Transformations of Influence

I have a really great husband. He’s much more that I ever thought I could ask for. We seem like a perfect match in so many ways: similar tastes, likes & dislikes, and we see eye to eye most of the time. But he is brilliant, persuasive, witty, and confident. And I’m a pretty agreeable person in general. I don’t really like the limelight, am generally non-confrontational. Most of the time, I don’t feel comfortable persuading others to change their minds. That’s not to say my blood doesn’t boil over certain issues, but unlike my husband, I don’t usually bring up the issues and assert my opinions. Like so many other couples, we are similar yet different.

But over the last few years, as we went through some important changes together, there was a slight pricking—something began to trouble me. I would often hear myself in conversations with other adults bearing a faint echo to something my husband said to me the other day. And I started realizing how immensely influenced I was by him. How much of what I read and thought about was a direct result of his interests and pursuits? Was it merely a combination of our already similar views plus our individual personality traits? Or, I would often wonder, do I really have my own voice? My own opinions? My own arguments? Was I just floating along because I didn’t have the time as a mother of a toddler and infant to do my own pursuing and thinking about religious doctrine, current events, philosophy, and politics? Or had I begun to lose part of myself before I even had children?

It was about this time that I began reading The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan for a book group. And I found certain parts of the first chapter, “The Problem That Has No Name,” resonating deeply with my internal struggle. But I didn’t want to take any extreme steps in resolving the issue—which might have involved purposely deciding not to agree with my husband on so many things, or breaking myself off entirely from my marriage. I play the “what if” game once in a while: Who would I be if I had married someone different? Who would I be if I hadn’t married at all?

For me, talking to my husband is like going to an entertaining movie or shopping in a really nice store. I’m agreeable. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I like to like things. So when I see a movie or hear a captivating speaker or go into Nordstrom’s, I am more likely to feel like everything is great. I am easily persuaded and manipulated. When I finally leave with some stylish jeans or a buoyant spirit, I begin to process what has just happened and then I can think more clearly and more critically. These days, I am definitely more conscious of acknowledging my own position (if only internally) and whether it differs from someone else’s. I am trying to be more outspoken about my differences with others in general. And sometimes, I just need to leave the store, exit the movie theater, step back, and remind myself to process things a bit more, and not to lean so heavily on my husband and other strong thinkers around me.

I sometimes wonder (maybe unfairly) what I would think about many important things without having spent the last ten years with this strong, smart, man with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I know we tend to be heavily influenced by the people with which we surround ourselves. And when I look at myself and my values and my life, I would say I’m a pretty good person. So far, I like who I am and what I’ve become.

So, what about you? How do the dynamics in your own close relationships affect how you think about big life issues? Do you reflect back on how you have changed due to the influence of individuals in your life? Or on how you might have been different?

Brooke

I am a children's librarian. I have 2 kids. I have a professor for a husband. I obsess about writing and about making things.

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  1. Dora says:

    Thanks for posting on this, Brooke.

    I think that for most of my life I’ve been a very assenting, as opposed to assertive, person. And that’s not to say that I’m not judgemental, because I definitely can be. But I just like to hear all sides of the argument, and can find some way to sympathize with most of them. And it’s hard to argue with someone when I sympathize with them.

    And I’ve often wondered if this was due to my innate personality, or the fact that I’m a woman, or a desire to be liked, or a general desire for harmony, etc etc.

    But more recently, I’ve found that harmony doesn’t have to exist in a vacuum. I’ve been able to vocally disagree, most of the time politely, with others, and it’s made life much more interesting. Now, instead of always trying to sympathize with others, I’m also able to make others sympathize with me. It’s so much easier when both sides are trying. Maybe some day I’ll be able to talk politics with the men in my family …

  2. a spectator says:

    I love to talk with people and to hear their opinions and reasoning. I also love to share my own opinions. I have no problem disagreeing with people–it does not make me like them less to have different ideas, in fact it makes things interesting–but I sometimes forget that it makes other people uncomfortable.

    Perhaps it is telling that, more often than echoing what other people have said to me, I tend to repeat myself to person after person. Maybe I like my own opinions a little too much….

  3. Caroline says:

    Brooke, I think my marriage was a bit like yours in the early years. I really, really admired Mike and thought he knew everything, particularly about church things.

    But things started to shift 4 or 5 years ago. I started to become more progressive and question more things. And read more. And I started to realize that his opinions were no more valid than mine.

    So now we rarely agree on anything political, religious, or social. Sometimes that dynamic is difficult because we often avoid interesting topics because we know it might lead to contention. But sometimes – and these are the best – we can have really invigorating, respectful discussions about our diverse ideas. I’m hoping that as we get older, we’ll learn how to avoid the contention and just enjoy each other’s perspective.

  4. Deborah says:

    “How much of what I read and thought about was a direct result of his interests and pursuits? . . . Do you reflect back on how you have changed due to the influence of individuals in your life?”

    Absolutely. I think about this issue extensively, and sometimes my husband and I try to catalogue how we have changed during our years together — because of the other. But it’s a nearly impossible task. I know that I am less fearfu, and less afraid of conflict now than I used to be. And he often talks about the way I’ve “softened” him, especially in regards to work conflicts. But would that have been a natural evolution for each of us, anyway?

    In “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” we observe two of Janie’s marriages up close. In her 20-year marriage to Jody, she becomes progressively passive and yet somehow retains the spark of her soul. She consciously splits into and “inside Janie” and “outside Janie” to preserve herself. Her subsequent love affair with Teacake seems to reawaken her to her “true self” — but it is a self that we have never fully seen before. It just feels like “her.” As I’ve changed during marriage, I’ve wondered which of these changes have brought me closer to who my soul wants to be, further away, or if some are just neutral changes that are bound to happen due to proximity (e.g. diet habits that are influenced by his food choices).

  5. Brooke says:

    Thanks for your responses, everyone. I really appreciate your thoughts. Deborah, I love how you and your husband sometimes catalogue the ways you’ve changed because of each other. It reminded me that I meant to include this in my post:

    When my husband read an earlier draft of this post, he pointed out that these transformations of influence happen both ways—that in fact he has changed in dramatic and intellectual ways that he would not have if he had married someone more orthodox and spiritually critical.

    I also wonder what sort of changes might have occurred no matter who I surrounded myself with. And whenever I step back to evaluate myself, my changes, my progress, I’m constantly wondering if I am becoming “who my soul wants to be.”

  6. alise says:

    Loved this Brooke! I have been struggling for years with “intellectual laziness.” It’s not that I don’t want to think critically about important issues, or have provocative discussions with people. But when I perceive a discussion coming on that is going to require more energy than lazing on a beach contemplating cloud cover, I suddenly want to crawl into my warm cozy bed and sleep. I love my husband for forcing me out of this slump, with his self-professed atheism, and my fervent belief and faith in God and Jesus Christ and commitment to the LDS faith. I find myself wanting to have more carefully thought out, mature conversations about our feelings and thoughts, and I find our differences in religious thinking and spirituality exciting and interesting–which has spurred a desire to read and study more so that I can have meaningful conversations with him. I too am starting not to worry so much about appeasing others, and so am trying to speak up more (in a non-confrontational manner) as I am more comfortable with my opinions. I am realizing that as time is going by, that I really want to get more actively involved in shaping who I am by who I surround myself with, what I read, watch, and do. I can really relate to Dora, I am pretty accepting of others, and in fact, really enjoy striking differences in people. I like to think that I can really get along with almost anyone–something I like about myself. My friend Jen is a great example. She asserts her opinions lovingly and is still accepting and understanding of others. I really admire this about her personality. Thanks for your thoughts and insights!

  7. Kiri Close says:

    LOL!

    Ya know, when I’m most honest about this issue, I have to admit that i couldn’t see myself with an LDS guy because his (meaning all LDS guys that i dated or scoped out) language in our conversations demanded that I follow his thinking. So, I married Rob, nonLDS.

    Not because he was nonLDS, but because he was Rob. Ideally, the only ideas of his that deeply influence me is:

    1)when he isn’t talking but listening
    2)his humor
    3)his sharp edged thinking and gathering of current events
    4)his ecclectic taste in indie music
    5)his love & questioning of Jesus and God

    well, that’s about it (outta the important stuff).

    I am still very much my own thinker (or UNthinker I prefer) and person independent of Rob.

    Because I never hurt his ego (he does remind me that i challenge him, and that no one but me has made him happier or most angry @ a drop of hat), and he never sees me as a threat to his penis, I married him.

    My outspokenness & love for criticality is never an issue for him. If anything, my brain and fierce sociality are sexy to him (other than my very bushy-kinky hair in the morning amongst other unlikely things–weird man).

    i find that i am myself over-magnified once melded with Rob in marriage.

    it’s nice & messy & genuine & natural here for me :o)

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