I can’t remember a time when my life has been this orderly. For the past two weeks, I get to work early like always, ready to tackle my to-do list, but I end up sitting there trying to come up with a to-do list. When I come home, I get dinner going and then begin to look around for the chores that always need to be done, and I find there’s just not that much to do. It’s the first time I can ever remember being this caught up both at work and at home. It is really freeing up some of my time. Now at school, instead of busying myself with paperwork, I am able to pay more direct attention to my students and I’m enjoying them more than ever. At home, instead of doing endless tasks, I’m sitting on the floor more playing with the kids. Life’s been pretty good lately.
While I’ve been going through this time of less stress and more free time, Chris has been going through a period of more stress and less free time. Work has been stressful for him these past couple months, and I think he’s bringing that stress home. He’s been picking at things here, complaining about things here, and stressing about things here that just aren’t that important in the grand scheme. I think when real stress hits, it infects all other areas of your life and that is definitely what’s happening with him.
Quite frankly, I’m getting kind of tired of it.
I feel bad saying that because I know how patient Chris always is with me when I’m the one with a stressful load. But the thing is, I HAVE been patient. This has been going on for about a month or more and I’ve been so supportive about it. SO SUPPORTIVE. Everything that he has said stresses him out, I’ve worked to relieve if I can. But nothing has changed. He comes home from work every day barely talking to anyone, and brooding everywhere he goes, no matter how much I try to help make things better.
The other night, he came home from work in that mood again and the minute he walked in the door I wanted to scrape my nails down a chalkboard and scream. I couldn’t handle it anymore. So, I sat on the couch as he moped around and I thought to myself, “I need a new approach.” He continued to complain and mope and pout and point out the chores that weren’t done and the things that we needed to do, blah, blah, blah, and finally I interrupted him.
“IF YOU DON’T LIKE THINGS THE WAY THEY ARE, THEN CHANGE THEM OR SHUT UP!”
And that pretty much began the strangest fight/tense discussion we’ve ever had. Everything I said to Chris was brutally honest, to the point of being harsh, and every argument he shot back at me was piercing, and yet we never raised our voices. We got frustrated and one of us would walk out of the room for a few minutes to cool down and think things over, but then we’d come back and keep on talking.
The thing is, I wasn’t being mean. I was just being honest and leaving the fluffy love stuff out of it. I basically told Chris he had to suck it up. I told him that this was our life right now – laundry piles and dishes and sick babies. It was just the way things were. And, you know, that wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Our life was pretty darn great, and I thought that the stress he was feeling at work was making it hard for him to see that. I told him that I was tired of hearing about how hard his days were because, quite frankly, so are mine, but I come home to escape those stresses, not to rehash them or live in them. I said that happiness was not something that came and went randomly, it was a choice we had to make every day and there wasn’t anything that was going to change in our lives to make him any happier. If he wanted to be happy, he was going to have to decide to be happy.
When it was over, we sat next to each other on the couch and watched TV, occasionally talking or point out random things, just like nothing had happened. But the next morning, Chris woke up in a much better mood. And that afternoon, I came home to find him fixing the pool pump (the bane of his homeowner existence). This past weekend when Chris was home with the kids while I was in Atlanta, he spent some good, quality time with the kids. They ran errands together, played together, and did chores together. When I came home, the house was cleaned, the laundry was done, dinner was on the stove, and Chris looked happier than I had seen him in weeks.
I don’t know what sort of nugget of marital insight this has provided me. Maybe that honesty is the best policy? Or that your spouse is your mirror of truth? Or maybe even happiness is a choice? Could I even tie it into my favorite, “Bloom where you are planted” saying? I’m not really sure. Maybe I’ll think about it some more and find some kind of philosophical meaning to this.
But more than likely, I think this is just part of being married. Sometimes in my marriage, Chris and I are soft places to land in the midst of really hard times, and sometimes we’re the very honest pep talk that we need to get up and make a change. Chris has been the one to tell me before that there’s nothing to do but buck up and move forward, and now I’ve had to tell him the same. I think that’s the side of marriage where friendship really becomes crucial because good friends can guide without judging, and a good spouse can, too. Like a good friend, a good spouse can give you a warm, supportive place for you to hide for a while, and they can also be the one to push you a little bit, even when you don’t want to hear it. I’m glad that Chris has been both those things to me in my life, and I’m glad that I can be that for him, too.