woman standing on wooden bridge over water

Like A Bridge Over Troubled Waters...

I had many ideas stewing for a new blog post, and perhaps my deadline tardiness is due in part to indecision… however one reoccurring theme in my married life rose to the surface, and I figured it would be appropriate for Father’s Day, although it pertains to “days” spent with men in general.

I’ve spent a good chunk of time in recent months re-evaluating how I view my partnership and my role as a wife, and I’ve made a profound personal breakthrough.

I wouldn’t normally blog about a personal matter like this, but because my last personal blog about domestic violence was helpful to other women, I felt these ruminations needed to be shared as well.
Why?
Because many, many couples are suffering from the same issues – I hear the complaints all the time – but the answers are seldom clear.

I titled this, “Things I Wish We’d Learned in Marriage Class”, although Joe and I never attended one. My first ex-husband and I did, as a pre-requisite for having the ceremony performed by my family’s Methodist pastor.
The only lesson I recall was the importance of being in agreement on key issues, like disciplining children and saving money. However, it’s relatively simple to discuss your position on things, and even to agree with each other on paper… but putting words into practice is another story altogether. And what happens when your responsibilities shift unexpectedly?

Joe and I were great friends who also shared a mutual attraction for each other… the fact that our relationship and our marriage has lasted longer than any previous relationship of mine speaks volumes about our “agreeableness”, as I’ve been told countless times that I’m a “difficult” person to live with. heh.

I know that I’m moody, sarcastic, and apparently selfish; I recognize these failings in myself. I can also be extremely loving and lavish attention on others, which only makes the extreme reverse – my cold shoulder days – even more difficult for people to bear.
But Joe is like a cactus, able to soak up the attention when he receives it and go for weeks without complaint when I take his presence for granted…. to the point where he gives me a puzzled look,
“You take me for granted? I haven’t noticed.” when I attempt to apologize.
Like the cactus viewing the watering can… “Is it that time again?”

We never fight, rarely disagree, and I feel confident that he’d do anything I asked… however, for the past few months, I’ve been the one feeling neglected and under-appreciated – due to the fact that he rarely helps out around the house unless I request specific help.
Which I hate to do, as it feels like nagging, even when I’m being patient.

Without going into any boring details, rest assured he wasn’t always the type who spent 14 hours of each workday sleeping and vegetating in front of the TV.
When we both worked full-time outside the house, he would clean, do laundry, and cook like a champ, and I always encouraged him with compliments (because he cleaned very thoroughly, like those commercials where the room “sparkles” with special-effects lighting). Hmmmm, perhaps it was special-effects lighting that he installed into our former apartment… 😉

When I was pregnant and suffering from all-day sickness, he even took over my share of chores and kept a careful record of the foods and smells that disagreed with me. Knowing I craved pumpkin pie, he learned to bake it and stocked the cupboards with pie mix, as well as pumpkin bread and pumpkin flavored ice-cream. Fortunately, Mia was born during the pumpkin season, so Joe really “hooked me up”. 🙂

Things took a dramatic turn when I made the decision to stay home and care for our family. Suddenly “the house” was my territory and he left it completely in my capable hands.
I had been hoping to moonlight as an artist, but that dream became a literal reality as the kids grew older (and their napping schedules shifted)… I was forced to work on my projects “after hours” and would drag myself to bed at 2:00-3:00AM, only to be roused again at 6:30-7:00AM to start the day again. As Joe blissfully snored in bed, until the clock told him that any further procrastination would make him late for work.

In the last few months, I haven’t been able to find large blocks of time during the day to work on my business… and my 8-year-old makes an ineffective babysitter, although she tries her best. Bless her heart, but I wind up cleaning up Her messes as often as the younger kids’.

So I mentioned my frustrations to him, but in a general way, and his sympathetic response was this:
“They have to understand – [they, meaning, my customers and fans] – that with a family care for, you don’t have as much time on your hands as single people do.”

Um… that totally misses the real point, which is – if I can’t keep this thing afloat, I might as well hand my customers over to the competitors who CAN handle it. What I really wanted was for him to acknowledge that what I do is important, and chipping in with household chores in the evening would allow me to focus on my work.

I began to hold a grudge whenever he escaped to our room in the evenings to watch a Netflix movie (“in peace and quiet”) while I washed the dinner dishes, with kids squealing at my feet….
When he slept in late each morning, even on his days off, while I dragged myself out of bed groggily, because the kids were downstairs wrecking the living room – their batteries fully charged.
I brewed the coffee and told myself, “At least I’ll get a head start on e-mails.” Yeah. I wanted to push him out of bed and hog the pillows for myself.
So, if the kids ran upstairs – screaming and laughing – and pounced upon Daddy’s head, did I stop them?
Did I say, “Let Daddy sleep. He’s tired.” ??
Bwahahaha! Of course not! I relished it when he grumbled and pulled on a shirt.

These little “paybacks” turned into a series of small snowballs, being thrown back and forth, as we tried to sabotage each other’s efforts to escape from the burden.
He would walk away from a pile of dishes in the sink… and I’d leave his clothes damp in the washing machine… and he would leave the gas tank on empty (when I needed the car next)… and I would forget the milk on my grocery trip and make him run out and buy some, and he ignored this … and I refused to do that… and so on and so forth. Waging silent warfare that neither of us would ever admit to participating in. Not consciously.

It’s shallow and cowardly, and worse, the snowball fight escalates until both partners can no longer remember how it started… but both are left feeling neglected and under-appreciated.

Our selfish nature naturally wants to cast blame on the other partner – “They started it!” – We want to be the innocent victims.
You hear it all the time from co-workers and friends, and many divorces have been based upon less:
“My wife doesn’t do anything at all; the house is a wreck, and she’s watching TV.”
“My husband is a complete idiot; if you give him $100 for groceries, he’ll come home with junk food and nothing for dinner.”
“He doesn’t know how to operate a dryer.”
“She can’t cook to save her life… if it can’t be heated for 3 minutes on High.”

The key ingredient behind the majority of marital complaints, however, is self-absorption. John F. Kennedy’s famed speech “Ask not what your country can do for you…” applies equally well in a partnership.
It isn’t about you; it’s about your partner. And yes, I know how much this concept utterly smacks of religious doctrine “Submitting to your husband” and all that jazz… but if both partners are equally commited to putting each other first, just imagine how strong their relationship would grow.

Please don’t ever begin a heart-to-heart talk with, “When you do such-and-such, it really makes me feel unloved…” even if a quack counselor told you to “focus on your feelings”.
This is a typical approach for passive people, but it is accusatory nonetheless. Your partner, backed into an emotional corner, will have no choice but to become defensive and make excuses. Or withdraw.

Instead, simply step into your partner’s shoes first. Feel what they are feeling, and ask yourself, “What do they need, or want, in order to be happy here at home.” It goes much deeper than an afternoon of watching Oprah, although relaxation and quiet time will probably factor high on their list.

We need to discover what our partners really want and need from us.

I read an interesting book a few years ago, called “The Five Love Languages” that discusses how each person views acts of love differently. Our duty is to love our partners the way they want to be loved, which is not necessarily the way we would like to be loved ourselves.
Some people place a higher value on time spent together, some on household chores (making life easier), some are looking for flowery words and compliments, and still others crave tangible gifts. If we aren’t displaying the kind of love that speaks to our partners, all the romantic words and poetic gestures in the world will be lost on them.
Over time these values will also change; when I first read the book, “quality time together” and physical intimacy ranked high for me – that was before Mia and Jake were born, and now I’d much rather have Joe take the kids outside to play for a couple of hours, so I can catch a break from family drama and work on personal projects.

I highly recommend the book, although be forewarned that its author – Gary Chapman – is a pastor, so there are many spiritual references as well. If you assume it won’t be your style, it can’t hurt to give it a try anyway, because the real meat of his book (the way in which we communicate to our spouse) is so enriching…. you can always skim over the preaching passages.

It’s true that marriage is a team, and the attitudes of both partners play an equal role in the success or failure of the relationship, but since you can only improve your own behaviour… become the considerate and attentive person who makes your partner happy. Instead of throwing snowballs, throw hugballs (or “loveballs” if you have a pervy sense of humor) … and you’ll find that a positive attitude is even more infectious than a negative one. When we aren’t fighting for our personal space, we are more willing to give it, and when we’re in a good humor, we are more likely to get involved.

So I’ll let him sleep in, undisturbed… and when the Netflix discs arrive, I’ll pop him some corn, pour him an iced tea, and usher him upstairs for a front row seat.
Fluff the pillows.
Rub his feet.

He’ll return the favor. Someday. 😉

Advertisements