This Relationship Secret Saves My Sanity (and My Marriage) Every Time

our wedding dayI love my husband, I truly do. He makes me laugh every day. He is creative, intuitive, passionate, irreverent and steadfast. He doesn’t do anything half-way and he cares about things that a lot of other people are fine to ignore—things like being genuine and honoring your word.

And yet, naturally, he can totally drive me crazy. He will freely admit that he is a great starter of things, and not so much a finisher of things. He has opinions on everything, and sometimes in my only-child-ness I don’t really want to stop and consider his views (a place where my stuff and his stuff clash.) He never thinks I make enough food (he is the youngest of five boys; I swear there is not a meal big enough to take away that fear that the food will run out before everyone is truly sated); I think he should be grateful for the quantities of food that I do make.

I have written before about how we used to fight about doing the dishes (it’s hands-down my most popular post ever!).

We’ve come a long way since those early days of living together. He absolutely does the dishes, and so much more. He has been managing our home renovation for nearly three years, is building us a fence (custom-designed, naturally) and has a pretty steady habit of folding laundry.

But here’s the catch—he won’t do any of these things if I’m around. It’s like he doesn’t like to be witnessed.

The secret I remind myself of whenever I get frustrated with him is this: You don’t get to say how your partner takes care of his or her business.

It’s just simply not your business. Your business is taking care of your stuff in a way that feels good to you. That’s the single best way to inspire the people around you to take care of their stuff in a way that feels good to them.

You can explain, cajole or yell ten ways to Tuesday, trying to get someone to deal with something, but it’s not going to result in a happy relationship.

I know this isn’t easy to swallow – a lot of people really really enjoy and feel comfortable telling other people what to do and how to do it. I definitely used to get frustrated, because his mode of operation means things can languish until he feels the time is right.

But here’s what I came to see: I can’t love his arty side and then get mad at him for being moved by inspiration. Well, I tried that for a while. It didn’t help either one of us feel any better.

Which is why I now say, “OK, honey. Whatever floats your boat.”

What I finally saw was that his way of doing things means I get a great excuse to go out and do my thing, or hole up in bed and read a book. Pretty much every time I do, he gets busy taking care of something on our behalf. And I get to recharge. What’s not to love?

It does mean that I have to be OK with laundry that sits on the couch in the basement for 24 hours before he brings it upstairs. Or with a half-built fence. I’ve really learned to let go of a lot of that popular need to have things be finished.

And sometimes, I still get irritated.

Then it’s my challenge to find a way to talk to him about it in a totally benign tone. “Hey hon, can you __________________?” sounds so simple but I tell you, it works WONDERS when delivered lightly. Or, another magic phrase is, “How could I help?” If you don’t believe me, try it! I warn you, you will have to be taking care of your own business and doing things that get you out of that naggy/pissed off/feeling sorry for yourself headspace in order to be able to carry this off. So if you’re not ready to own your end of the equation, just skip straight to the bitchy comments that lead to a fight–maybe it will take a few dozen more fights for you to get to the point where you’re willing to try things differently.

Of course, there will be times when your main squeeze won’t take care of his business at all—whether it’s pitching in around the house or dealing with big emotions. If you loved him enough to marry him or move in with him or have babies with him, you’ve got to trust that he’s got the integrity and the ability to tend to his stuff. This is hard, because the place most women want to go is anger, shaming or belittling.  Which is so human of you.

Keep in mind that he’s probably really scared about the thought of doing things differently. Which is so human of him. To the extent that you can, forgive him, communicate with him with love about what you need, and then go get busy taking care of your own business. He will either join you or he won’t. But he absolutely deserves the space and the inspiration to try. Don’t we all?

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2 thoughts on “This Relationship Secret Saves My Sanity (and My Marriage) Every Time

  1. I find a lot of your ideas are helpful, but I wanted to point out (as a constructive comment) that your heteronormative writing alienates some of the people who read your posts. Thought you should know.

    1. Hi Monique,
      Thanks for saying something, I appreciate it. I will say that this post is from 2015–it’s not an excuse, but I take care to be more inclusive in my language today. I–we–can always do better, but it’s something I care about. So again, thanks,
      Kate

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