I know what you’re thinking: Bitch, don’t tell me not to bitch. If I don’t bitch, nothing will ever get done around here. But hear me out. Because if ever there was a wife who bitched, she was me. And once I figured out that there was another way, everything changed.
I’m lucky: despite being the primary breadwinner, my husband does a chunk of the household chores. But when I needed something more of him, it was always a fight. I would ask once and grow increasingly aggressive in my requests-turned-demands. More times than I’d like to admit, he was greeted at the end of a long workday with a complaint about something he’d failed to do.
Every time, I could feel him turning away from me. I would, in turn, get super-defensive and turn away from him, too, leaving a bitter spat to unfold when the central issue was as stupid as the changing of a lightbulb or the hanging up of a towel hook.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe in holding each other accountable for a fair share household duties. As a work-from-home mom with no childcare, I need the house to be in order. If I’m going to be a heap in the middle of the living room floor with a laptop on one knee and a grouchy two-year-old on the other, the scene around me should be attractive or at the very least manageable.
So, yes, I’m justified in wanting my husband’s help with certain things. But I was going about it all wrong and it was taking hit after hit on our marriage. Then one night, I had an epiphany.
It had been one of those days in the life of a mom where nothing had gone right. I dragged myself and our sleeping toddler who’d nodded off in my arms up the stairs, knowing I had a good hour of chores ahead of me still. As I tiptoed into her room, I realized her soiled crib sheet had not been replaced as I’d “asked” (demanded) it be, at least five times that day. (Pregnant and unable to lift the mattress properly to do it, this was an “extra” I needed of him).
That was it. I was livid. I could hear my husband’s snores wafting up from the living room. And here I was, trying to get our sleeping daughter off to bed so that I could do more stuff around the house. I placed her gently on our bed and stormed down the stairs. Like any husband-bitcher, I was ready to wake him from the nap he didn’t deserve and demand an explanation and a prompt sheet change.
But as soon as I walked into the living room and caught sight of him, something shifted. Suddenly, in slumber, the chronic ignorer of my requests looked a lot more like the guy who once took me to Paris for a weekend on a whim. I slowed my pace as I walked toward the couch, watching the hand that had planned to nudge him awake instead reach for a blanket to cover him.
It occurred to me for, embarrassingly, the first time ever, how awful it must feel to be on his side of our never-ending bickering over chores. Sure, I was stuck in the house all day so if the garbage hadn’t been emptied or the crumbs not vacuumed in the living room, I was affected. But he didn’t exactly have it easy. He was out earning a living for us and coming home to a furrowed brow and an angrily detailed list of orders. Yikes.
So, I left it. I put my daughter to bed on just her mattress pad — gasp — and let his nap go on long enough that he eventually stirred on his own and came up to meet me in bed. The next morning, instead of starting off the day with, “You never changed the sheet in her room yesterday like you said you would,” I tried a different thing.
It was a smile and morning greeting. 20 minutes later over coffee and banter, I asked gently, “Hey, honey, do you think you’ll get a chance to take care of that crib sheet today?” I braced myself for the typical grunt or rude comment about my demands but instead, he replied, “Oh, crap. I totally forgot. I’m sorry.” And then he walked directly upstairs, put on the fresh sheet, and came back down to ask me if I needed anything else.
What just happened?
Now, I’m not going to pretend that I (or we) have been perfect every since Crib-Sheetgate. But the power of the epiphany has stuck around. Ever since, we’ve gone over our mutual goals for the home together to dole out tasks. I’m no longer in the role of Chore Dictator, and it’s better for both of us this way.
Ever since I quit bitching, he’s been doing more stuff without being prompted. Now I feel like I can be honest with him about my feelings and he gets it — it’s never really about a crib sheet or a towel hook; it’s about the peace that comes with having a functional home. We’re a team again, and it feels really great.
Here’s the thing: marriage is hard. In the absence of huge roadblocks (which, thankfully, we aren’t experiencing right now), you will find meaningless reasons to get at each other’s throats. Don’t do this. Or at least, try not to. Think about your spouse and how it feels to be bitched at, and just try another way.
I’m not suggesting that we’ll never argue over chores again, but at least we’re trying not to. It helps to look at the face of the guy who’s letting you down with an un-mowed lawn and remember your first date and all the promise of those early months together. And to fight like hell to get that feeling back. Because when you do, you can get through anything. Even a cold war over crib sheets.
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