Okay, okay, this is a bit off the beaten path of this blog, but the core theme of this blog is ’empowerment’. So, I’m stopping for a moment to talk about something near and dear to my heart–relationships.
Raising kids will do a number on your relationships. It’s very hard work. Gone are the days of putting dinner on hold and having sex anywhere you’d like. There’s too much to do, not enough time, and relationships start to feel a lot more like a tax-paying corporate entity than what you dreamed about when you were young and watching “The Princess Bride” (or is that only me?). Figuring out how to communicate in a way that’s effective rather than corrosive seems to be important not to mention remembering why you even embarked on such an absurd experiment in the first place! Men want to “fix it”, women just want to be heard, and, for the love of baby hamsters, whose freakin’ socks are these on the bathroom floor and why am I picking them up yet again? Ahem…
There is a common argument in my home. Actually, we have two arguments, and I should just record them and play them at random times throughout the year because they are scripted! It annoys me to no end. They go like this:
I’m tired of begging for sex. Please…have sex with me. My ego can’t take much more of this.
It’s not that I don’t want you…It’s just that….
(Don’t assume that the gender roles fit here. You’d be surprised…)
I cleaned the kitchen.
Why didn’t you ask for help?
It needed cleaning. I saw that it did. So, I did it.
Well, sorry. You should have asked for help if you had wanted help for that.
(Assume that the gender roles fit for this one. I am The Cleaner in this scenario as I am in almost every other one.)
Argument I is and will continue to be a work in progress. I suspect Argument I will not be resolved soon, and my self-esteem will be stuffed through the proverbial meat grinder for years to come. Such is life in a longterm relationship. That’s what Iron Man movies, erotica, chocolate, and my girlfriends are for.
Argument II, on the other hand, is something I finally figured out! I have been dealing with Argument II for a VERY long time. After talking to my married-with-children girlfriends, I have learned that Argument II is also afoot in their homes as well. It’s a problem.
Let’s break Argument II down. Is there anything in Argument II that is worth taking note of? You bet. Women often fail to ask for what they need or want. They assume that their partner should “just know” based upon what? In my home, we call this a Theory of Mind Failure or ToMF–“You know what I’m thinking.” Well, dudes don’t know what women are thinking, and we do need to communicate our wants, needs, likes, and dislikes using actual words rather than making weird faces, sighing loudly, rolling our eyes, and withholding sex to make a point. What’s more, we need to practice being disappointed. We are not always going to get our way even when we do communicate.
Would you please empty the dishwasher?
Well, I’m in the middle of something right now. I can do it in an hour.
Would you like sexy rumpus later on?
But, practicing asking for help or stepping out and asking for what you want are all better than being passive-aggressive or stewing silently because your partner isn’t a psychological Superman–“You were supposed to be able to see through my skull and read my mind, jackass!” As far as I know, Psychological Superman only exists in lady porn. I digress…
Wherein lies the “fallacy” in Argument II? I’m going to call it personal responsibility. My husband and I have been going round and round for close to two decades about this one, and I have had the hardest time putting words to how I feel when I am confronted by his statement: ” If you want help, then ask for it.” Of course, what he says makes sense. If I’m beginning a new project, trapped under something heavy, being attacked by a rabid squirrel, or having an allergic reaction, I would indeed need to ask for help. I can’t assume that he would just know that I needed help. But, what about a dirty kitchen or his children or a dirty bathroom that he uses or laundry to which he contributes or a yard that he owns or household maintenance on a home that he also owns? One either takes an adolescent stance and says, “Should I be helping you out with this?” or “What is my role in this since we are partners?” There is a huge difference between those questions. The first implies passivity and a lack of a sense of ownership while the other implies collaboration and initiative.
Last night, my husband said he would clean the kitchen. He was sitting next to the kitchen while I gave Grace and Milly their dinner and medication. In order to put their dirty dishes away, I had to empty the dishwasher. He was sitting right there not more than 15 feet away as this was going on. I just continued talking to my children and cleaning up the kitchen because it needed to be done. I am not my husband’s mother. I am not here to say: “Darling, you said that you were going to clean the kitchen. The kitchen needs to be cleaned now, don’t you think?” It was 9 PM. At what point did he think it was going to be an appropriate time to get down to business? He had been sitting at his laptop for two hours! I finished the kitchen, got Grace to bed, and told him the kitchen was done.
I said I would do it. You should have asked for help. When did you clean it?
You were sitting here the entire time I was doing it. I even talked to you.
I wasn’t paying attention.
Well, here’s the thing. I’m responsible for asking for help when I need it, but I’m not responsible for you. I’m not responsible for whether or not you are paying attention. i’m not responsible for whether or not you follow through or whether or not you are paying attention to the time. That is not my job. You don’t have a cognitive disability. You know that the girls have a medication schedule. You are their father, and you are the other responsible adult in this house. I am not responsible for keeping you alert. That is your job. If you were my son, then it would be different. But, you are not my son. You are my husband. Big difference.
You can imagine how that went over. I wasn’t angry or even mean when I said it, but this has been one of the bigger issues between my husband and me. He has been putting the responsibility for his behavior and choices on me and calling it “a failure to ask for help” when, in reality, it’s been a failure on his part to take the initiative in his role as father and husband. This relational dynamic is very common. Now that I have a response for it, I will be able to do something about it. In partnerships where there are children with special needs, working out these dynamics is very important because there is often one parent who is the primary caregiver. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and stressed. When that happens, healthy and respectful communication can break down quickly.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not implying that I want this:
or even this, but, I’ll admit that I’ve had fantasies…
And, fine, I’m woman enough to admit that this turns me on…
At the end of the day, I don’t want my husband to be anyone other than who he is, but part of being in a relationship involves growth and maturity. I am not who I was five years ago and nor should he be. I can’t develop new skills while he remains stagnant. This will cause overcompensation and emotional fatigue. Change is actually a good thing, and we should always being evolving and developing as humans so that we continually bring something worthwhile to our relationships. When one partner gets comfortable, depends upon the other to pick up the slack, and refuses to engage in their own process of development, then you end up with gridlock.
I strongly dislike gridlock, but gridlock is often necessary because the tremendous discomfort that it brings causes us to begin asking important questions like, “Why am I feeling like this?” and “Why have I never noticed that I hate the way he chews his food?”
Where do we go from here? Well, I do what I do. I put things into perspective. I will not engage in catastrophic thinking and blow anything out of proportion even though I wanted to slap my husband across the face last night for his blatant insouciance. Take the high road, call up a girlfriend, vent, eat some chocolate, clean something, drink some coffee, clean something, go on a walk, clean something, look at something that makes me laugh, clean something, and, once I’ve got my head about me, engage The Husband.
It’s my process, and it works for me.
So…this is marriage. It is what it is. The Good, The Bad, The Annoying. It’s also glorious at times, and my husband is actually a wonderful human. He did bring me chocolate yesterday for no other reason other than because he thought I would like it. See? If there can’t be sex or a clean kitchen, then let there be chocolate. One out of three ain’t so bad…I guess (What am I saying? I’m dragging his ass to a psychiatrist and asking about Wellbutrin. SSRIs are killer on the libido!)