{The benefit of the} Doubt in marriage

A made-up sport for which I would require both helmet and safety goggles? Not exactly the first impression I’m going for.

The husband: Look, people play Quidditch on the National Mall!
Me: Haha, that’s funny.
The husband: You should join the group!
Me: Why? I’m not a big fat nerd.
The husband: But you’re a big fat reading nerd!
Me: <stares>
The husband: Ummm.
Me: <stares>
The husband: I meant you’re a cute little sexy librarian who loves reading.
Me: That’s not the same as big fat anything.
The husband: Are you laughing or crying?
Me: I can’t decide.

A bit of history: The mom has described my childhood build as ‘dense’ and I was always a rock star goalie in elementary school gym class. My favorite sport is biking because you get to do it sitting down. I’m definitely not skinny but I’m also not big or fat by any stretch of the spandex imagination. In every possible way I am physically average. Medium. Middle. Within the margin of error.

But after a few days of talking to strangers, freezing in the shoebox, being rejected by automatically generated emails, and waiting to hear from A Certain Organization that said they would be in touch by yesterday (yes, I followed up–no response), my waning optimism ran out and all I heard was that the husband called this dense child-goalie big and fat and a nerd.

Which, of course, he had not done at all.

While the words that jumped out at me were ‘big fat,’ what the husband meant to emphasize was ‘reading,’ knowing what a Harry Potter fan and, for now, friendless newbie I am. His suggestion that I join a group of devil-may-care literary sports fanatics in a made-up contact sport from a make-believe world in full view of God and country was intended in my best interest.

A good spouse intends everything in the other one’s best interest, though any marriage comes with its share of slip-ups. Extending the benefit of the doubt in those cases is not only good for the marriage, it’s good for each spouse, the one who tripped and the one who has to decide on a response.

‘I’m so offended’ is a phrase used and abused, and by my generation in particular. To be offended is to selfishly deny someone the benefit of the doubt, and if there’s a relationship that always requires the assumption that the other person has your back, its marriage.

The word ‘offended’ should really be eliminated from matrimonial discourse. Why? Because when you’re offended by something the other person has said or done, you have decided that the other person doesn’t have your best interest at heart  and in fact just said or did that thing to get to you on purpose. Being offended is about you and what you assume someone else meant. Being married is about living with someone who accidentally calls you a big fat something-or-other and feels worse about it than you ever could.

Extending the benefit of the doubt to a spouse is not always the first reaction, but it’s always the best one. Of course I know the husband loves me the way I am and treads carefully when it comes to stereotypically sensitive issues. Of course I know he wants me to have friends and that he understands how important reading is to me. Of course he doesn’t think I’m big and fat, though he was right about the nerd part.

Before publishing, I offered the husband the chance to change things in this post. If I can’t explain my point then he comes out looking like a mega turd and it’s only fair that he has the chance to defend himself or approve the potential aspersions being cast on his good name. He declined the proffered post, saying via Gmail chat:

u dont have to
i trust u, i love you
and u dont hurt those u love on purpose
so i trust u

Thus, in less than 25 words the husband summed up my whole point: You don’t hurt on purpose the ones you love. A good husband or wife assumes you, too, are a good husband or wife and extends the benefit of the doubt for no other reason than that. A solid marriage is one in which the other person always has your back and would never stab you in it.

And I’m thankful for mine, but I’m still not going to play National Mall Quidditch, thanks.


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