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We had been stepping over it for DAYS (two). My daughter and my husband had each mentioned its falling – and finally, I was able to swoop in and do The Job That Only I Could Do! I applied two circles of masking tape to the back of the fallen artwork and pressed the art firmly into the cupboard/gallery space. Voila! Fixed! Alas, no one was around to see my heroic act. No doubt they will throw me a parade when they notice that the hall is now clear of artwork and the art is once again properly displayed!

Okay, okay. I tend to get irritated and snarky when I tackle the household work that Only I Can Do. But when I really think about it, I KNOW there are many jobs that Only My Husband Can Do. So it’s not like it’s a one-sided thing. It still rankles, though, because it FEELS like I am overloaded with tasks that could so easily be shared by one/both additional members of the family.

When I begin to feel put upon and beleaguered, it helps me to list all the things that my husband DOES do. And, once I have regained my sense of equilibrium, I can think about how fascinating it is, that housework can be divided in so many ways. There are the things that we both do – laundry, dishes, caring for the human – and the things that one of us does FAR more often, but not always, and then there are the things that one of does so often that I am going to say “always,” even if there have been very, very, veryvery rare exceptions.

Like cooking. I make dinner almost every night. On the nights I don’t make dinner, we go out or fend for ourselves with leftovers/cereal. But that’s not to say my husband doesn’t EVER cook. He does, but it is (now) very very rare. So I would feel comfortable putting “cooking” on the “Only Me” list.

A similar task on my husband’s side of the list would be sorting mail. I do it very occasionally, but really, I think of it as His Task. If he were to get fed up and shout at me that he hates sorting the mail and I never ever do it, I would have to concede the point. “Never ever” except for maybe twice a year doesn’t count as a shared task.

The things Only My Husband Does are really his and his alone. He is the financial supporter of our household. My freelance income is so vanishingly small next to his that it doesn’t really count; if he expired suddenly, I could not support our family on what I currently make from freelance work. (Aside: This is a hard topic for me. I know many, MANY people make it work, but for me, I always feel… inferior. Like the lesser contributor. Maybe if I had more children I would feel less so? I don’t know. But I feel hateful for feeling frustrated by all the work I DO have, which is menial and so EASY compared to what my husband does each day. He finds CANCER. He improves people’s QUALITY OF LIFE. He works SO HARD. And yet I STILL get frustrated and Oh Woe Is Me and feeling I’m-the-only-one-who-does-anything-around-here-grumbly. I don’t have any Soothing Thoughts or Coping Mechanisms to apply to this mental difficulty, I just wanted to note it.)

He pays all the bills. I have offered, but (to my great relief) I have never once taken over this task. He also researches Big Purchases – washer and dryer, new car, new whatever. The only time I’ve ever taken up that mantle is with the window situation, which proves that a) I am fully capable of researching major home expenses and b) I hate it.

Tasks that are firmly in the Only Me column include bafflingly simple things like making sure Carla’s rest blanket and pillowcase (and, in the winter, snow clothing) are laundered over the weekend and folded in her backpack by Monday. Occasionally going through her backpack and removing crumpled artwork, rocks, leaves, sticks, plastic “gems,” contraband toys she smuggled to school from home and forgot about, and so much dirt. Washing/filling her water bottle each day. Making sure that the guest bathroom hand towel gets changed/laundered on a regular basis. Wiping down the counters. Replacing the toilet paper (how, just, statistically, does this always fall to me?). Periodically cleaning out the fridge. Decorating for holidays (aside from some help with the Christmas tree). Planning/hosting/attending playdates. Making probably 99% of appointments and other phone calls. Managing our social calendar. It feels like ALL of these are dumb/frivolous which makes me cranky.

I am primarily the grocery shopper, but sometimes my husband will do it. My husband is primarily the person who researches and makes plane reservations, but sometimes I will do it (if FORCED to). The trash used to be primarily his job, but he made some frustrated noises about that a year or so ago and so I do it more than he does on an even split. Most mornings, I make Carla breakfast, but my husband takes over probably on average once a week. School stuff overwhelmingly falls to me, but my husband joins in on drop-offs/conferences/pickups when he can; okay, upon reflection “school stuff” probably belongs in the Only Me category. We split bedtime duties (teeth brushing supervision, reading, tucking in) although I help with clothing choices more often than not. I made my husband promise, when we decided to have a baby, that he’d take care of vomit; he’s been pretty good keeping up his end of the bargain, although I’ve been on Vom Cleanup twice in the past year which is an acceleration of my duties that I’m not comfortable with. We both participate in giving gifts to other family members, although I am most definitely the initiator. I’d say we refill the kitchen soap dispenser about evenly.

It is so very easy, in a marriage, to feel like you are doing ALL THE WORK. Especially, I might (with great bias) add, if you are in the homemaker role. I am reminded of my mother’s wise words, that in a marriage, you must give more than 50%.That’s just part of it. It SUCKS sometimes. But, for one thing, maybe you aren’t giving 51%. Or maybe you aren’t seeing the invisible things that make up your partner’s 51%. Surely, there are many times when you are only able to give 30%, or 10% or even 0%, and your spouse makes up the difference. And probably there are YEARS when one person is giving 70% and the other is giving 30% and that can still be a fair and good way to split things up. There are so many ways to make a marriage work. But I know feeling malevolent and resentful because I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO DOES DISHES AROUND HERE AND NO ONE APPRECIATES IT is not the key to longterm happiness. Not that I’ve FOUND the key to longterm happiness; I am just muddling through, day by day. I just know that listing out all the things that my husband does helps when I am feeling like my More Than 50% is endless and unmatched really, truly helps.

I would be very interested to know the things that Only You do in your household, and, likewise, the things that Only Your Spouse does as well. And, if you have it, the key to longterm happiness.

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After my pout fest yesterday (which, by the way, thank you for listening and adding your own crabs/panics and helpful solutions to the comments section – that helped IMMENSELY), my husband showed up not only with flowers but with cheesecake. Magical cheesecake that sent my stomach bug packing.

Turns out that a lot of stress can be cured delayed soothed by an hour of cuddling up in front of a DVRed American Horror Story episode with one’s beloved whilst munching on lemony cheesecakey goodness.

This is not, however, a post about how wonderful my husband is. (He IS wonderful though. Not because of the flowers or the cheesecake – just because he is. Why do you think I married the guy?)

Instead, I wanted to talk about something that’s difficult for me – and, perhaps, difficult for you – but that I nonetheless feel very strongly about.

Mind reading.

When I whined about my Lack of Flowers yesterday, the lovely Swistle responded by saying, “The ‘no anniversary flowers’ gives me a sinking feeling. I think this is a nip-it-in-the-bud situation: it will be uncomfortable, but I think it’s one of those times when Speaking Up would take something that Seems Small But Feels Big and make it something that Seems Small But Feels Big in the Opposite Way. I’d say something like, ‘It gives me such a sinking feeling that there were no anniversary flowers this year. I know it doesn’t Mean Anything, but it feels like it Means Something. I think we should just do flowers every single year, okay?'”

I responded to this by tearing up.

Let me first say that no one NEEDS flowers. (I mean, except florists. If they don’t have flowers, they are in for a world of hurt.)

I certainly don’t NEED flowers. I don’t need them for any reason – least of all to prove something about my husband’s feelings for me.

But I do have needs in our relationship. A need for companionship. A need for respect. A need for attention. A need for security. A need for commitment. And so on down the line until we hit A need for something special to commemorate the wonderful occasion of our wedding.

My husband is very good at meeting my needs.

But the thing about my husband (and most husbands, I’d imagine)?

He cannot read my mind.

I think the game of You Must Read My Mind is a time-honored tradition among couples everywhere.

When we’re at the grocery store and I’m in the produce department and he’s in the deli and I send him mental You Must Read My Mind waves about grabbing a jar of pickles on his way back… Or when we are at a party and I am telepathy-ing to him that I have no idea who this person is I’m talking to, and he needs to say something like, “I know my wife told me, but what was your name again?”… Or when we’re in the car with his parents and I’m sending him death rays meant to convey that we need to change the subject NOW or I might explode… well, the stakes are low in those situations. It’s fun if he responds the way I want him to, but if he doesn’t, it’s easy to remind myself that he cannot read my mind.

But when You Must Read My Mind transforms into the more high-stakes version, You Must Read My Mind or You Obviously Don’t Love Me Anymore…

Well, then I think it can be one of the most dangerous games a couple can play. Right up there with “You’re the Woman So You Do That” and “I May or May Not Be Cheating.”

For instance, let’s look at the Case of the Anniversary Flowers that got me thinking about this in the first place.

To me, anniversary flowers are special. They signify that:

a)      my husband remembered our anniversary and

b)      he feels that our anniversary is a special-enough occasion to warrant him going out of his way and doing something unusual and

c)       he recognizes that flowers are special to ME, and he cares enough about me feeling special that he would go out of his way to create that feeling.

LACK of anniversary flowers, on the other hand, signifies that:

a)      my  husband forgot our anniversary or

b)      he feels that our anniversary is NOT special enough to warrant him going out of his way to do something unusual or

c)       his belief that flowers are stupid trumps my belief that flowers are special and lovely, and he doesn’t care enough about making me feel special to go out of his way to create that feeling.

Wowza.

That’s a lot of emotion to pack into a NON-act.

Of course, had my husband actually NOT picked up some flowers, none of those things would be TRUE. In fact, there would have been a whole lot of other points on the list – things like “my husband was so tired that he just couldn’t bear making a stop on the way home” and “he has been so incredibly busy (11 patients at a time!) this rotation that he could not find a minute to call a florist and order some flowers” and “he’s been just as scattered and stressed out as I have been lately, so the idea of flowers just didn’t enter his mind.”

None of those things give any indication that my husband doesn’t love me anymore.

And yet… Even if I TOLD MYSELF that this list is REAL and the list above is FICTION… Well, I’d still wind up feeling hurt and dejected.  As Swistle points out, I would feel like Lack of Flowers MEANS SOMETHING, when in reality it doesn’t.

That’s why, after reading Swistle’s comment, I steeled myself to have A Talk with my husband. (I may have even repeated her little sample script over and over until I’d committed it to memory.)

Because you know what? If I sat there feeling upset about Lack of Anniversary Flowers and let it eat away at me, well, that’s ON ME.

There’s no way my husband can know how much something bothers me unless I tell him because he cannot read my mind.

Now, I’m not saying that telling a person once or even twice will be enough to get him to change his behavior.

And I will admit that some things will never change. (We all know that you can’t REALLY change a person.)

What I AM saying is there is no cause to get bent out of shape about something unless you’ve made your needs known.

For instance, every once in a while, I will get upset. This is an unfortunate aspect of my personality. (I am not without flaws, Internet, SHOCKING as that may be to you.) But when I am upset and just need to vent, all I want is for someone (my husband, not some rando on the street, mind you) to hold me in his arms and understand where I’m coming from and tell me everything will be okay.

My husband, however, has that stereotypical male quirk of wanting to FIX things. So if I am upset about, say, a fight with a friend, he might say things like “She is not a good friend. You should dump her.” or “Why don’t you do such and such?” or “Maybe she thought she was doing X, and you interpreted it as Y.”

This makes me MORE upset, because I feel like he’s dismissing my feelings or he thinks that I’m too dumb to consider taking whatever action he suggested or – worst of all – he’s taking her side.

So then I turn my upsetitude on HIM, and that’s never good. For anyone.

For a long time, I thought it was his fault, for not reading my mind. (HA. I really did think this.) After all, I am pretty good at reading HIS mind. At anticipating HIS needs.

But I realized at some point that this wasn’t fair. Just because I tend to be an intuitive person (and not PERFECT, mind you)… and just because I already KNEW that “fixing the problem” and “forcing someone to see the other side” and “dismissing the person’s feelings” are not appropriate ways to respond to someone who is upset… Well, that doesn’t mean that HE has the same skill set.

So at some point, I stopped getting angry with him and started telling him exactly what I wanted. I needed a hug, even if he didn’t feel like I was very huggable. I needed him to listen and empathize and NOT offer solutions. I needed him to tell me everything was going to be okay.

Guess what? He has started doing those things.

I know it’s hard for him. Especially when I am freaking out about something that doesn’t seem worthy of a freak out. But he has begun hugging, listening quietly, and telling me everything will be okay.

It is… immensely gratifying. Instead of being upset and getting MORE upset, I now get upset and then feel soothed and loved and understood.

(This did not happen overnight. And I may have had to send him an article that proved that I am not the only woman in the universe who responds to stress by having an occasional meltdown.)

The thing is, Telling Him What I Need is not easy.

Sometimes, it’s a Magic Killer. And I, for one, do not LIKE to kill The Magic. Sometimes, it seems like what you REALLY want is for the other person to be thoughtful and considerate and intuitive enough to KNOW without you having to TELL HIM.

You know what I mean, right?

Telling someone that you need flowers on your anniversary is NOT romantic. It may even lessen the delight you might feel at GETTING flowers, because you know that it’s not something the person came up with on his own; no, you expressly TOLD him to get you flowers.

And I hate that. I want romance to be organic – not pre-planned by the recipient.

But even worse than pre-planned romance is NO romance.

Even worse than knowing my husband is following a set If My Wife Freaks Out Do This plan is getting upset and having him try to fix the problem or minimize it or make me see the other side.

Even if I think the Right Course of Action is OBVIOUS, even if I think my husband SHOULD know because for ma’s cake it’s COMMON SENSE, even if I think he should REMEMBER because I got mad LAST TIME and geez! doesn’t he ever listen to me?…

… the fact remains: he cannot read my mind.

If he didn’t know how to ski… nay, if “skiing” had never really been on his radar… it would be unreasonable for me to say “The skis are RIGHT THERE. You should just KNOW to strap them on your feet and point yourself downhill!”

Asking him to read my mind when he doesn’t LIVE in my brain and doesn’t even see the world the way I do… Well, that’s unreasonable too.

Listen, you know this already.

But it took me a long time to figure it out. And it took me an even LONGER time to implement a solution. In fact, I STILL have to Steel Myself to do it. Because it’s not easy. It’s not easy to say, “I need this,” especially – I’ve found – when that need is really important to ME or really inexplicable to my husband.

But Strong Communication seems to me like one of the most critically important parts of a successful relationship. And I need to make an effort. Strong Communication does not happen by accident.

Does all this mean that I am 100% innocent of ever playing You Must Read My Mind? No. I am not innocent.

But I do try to catch myself.

Sometimes I will walk into the kitchen and see that there are dishes NEXT TO the sink rather than IN THE DISHWASHER. Sometimes, that may make me want to yell and cry and dole out hefty doses of The Silent Treatment.

But if I catch myself, and simply take a long-suffering breath and say brightly, “Honey, can you please put your dishes in the dishwasher?” and walk away… well, he does it (eventually) and THERE IS NO FIGHT.

Likewise, if I ask him to do something and he instead sits on the couch and continues to watch football, I have the choice to a) yell at him for never listening to me or b) stomp around and do the thing myself and then stew about it or c) call cheerfully to him that oh, I meant could he do it NOW please?

And he either does it… or he asks if he can do it at a later time… and THERE IS NO FIGHT.

No anger. No resentment. No frustration that he doesn’t UNDERSTAND ME. No melodramatic woe-ing about how he doesn’t LOVE me.

 

If only I could catch myself EVERY TIME.

I am working on it.

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I haven’t done a Rules for a Happy Marriage post in a long, long time.

This year made me rethink a lot of what I thought I knew about love and marriage. It’s not that my faith in MY marriage was shaken. It’s that my faith in my ability to know what’s RIGHT was shaken.

But I started this little series not because I think I’m some sort of marriage expert. I mean, that would be pretty ridiculous of me to claim any modicum of expertise, considering we’ve only been married for two years. I started this little series to remind myself of what’s working now. I think it will be fun to look back on these things in the future and laugh about how naïve I was… Or look fondly on something we’ve been doing for decades to make our marriage strong.

So here’s my first Rule for a Happy Marriage of 2011:

Don’t be a Golden Doodle.

Here’s what I mean…

My parents have this dog. (I have introduced you to him before.)

Isn’t he cute?

He’s a Golden Doodle and he’s incredibly sweet and he protects my mom from bears.

But he is a little… clingy.

Especially with my mom, who is his Best Friend in the Whole Wide World.

Any time she’s in the room, he’s right beside her. Any time she calls me on the phone, he starts barking because she’s not talking to HIM. Any time she plays with him, he gets this big goofy look of Ultimate Joy.

But basically, any time they are in the room together, my mom needs to be entertaining him.

(Unless he is flopped out on the floor, worn out from all the clinging. Or rabbit chasing.)

Ugh. Exhausting.

Well, sometimes I know exactly how he feels.

Like many people, my husband works long hours. Sometimes he’ll be gone for 30+ hours at a time. Sometimes he’ll work from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm. Sometimes he’ll have a week where he leaves before I wake up and doesn’t get home until 8:00 pm.

Throw in work travel for me…

And we don’t always get a lot of time together. (Thank GOD for electives.)

So sometimes I feel like I’m jumping all over him when he gets home… Panting “Pay attention to me! Pay attention to me! Pay attention to me!” I’ve been at home alone for lord knows how many days… and I’m lonely and missing him and all I want to do is spend one-on-one time with my husband.

But that’s not healthy.

Because HE needs alone time, too.

Just as I would go crazy if he were in my face 24/7… He would go crazy if he didn’t have a few hours to himself to check sports stores, listen to music, and browse mindlessly through Facebook.

No, I am not perfect when it comes to giving him space for his “me time.”

Sometimes I get pouty and frustrated. Sometimes I feel all “woe is me” that he’d rather be checking espn.com than hanging out with his wife. Sometimes I want to stomp my foot and demand that he focus on me me me.

But I think our relationship is stronger because we give each other space. When we do stuff together, we’re doing it because we enjoy being together. Not because one person is forcing other person into it.

I remember when my husband was in med school he had a classmate – C – who was also married.  C was constantly complaining about his wife, who – according to C, at least – would pounce on him the instant he got back from class or a clinical rotation or a study session and get really mad if he wanted to have some personal down time. It sounded like they got into a LOT of fights about it.

My husband would thank me for not being like C’s wife. Sometimes he still brings it up: how lucky he feels that I give him time for himself.

Listen, I’m not BLAMING her. I get it. You married this person because you want to be with him. And I’m certainly not saying I know everything that went on in their marriage. I only know what my husband told me, second hand.

But I’ve found, in our marriage, that it’s important to resist that overwhelming need to spend every second together.

It’s not always easy. Okay, it’s USUALLY not easy. But I know I’m a happier member of our marriage because I have a life outside of “us.” And I think it’s only fair that I give my husband the same opportunity.

 

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Rule #56:

Make time for your marriage. No matter what.

For four of the past six weeks, my husband has been on night float. This means that he comes home at nine in the morning. Sleeps until five thirty. Wakes up. Eats dinner. Showers. And heads to work at seven thirty.

So if we’re lucky, we get to spend two and a half hours together each day.

It’s been tough. Don’t get me wrong – I know other couples have it worse. But I don’t like this weird “ships passing in the night” kind of relationship we have going on right now.

We’ve been trying really hard to make time for each other. Even if it’s five minutes a day.

If my husband gets home early… and if I’m sleeping in… he’ll climb into bed with me and tell me all about his night.

If he sleeps late, or if I have a few minutes between afternoon tasks, I’ll go climb into bed next to him and we’ll talk quietly as he wakes up.

And we have this little goopy, sappy, silly goodbye routine.

We meet at the door and give each other a long kiss. I inevitably admire how handsome he looks in his scrubs, how blue his eyes are against the fabric. One of us will pull the other in tightly, crank up the Passion-o-Meter to Extra Passionate, and kiss again. Then we’ll say the same little things:

“I love you.”

“I love you.

“Drive safely.”

“I’ll call you if I can.”

“Have a good night.”

“You too. I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss YOU.”

Several more kisses.

“I love you.”

“I love you.”

We do it no matter what – whether I’m in the middle of crafting a sentence or mid-bite of dinner, whether we’ve had any time to chat throughout the day, whether I’m heading out to book club or he’s headed off to work.

It’s this little pocket of intimacy… A moment just for us, where nothing else – not sleep, not work, not food, not hygiene – is distracting us from each other. Where the urgency of getting to the next moment is suspended. Where we look into each other’s eyes and hold each other and try to draw out the moment forever.

And you know? I like it so much I think I might keep it up even after night float is done.

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Rule #22:

Say “I love you.”

Husband and I say “I love you” so often it’s almost like a nervous tic or a reflex.

A few years ago, he said, “I think we say it too often. Maybe we should cut back on saying it.”

So we tried.

But it didn’t take.

A few days of suppressing our “I love you” urge, and we were back to saying it fifty times a day.

And you know what? I’m glad. If something horrible were to happen, we would know without question that we were loved. That’s why our last words to each other – before bed, before leaving for work, before heading to the gym or the grocery store or ending a phone call – are “I love you.”

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Rule #4:

Instead of counting sheep to fall asleep, think of all the different reasons you love your spouse.

– I love the way you smooth your cheek against mine right after you’ve shaved.

– I love that you hate killing bugs, but you do it for me anyway.

– I love your long eyelashes.

– I love the little threads of grey in your hair.

– I love the way you tap my knee to the opening music of our favorite TV shows.

– I love that you have to open things – CDs, new appliances, bottles of marinade – as soon as we get them home.

– I love the way you look with a few days’ stubble.

– I love how handsome, mature, and professional you look in your white coat.

– I love the way our bodies fit together when we sleep.

– I love that you are so respectful of your family.

– I love that you eat turkey sandwiches for lunch almost every single day.

– I love how easily you pick up languages.

You’ll fall asleep smiling.

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Rule #24: Watch Football Together


Okay, or any sport that your husband enjoys.

I am not what you would call a “sports fan.” But I recently discovered the joy that is Watching Football with My Husband.

I asked him questions. And no matter how stupid they were – “What is that big yellow Y at the end of the field?” “Who are those dudes in the striped pajamas?” “Why are those men jumping all over each other?” – he answered them patiently and thoroughly. We cheered for whatever team he liked best together. We jumped up and squealed at exciting plays together (okay, I did most of the squealing). We groaned when “our” team fumbled or when the ball was intercepted or when the ref made a bad call.

It was FUN Internet! More fun than I’ve had watching football since high school. (Being on the field in a short skirt screaming your brains out is WAY FUN.)

My husband and I – in the nearly nine years we’ve known each other – had never really done the “watch sports” thing together. But it was a whole new kind of camaraderie. Turns out, it brought us closer in a brand new way.

Happy Super Bowl Sunday, y’all! I hope your team kicks butt!

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