Chris and I are coming off the heels of a tough month for our marriage. We go through these periodically, and I’m hoping that’s fairly normal. About once a year, there’s a big explosion in our marriage where everything that’s been piling up gets aired out. Our big one was last month, and, boy, did it encompass a lot of issues. We’d just been through the holidays, he was going through a really hard time at work, I was feeling the pressure of a standardized test my kids were preparing for (took it today, actually, and I think they nailed it!), we had just buried my dad, and we were on hold for a big project that I’m hoping comes through in the next few months. Stress levels at our house were soaring.
I’ve been making a big effort lately to not take my frustrations out on Chris. Which is a good thing. But one of the side effects was that I sort of stopped talking to him about anything important. In an effort to avoid arguments and make things less stressful for us, I just stopped communicating. I didn’t have the energy for a fight or even the energy to work through things that just seemed trivial, but in actuality, when you stop working on even the small things, the big things just pile up and up and up. Which is what happened.
The fight began one night about household responsibilities. Trivial, right? But if you’ve been married for any length of time…like, even two days… you understand that household responsibilities are a big part of married life. Afterall, you can live happily ever after, but someone is still going to have to take the trash out, and your pets are still going to need to be fed, and your children are going to need to be cleaned. Princes who ride white stallions still need clean stalls to put them in.
And my prince? Well, he kind of stopped mucking out the stalls, if you know what I mean.
Chris and I have very distinct responsibilities around the house. We’ve spent the past eight years perfecting who does what chore, and we have a nice little system going. But with Chris working so much, I had started to naturally take on more of his housework simply because I was the one who happened to be home. But Chris sort of started taking advantage of that by not picking up his chores again when he WAS home.
Finally, I exploded one night. I told him that he seemed to have forgotten he wasn’t the only working parent in our house. And that I still worked a full day and came home to care for our family, just like him. Which meant that it should not all be my responsibilty just because he was busy at work. I get busy at work, too, but that doesn’t mean I get to just stop doing the laundry or decide to work late and just not pick up the kids one day. Being a working parent worked the same for both of us, and that meant we had to share responsibilities, and I was tired of things falling on my plate by default.
I thought it was an excellent point. And it was. But so was his response.
He said that he had no idea this was bothering me. He said that I had stopped talking to him about my job and about things like chores around the house, so how was he supposed to know that there was a problem? (To which I responded, “Are you a third child? Do I have to nag you before you change your behavior, too?” Another excellent point, I believe…) And he was right. My lack of communication made it hard for him to know when there was a problem because as much as I would like to believe that my husband just KNOWS what is wrong, he really doesn’t. He’s not a mind reader. If he doesn’t give baths to the kids for a week and no one says anything, then how is he supposed to know that that’s becoming an issue?
Fair enough, and well played, Husband.
But, naturally, this one issue (well, two really) led into deeper issues, which I don’t really need to go into because they aren’t just my issues and I’d prefer to not air our dirty laundry that much. Suffice to say that the issues covered the topics of death and grief, spending equal time with our families, and setting priorities for our family. All important. All worth a good discussion and/or fight.
Since our explosion, things have gotten much better. We’re both more aware of the needs of our partners. Chris knows that I need him to step up, even when I don’t have the strength or time to ask him. And I know that I need to make more of an effort to communicate BEFORE there is a problem.
One thing I’m really focusing on after our fight is nagging versus communicating. Nagging is not communication. Nagging is just saying the same things over and over again while getting the same response. Which, coincidentally, is the same definition as insanity, by the way. Communication – good, positive communication – should prevent nagging. Good, positive communication is about expressing needs, thoughts, emotions, or ideas before there is a problem at all. And I’m trying to learn to do that. I’m trying to learn to ask for help before the help becomes critical. And I’m discovering that’s a really hard thing to do.
Mostly, I’m finding that being a good communicator means being a good predictor of my own needs. I have to anticipate what will be challenging or what will be successful, and then include Chris in that process before it even really begins. A simple example of this is dinnertime. I know that is a busy time of day for our family, and the exact point in the day when both our kids get crabby and whiney. Normally, I try to prepare in advance for that dinner rush by meal planning and prepping on the weekends or the night before. But when I can’t do those things, I have to let Chris know that HE needs to anticipate that time of day, too. Now, I send him little emails to let him know when dinner is going to be late that night.
“Hey – I forgot to thaw the chicken last night, so dinner is going to be a little late. Any chance you can make it home a little early?”
This preemptive response prevents the frantic phone call I make to him at 6:25 asking him where the hell he is and why he hasn’t made it home yet and doesn’t he know that I need some help around here?!?!
Preemptive communication is gooooooooooood.
What Chris has been making more of an effort on is picking up the slack when there is no advanced notice. Come home late and the house is crazy? Better jump right in and help. Someone has to work late or work from home? Better jump right in and pick up the slack. He is paying more attention to what he can do around the house before I even have to ask him. He has also had to make a slight shift in priorities. Some days, I need him home early – or at the very least on time – so that I can get my things taken care of. Sometimes, he’s going to have to say no to a project or two simply because he is needed at home to help with things like feeding all of our beings.
Cutting back at work really drives Chris crazy because he has such stellar work ethic. It’s what makes him an excellent provider for our family. But I am a provider, too. And my work ethic is top notch. And I can’t always be the one who sacrifices so that Chris can succeed at his job. It has to be balanced. And we’re working on that balance right now.
Are things 100% fixed? Heck no! But we have at least identified a few key issues, and we’ve got good game plans to help ourselves get stronger in areas where we are each weak. And I think THAT is the mark of a healthy marriage. It isn’t how much you fight or who gives more at home or who works harder. I think a strong, healthy marriage is one where both partners are working to make each other stronger, better people. And I’m really glad Chris and I can do that for each other.