first day of a long-awaited vacation abroad, breaking my foot and thus ending the trip before it really began. That’s when my mild-mannered, gentle husband, with whom I’ve raised two children, the man I truly love and rely on, became someone I didn’t know: resentful, insensitive, uncaring. And his hideous behavior lasted long beyond the accident and its immediate aftermath; indeed, it continued until I figured out how to get his attention.
Neither my silent seething nor my open anger would reach him. So I, Lisa K. Friedman, being of sound mind and broken foot, turned to the language he spoke: I served him with a mock complaint, claiming Breach of Contract (our marriage contract). I drafted it myself, using all the standard conventions, as I have watched him do many times. Then I hired a legal courier to deliver it to my husband’s office, identify him and conclude with the standard assertion: “You have been served.”
What he saw when he opened the envelope went something like this:
COMES NOW, Plaintiff, Lisa K. Friedman, and for her complaint against the Defendant, her husband, states as follows:
1. The Plaintiff is a housewife whose principal role includes general household maintenance, food service, transportation and management of the domicile shared by them, their two children and one dog.
2. Her husband, the Defendant, is an attorney in Washington, D.C.
Jurisdiction and Venue
3. The Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Md., handles major criminal and civil cases including marital breach of contract complaints filed by any and all outraged wives who, after suffering vacation-ending injuries, are cruelly blamed and mistreated by their husbands.
4. On June 29, 1986, Lisa K. Friedman, heretofore known as “the Plaintiff” and her husband signed a Contract of Marriage (the “Contract”).
5. The Contract contemplated, among many clauses, that the parties will “love and comfort, in sickness and in health” for an estimated length of time described in the Contract as “as long as [they] both shall live.”
Breach of Contract
6. The Defendant breached the Contract by failing and refusing to offer aid and comfort to the Plaintiff after she stumbled off a curb in front of the hotel where the couple intended to enjoy a romantic and restful three nights before beginning their highly anticipated, hugely expensive and meticulously planned archaeological hiking tour of remote historical sites in Israel and Jordan.
The fall fractured the fifth metatarsal bone of her right foot. It is not relevant to the complaint that neither the Plaintiff nor the Defendant immediately knew that the foot was broken, despite the Plaintiff’s report that she heard a “snapping sound” when she stumbled and fell.
The Defendant dismissed this evidence of a broken bone, contending, ridiculously, that it must have been the strap on her sandal snapping. The Plaintiff did not feel the bone snap because she was consumed at the time by a white light of pain, so intense that it blotted out all other physical sensation.
Therefore, they did not find out the foot was broken until days later, when they were back in the United States, because no medical care was sought for the Plaintiff in Israel even though the next morning her foot was so swollen she could hardly distinguish her toes, and the entirety of her foot resembled an exotic purple vegetable or gourd.
7. The Defendant breached the Contract by behaving in a nasty and demeaning way toward the Plaintiff in the immediate aftermath of the accident, including but not limited to terse comments, ridicule, eye rolling and ignoring of the injured Plaintiff. He seemed, at one point, to be “almost having a stroke” (the Plaintiff’s characterization) as he contemplated the myriad disappointments associated with the untimely demise of their dream vacation. And even though the Defendant seemed to sense that his behavior toward the Plaintiff was truly awful and unforgivable, he simply couldn’t control it due to the mounting displeasure and inconvenience caused by her untimely stumble. This inconvenience included but was not limited to the Defendant’s resentment-filled two-hour search for crutches for the Plaintiff, which left him mute with frustration — for a time he was unwilling to communicate verbally with the Plaintiff in any manner about any subject.
8. The Defendant breached the Contract, and all acceptable codes of husbandly (and human) conduct, by remaining unhelpful when it came to the required purchase of airline tickets for their premature return to the United States.
At the time the Defendant could not have known that the cost of these last-minute tickets would total a staggering $6,000. But he did know that this amount would be added to the $4,000 the Plaintiff and Defendant already had paid for their original advanced-purchase tickets (secured using mileage bonus coupons) and would not include the countless thousands of dollars in nonrefundable expenses they had laid out for guides, lodging and transportation.
So perhaps it was the Defendant’s piqued awareness of this looming financial nightmare that caused him to snap at the Plaintiff about booking the tickets: “This is your problem. You take care of it.” Which the Plaintiff then did, from the hotel lobby, in her borrowed wheelchair, using a lent international cellphone (after the battery on hers had died).