The other day I oiled the baby stroller’s wheels to stop the squeaking. It felt very manly – I’m using oil – so manly. We normally keep the stroller in the car, but because it was dripping oil, I left it at the side of the house (I may have gone overboard with the oil – so manly). A few hours later, I was in the middle of something and I remembered the stroller was outside, so I said to my wife I should go put the stroller away. She told me not to worry about it. She even said if it didn’t get put away that night she didn’t mind. Since I was in the middle of something, I told her I’d do it later… but when has anyone ever remembered to do a job later? Not this guy. I was in bed with only two hours left before I was supposed to wake up when my wife woke me to ask if I put the buggy away (the thing she told me not to worry about). She asked because it was pouring rain – oops. She knew I didn’t put it away, so this was her way of saying “go do it.” As soon as she mentioned the stroller, my brain’s response was to jump up, put on shoes, and go outside in my pajamas to bring in the buggy (I was essentially dressed to go to Walmart). Jacket? Why? I’m a man… I used oil, remember? When I was back in the house, I was soaked. I went to the bedroom, changed out of my wet pajamas, and put something dry on as I slipped back into bed not nearly as friendly as I left. While I closed my eyes, my wife made a comment… I was too tired to remember the exact words, but I do know they weren’t words of encouragement. I mumbled, “I should’ve brought it in last night,” and tried to sleep while I realized I should’ve dried my hair because now my pillow was wet and uncomfortable.
The truth was I should’ve brought the stroller in when I thought about it earlier in the day, or knowing my memory sucks, I could’ve written a note to remind myself later. I’m aware of what I should’ve done differently and now I had to deal with the fact I was wet and uncomfortable. At the same time this happened partly because my wife had dissuaded me from doing it the moment I remembered. When I had gotten back in the room dripping wet all I wanted was to be told, “Thank you for going outside,” or “I’m sorry you had to go outside,” or “I’m sorry I told you not to worry about bringing in the buggy earlier.” I just wanted something to feel like she cared. Instead, I received a very unwelcoming response when I came back in the room.
I should point out my wife remembered the stroller because she was up feeding our baby and was tired. Add in the fact that my wife comes from an aggressive background where she was taught and role modelled to not show sadness/sympathy for family; instead, you get angry and/or lash out (it’s as fun as it sounds), so her response wasn’t surprising. I’m well aware of this, but I’m used to a mom who is very sympathy and encouraging oriented, so in my mind that’s the proper response – because it is. If someone is uncomfortable, you should offer either a thank you or I’m sorry. In that moment when I was wet, that was what I wanted. I wanted to be validated that it sucked I had to go out in the rain, especially when minutes before I had been comfortable in bed. I wanted to know she cared, but instead I got her family response and that made me upset. Fortunately, I bit my tongue and worked through it as I fell asleep – potential fight avoided.
When you marry someone, you can’t expect them to change – there’s hope, but you can’t expect it. For instance, the day before, after my wife didn’t get a joke I made, I said to my friend who was there, “We’ve been together 14 years and she still doesn’t understand sarcasm,” to which she replied, “We’ve been together 14 years and you still don’t understand that I don’t get sarcasm.” It was a brilliant come back. Similarly, in bed our conversation could’ve been “We’ve been together 14 years and you still don’t understand how to show sympathy or encouragement to me,” to which she could’ve replied, “We’ve been together 14 years and you still don’t understand that I don’t show sympathy and encouragement to you.” She also could’ve said, “You’re 40 years old and you still don’t think to write yourself a note or to just do the job when you think of it?” These are all true and logical statements. They’re not very warm or gentle responses, but they’re true. Using them makes you a bit of a jerk, but they’re valid. In the moment I was in bed with my wet hair and pillow, my wife was tired from being up with the baby, and how often do I thank her for getting up with the baby? Not too often. I need to be better at thanking her for things as much as she does for me.
In this situation I had several paths to choose from:
- I could scream at her and create a huge fight where I look like a jerk (tempting).
- I could bottle up my feelings and build resentment (it sounds as good as it feels).
- I could share with her in one sentence that I felt uncared about because she didn’t say thank you or I’m sorry when I came in wet from the rain.
- I could share that what I wanted when I entered the bedroom was a thank you or apology and request one for that situation and/or for times like this in the future.
- I could start a conversation by asking, “To clarify, when (situation) happened, did you not say thank you or I’m sorry because you don’t care about me or because you didn’t think it was warranted?”
- I could vent my feelings alone and just chalk it up as another incidence where my wife was tired and/or followed her role modeled and trained response.
- I could request that my wife and I work at being better at saying thank you and I’m sorry, but in our case, we’re generally both pretty good and this was more of an unusual situation.
As a natural avoider, guess where I went. Like most husbands, sharing my feelings often just leads to a fight (e.g. “You’re criticizing me after all that I do for you?”) and/or I open a floodgate where I get told about all the times I’ve left my wife feeling uncared for, so I also get to feel worse than if I said nothing. In marriage, we really need to pick our battles because both sides always have their own perspective, and we’re never as perfect as we want to think we are.
Do I need an apology? I’ll survive without one and will watch for opportunities to role model what I’d like my wife to do.
Potential Boundary: To help in the future I could request that if either of us say thank you, the other person should say thank you for something in return and if either of us say I’m sorry for something, the other person should say I’m sorry for something as well in order to keep it all in balance.
This week may you consider whether you need a thank you or apology or if you can let things go and if you need to work on saying thank you or giving an apology to your partner.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, Learning to love dumb people (like me)