Views From a Wife

About the presenter: Harriet Weiner has been married to Bernie for 26 years. They have two children, Robyn (23) and Aaron (21). Harriet has worked in the medical field for 19 years - 14 years as a Pediatric Certified Medical Assistant, and for the past five years as a Cardio-Vascular Technician, doing echocardiograms, stress testing, EKG's, Holter monitoring and stress-echo testing for several cardiologists. She has presented workshops on being the spouse of a person who stutters at several National Stuttering Project conventions.

Views From A Wife

by Harriet Weiner
from Troy, Michigan

My name is Harriet and I am married to a person who stutters (PWS). We have been married for 26 years. We were introduced by his sister, who was and still is a very good friend of mine. She used to say "you can't pick your relatives but I did." I knew Bernie stuttered before I ever met him so we did not have to contend with that . I was living with my parents and grandmother at the time. The first time Bernie called, my grandmother hung up on him three times before she knew he was on the line. Once my family met him, I don't remember any problems with them accepting him. We were engaged after our second date and the only concern my mother voiced to me was, if I was pregnant and going to the hospital to have the baby would he be able to call her on the phone and tell her.

We have been going to the National Stuttering Project (NSP) conventions for four years now and for the past two I have run a round table discussion for spouses or significant others of stutters (S.O.S.), it has been an enlightening experience for me. Some of the topics that have been raised are interesting and really made me think like, "What is the worst thing about being married to a PWS?" For me that has been not being able to help finish his sentences even when I know what he is going to say, I feel almost like I am torturing him by not helping. That has been very difficult for me.

Other things that have come up, are how you deal with children. That is something that really upset me--the fact that we never discussed dad's stuttering with our children. So last year after the convention we sat down with our children and asked them how they felt about their dad's stuttering and both our daughter (23 years old) and our son (20 years old) could not understand what we were worried about, that is just how dad talks, it's always been that way and they never knew him to talk another way--so what's the big deal anyway. Our son could not believe we go to a convention to discuss how we talk, and why people talk that way. In his words "Who cares?"

As far as having children who stutter, when our daughter was about 3 years old she tried to stutter and when she found out it was hard to talk like that she stopped talking altogether. I discussed it with our pediatrician at the time and he told me that little girls of that age think their dad is God and if he talks that way so can she. He advised us to leave her alone and see what happens. Well, after 2-3 months she started talking again and has never had a problem since -- She has now gotten her degree in early childhood development and someday hopes to own and run her own child care center.

I think our relationship has changed through the years and NSP has played a major roll in those changes. First of all we never really discussed Bernie's stuttering until that first convention. We now have more open dialogue about things that bother each other. For instance, I have a tendency to do two things at once. Bernie will be talking to me and start to stutter and close his eyes and when he opens them I'm gone -- maybe in another room, I'm still listening but I'm not still standing there. That really bothers him, so I'm working at not doing that anymore.

When we were first married I made all the phone calls, doctor appointments, reservation and such, anything that had to be done on the phone, but, now that has changed. He still may stutter on the phone but now he doesn't care and does it anyway. For instance, for the first time since we have been married, Bernie made reservation to take me out to dinner for my birthday--this was a big step for him.

Another topic that came up at my round table discussion was, "How do you argue with a PWS?" Well, every relationship is different whether you stutter or not. Some people yell and scream, others can't talk at all when they are angry, some people carry a grudge, others blow up and then it's over. Whether you stutter or not doesn't matter.

There are still things that I don't understand about stuttering, like why do people stutter when ordering in restaurants, and if stuttering is caused by a brain dysfunction then why is it that most people who stutter come from dysfunctional families. Also, how is it possible to be a "closet" stutterer ? If you can control your stutter sometimes why not all the time?

I have the utmost respect for people who work so hard at therapy. If I had to concentrate on how I was breathing, and where my tongue was, and how to pronounce every word, I would not be able to remember what it was I wanted to say.

There has been some discussion lately about just how much involvement from spouses is necessary or appreciated. This too is an individual thing. I have heard it said that "Stuttering is my spouse's problem, let him deal with it." I have also heard from the PWS, "I need to do this on my own." For me personally, I can't imagine not sharing this aspect of my spouse's life.

I hope what I've said here is of some help to persons in this same kind of relationship. If I had my life to live over again I wouldn't change a thing!

August 21, 1998