marriage: an investigation

When You Can’t Yell at Your Wife Because She Won’t Hear You

They say you can never understand someone else’s marriage. But this week, New York Magazine and the Cut decided to try. We interrogated dozens of couples (and a throuple) to see what makes their marriages work — or not.

Andrew and Keri, Married 3 Years

Andrew: We both went to a summer camp in the Poconos. We were each other’s first kiss. The girls in her bunk had picked on her. She didn’t have a cochlear implant back then; she had poorly functioning hearing aids. She said I was the only boy who talked to her and she never forgot my face.

Keri: It was the end of the summer. Andy walked up to me at canteen and sat with me while I was eating my snack. He asked if I wanted to go for a walk. I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to read his lips anymore. At one point, it got pretty dark, since we were in the woods; he kept talking and saw that I wasn’t responding, so he actually walked back toward an area with some light. Then I realized he was leaning in to kiss. We both had braces. I worried we were going to get stuck. He tasted like Coca-Cola and black licorice.

Years later, I friended Andy on Facebook. I’d had a few different boyfriends and had just had a bad breakup. The man I was with never really tried to learn sign and didn’t repeat things when I asked him to. I was looking for someone who adjusted to talking slower and asked me questions instead of leading me in conversation. I thought of Andy. But I saw that he had gotten married, so I thought, Well, I guess that ship has sailed.

Andrew: I was living in Cleveland, and she was in New York.

Keri: Then one night I was out celebrating my birthday with friends, and at about 1 a.m. Andy messaged me on Facebook. I froze when I saw it. He said something like, “Happy birthday, by the way. You are so beautiful, and I just had to message you and ask you … who are you?” My heart sank. I said, “What do you mean? How do you not know who I am?” I said, “I’m deaf,” and he said, “Oh, yeah, you were my first kiss.” From that moment on, he messaged me every day. He was in the middle of his divorce, and at one point he told me he was coming to Manhattan and asked me out on a date.

Andrew: I started learning sign language before that first date. I was watching YouTube videos. I remember I showed her I learned how to sign dog and cat. When we were talking beforehand, she goes, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I really hope that I’m going to be able to understand you.” And I said, “Keri, I promise you’ll understand me.” I knew I was going to have to learn sign. Because that’s not fair to force her to read lips — it’ll exhaust her. The cochlear implant makes her tired every single day.

I remember on our second date, she’s like, “I can’t come back to the hotel with you again. I’m falling for you.” And I walked her to Penn Station and we sat outside the LIRR for an hour, like, Oh my God, are we going to be able to make this work? I was getting out of the marriage. I probably should have waited longer, but, you know, that’s not how life works out. I was so hesitant about bringing another woman to Cleveland, because part of the downfall with my ex is she was miserable in Cleveland. But Keri was like, “No, I’m coming. I’m ready to move.”

After she moved here, I basically started living with her in her apartment right away. I think we only spent one night apart, and that’s because we felt like we had to. We got married a year later. I hope I didn’t cause too much damage to my ex, but I’m kind of happy it happened, because I got to practice what it’s like to be a married man, and now I can give Keri my best self — or what I try to be my best self. I’m telling you, I’m not trying to prop up my wife, but she really is an amazing woman.

Keri: We became official quickly. On the moving day to Cleveland, Andy came down to meet me with a U-Haul to help me pack. We had seen each other in person maybe only five weekends up until that point. So that experience taught us so much, so quickly. For example, as I was bringing stuff to the U-Haul with my head turned, he would say, “Keri, Keri!” I wasn’t responding. At one point, he threw a half-eaten apple at me to get my attention and I looked at him like, Dude, really? He said he didn’t know how else to get my attention, and I told him to just wave his arms or move around or text me. I was thinking, Be patient, he’s hearing, still lots of educating to do — and also he’s a man.

Andrew: I communicate in such a more responsible way because of her deafness. It forces me to slow down my own thoughts and be really careful. I can’t just scream at her; it will have no effect. I’ve either got to sign or speak very slowly and clearly. You can say a lot less shitty things when you’re really thinking about what you’re going to say. I can’t get mad at her and turn my head. I’ve got to be looking at her.

Keri: At the beginning, when we’d fight, I wouldn’t always hear him, because when he’s angry he talks quickly. So I would say, “I have no idea what you’re saying.” He made sure to learn more signs so he could fight with me in ASL. If I have my implant on, I can tell if he’s raising his voice. If I don’t, I can see it in his face and how wide his mouth gets. In a few of our arguments, he would sign something, I would react, then I would realize the next day, Maybe he signed this wrong. So I would ask him in email, “Is this what happened?” His replies aren’t always what I want to hear, but that’s most couples, right?

*This article appears in the April 1, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

When You Can’t Yell at Your Wife Because She Won’t Hear You