I Mean That in the Nicest Possible Way
How to have an argument with your spouse without charges being filed.
You know you’ve been there; that moment in time when your spouse says something that just simply cannot stand as words in the universe without a response from you. That rejoinder, however thoughtful, gentle, and reasoned, always comes with an edge of “fuck you” laced behind the actual worlds that come out of your mouth. How to temper the steel-edged blade of a tongue that wants its due is probably the greatest challenge of all interpersonal relationships.
I’ve been with my husband for over a quarter of a century. Overall an amazing run with an amazing man. He has all the pegs that my pegboard is missing, and vice-versa. We are truly complimentary in so many ways; each making the other better than either could be alone.
A few of those very traits that bubble up and help the other person balance out their particular quirks can be…….well……SUPER annoying. I am fully aware that that he has a list (albeit quite small, I’m confident) of the things that I do that bug him, but since I’m the one writing this article, I get to air mine, solo. My writing, my list. In point of fact, there is really only one “deal-breaker” of a thing he does that I have to continually call a halt to each and every time. I used to stew in silence and probably either sublimate or transfer my annoyance to other, none-related venues. Now, I spew.
The kitchen is my domain. I have been managing kitchens in one form or other for over 60 years; I think I have this. Today we are prepping for 60 or 70 people for a dinner BBQ at our house; hot dogs, baked beans, coleslaw, homemade. I’m busy chopping, dicing, and sautéing while also multi-tasking by changing the water in the hummingbird feeders. This involves measuring cups, microwaving, gathering feeders in the sink, cleaning and, salient to our tale, a spoon. I stir the solution multiple times before actually funneling it into each of the feeders; once when cold, once again after heating, and once just as I start to fill each feeder to make sure the sugar has all dissolved. As each feeder is full, I carefully carry it out to its respective hanger; front or back garden, one at a time.
This morning, every time I came back to start the next feeder (all the while stirring the sauté pan, checking the spicing in the slaw, etc.), I would reach for my spoon. Gone. He cleans up behind me in some sort of OCDC, anal-compulsive fit when he can see (if he’d bother to look) that I’m BUSY. In the KITCHEN. Using the damned SPOON. After the third spoon had vanished from sight, I snapped…in my head.
I took several deep breaths and as he was walking out the door onto the deck, I made what I perceived as the least snarky comment I could muster, “Stop cleaning up my spoons. So far it has taken me three spoons to accomplish one task.” He does not react well. He never has. Not in 27 years.
It took me quite a while and a lot of self-reflection early on in our relationship to pinpoint exactly what bugged me….so much….about his compulsion to correct. It finally dawned on me one day during a power tool construction project (which I might mention here, we have had a LOT of over the decades) where I found myself, head hung down, penitent in a very pseudo-religious way, for “sins” against power tools that I was not even aware were, in fact, sins. But yet I felt guilty beyond belief. For?
Not living up to my father’s expectations of me. Ouch.
I had, forgive the construction metaphor, nailed it. It seems that no amount of childhood religious indoctrination could embed this infectious quilt gene as effectively as my own father had managed to do. Gene….Father….I get it. But what I did NOT get in the DNA exchange was any semblance of construction ability. My father, a workaholic by any measure (mostly to stay either away from or out of the house and therefore any remotely close proximity to my mother) was either at work at his day job or running his nightclub in Georgetown, effectively eliminating him from the day-to-day job of putting up with his wife, and by extension, his child. I do believe that the fervor with which he attacked his DIY projects around the house was directly in proportion to the rage-fueled fantasy world that I am fairly certain entailed detailed imagery of how to use said power tools to incapacitate (ne: kill) his wife.
And all that stood between him and ultimate freedom from her-assment was his young son. A young, gay, son who had been triangulated by his mother and taught to literally hate his father. Not just hate, but actively disregard and mute and dehumanize him. I was a normal 10yo energetic boy with abnormal anti-parental urges on all fronts. And I was smart. Gay child smart. Devious smart. I knew she was wrong. But conversely, I knew he was weak and powerless in her aura; a toxic mess for a pre-teen. It wasn’t until years later that I figured out what she had on him that engendered this seamy stew (read https://covewiz.com/2014/03/20/happy-birthday-to-me/ ).
But for now, for the hang-dog, red-faced with shame 10yo boy who had once more had a screw driver or a hammer or ……… snatched and scolded from his hand, I only knew that I was wrong, stupid, an unworthy of even praise no less love from this man who was positioned as my father. I shuffled and scowled and was, in general, as uncomfortable and uncooperative as I could possibly be, but this behavior came entirely from the depths of a pool of unworthiness that seemingly had no bottom. I only knew that the worse I (mis)behaved, the sooner I would be dismissed with a soul-searingly repugnant gaze and could begin the slow shuffle back to that other horror story indoors, my mother.
“Ever mine, ever thine, ever ours”,
Shakespeare had no idea that my father and I were entwined in this love-battle that no one would ever win. Hubris, another Shakespearean element, was both of ours for the abusing.
And now, almost 60 years on, I can finally use my adult words to express to my husband how de-humanizing his actions and dismissals of my actions are. Never once (in my own mind here) does he let stand ANYthing that I take it upon myself to do (aside from prepare food) (except for the damned spoon), without coming along behind me and either redoing it or telling me how it shoulda-coulda-woulda been done had he only done it……correctly….to begin with.
I will keep trying. I am always looking for ways to both pre-think him and maybe “do it right the first time” but honestly, our brains are wired in opposite directions, so this little exercise is really futile, but I have to try, something. And I will continue to, as gently as possible (or not), point out how he makes me feel when he corrects me by word or action.
And, in the end, the love you intend, is equal to the love you actually project (loosely Beatles driven). In other words, they will probably never hear what you are saying to them and you will continue to have this argument for the duration. Trust me.
27 years and counting