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December 18, 2012

To Change Others, First Change Yourself

I loved this:

10:20 pm. I emerged from the garage entrance to the house, setting down my computer bag and purse, and walked into the kitchen. Six hours earlier, the crock pot worked preparing a meal for the family while I left to teach my business communications training class downtown. Now it sat in the sink, filled with soapy water, soaking. Dirty dinner dishes lay on the counter. The pan with the cornbread sat uncovered on top of the stove. I heard snoring. I gazed across to the living room, where my husband lay on the couch, television playing in the background. Tears of exhaustion, anger, and hurt welled in my eyes.

I took off my jacket, rolled up my sleeves and went to work cleaning up. With each dish, I grew more resentful. "How could he not see these?" I stewed. "I work all day, I prepare a home-made dinner for him and the kids before I go teach a class, and he can't even make sure the mess gets cleaned up," I fumed. The slamming of the dishwasher roused the sleeping husband. "I was going to get those before I went to bed," he mumbled, sensing my irritation. "Well, you already went to bed, didn't you?" I responded, wondering how long he'd been blessed with sleep, when both of us had been up since 5:00 am. "Here, let me help," he offered. "I'm nearly done now. I don't want your help," I lied. His brow furrowed. "Fine. Suit yourself. I'm going upstairs," he said.

I had no idea he really did plan on doing the dishes, but accidentally fell asleep on the couch because he, too, was exhausted. I didn't know that he had lovingly spent time with each of our kids, reading them stories before tucking them in and praying with them before bed. He went to bed that night feeling disrespected. I went to bed feeling unloved. Small interactions like this occurred often enough to create a growing chasm between us. These little conflicts went unresolved or were dealt with in unhealthy ways and resulted in a barren relationship on the road to destruction.

...Being a practicing Christian, I eventually ran across a Bible verse that at first angered me: Ephesians 5:33, "and the wife shall respect her husband." Another verse suggested I "submit" to my husband, and I had the same reaction. I couldn't believe God expected me to pay homage to a man who was, in my eyes, uninterested in working on our relationship.

A decade later, I can say that those two concepts--"respect" and "submission"--saved my marriage. And it wasn't because I became a doormat or no longer communicated my feelings. I learned that Biblical submission, boiled down, is basically "don't be a contentious competitor to him." After learning that, I argued with him less. I stopped rolling my eyes with disgust when he had something to say - even if I thought it was not such a great idea at the time. I started practicing the Bible verse which reads, "Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and even slower to become angry."

I started asking him questions about his life. I started being interested in him again as a person. I decided he was more important to me than whether or not a dish made it into the dishwasher or his socks were left on the floor. There were even a few things he did that could be considered big mistakes that just didn't seem to matter as much when I viewed him as a person of worth. I could forgive him - and I saw my own flawed nature clearly.

This frame of mind, where the default state is for each sex to treat the other with respect and gentleness, is how I think of chivalry. Unlike Grim, I know little of the history or origins of chivalry. So I cannot comment knowledgeably on what it is supposed to be or how it was practiced in bygone ages. When done correctly, it brings out the very best in both men and women because at its heart, it is based upon respect and love:

A code that teaches men how to love women is good. If it also makes men into the kinds of creatures that are worthy of love themselves, it is better.

Lack of respect makes us suspicious of each other's motives and can lead us to react antagonistically to each other instead of extending the benefit of the doubt. This weekend, I was at the mall. I stepped into the entryway briefly to throw out my coffee cup. As I turned to go back into the store, I spied a man walking towards the door. So instead of walking through, I opened the door and held it for him.

He paused, and as he did a woman I had not seen approached from the other side and walked through the door I was holding without saying a word. I attributed this, not to her being female or to feminism, but to the fact that some people are self absorbed.

The man was still paused on the other side of the door, so I stayed where I was and gestured with my hand to show that I was holding the door for him. He hesitated a moment, then walked through. He had a look of slight amazement on his face as he said, "I'm not used to that! Thank you."

That struck me as very sad. The gesture was automatic on my part. I've said the same thing when a man has obviously gone out of his way to hold a door for me because I don't expect doors to be held open simply because I'm female. To work, I think chivalry has got to be reciprocal, and moreover at some point it has to include some recognition that men and women don't see the world through the same eyes and don't need the same things (love, or respect) in equal amounts. That's one reason a template can be helpful:

I think is very healthy for society to have gender roles, because men and women are quite different. On average, such roles help us relate to each other by giving us forms we can rely upon to smooth our interactions just where misunderstandings are most likely.

Perhaps the most difficult thing for me to understand about men (or my sons) has been male pride. Men often complain about women being unreasonable when they get their feelings hurt over some slight that wouldn't even register to a man, and sometimes they are right. But women are often just as mystified by the male need for respect - like the hurt feelings thing for men, it just doesn't register with most of us because - after all - *we* wouldn't react that way! Things that don't seem disrespectful or antagonistic to us often seem that way to men.

The interesting thing about chivalry is that it seems to build in the unique needs of men and women without necessarily making those needs explicit. Where it can sometimes go wrong is (as Grim notes) when it becomes too rigid, assuming that women don't need respect.

Or men don't need love.

Sets of rules are great for ordering societies, but I can't help thinking that understanding is important, too. The real irony here is that I've often observed that men can perceive helpfulness from a woman as implied disrespect ("You obviously think I am the sort of person who needs help") when often it's proferred with the best of intentions and no disrespect. So men obviously understand on a gut level how deference or helpfulness might be unwelcome in certain circumstances, especially if the recipient feels the need to project strength or independence. If this feeling is natural for men, why should it be a cause for offense in women?

What I loved about the reaction of the man in that store is that he was mildly taken aback, but put the best construction on my gesture and accepted it graciously. It requires effort to set aside our instinctive reactions, but it's well worth the trouble.

Posted by Cassandra at December 18, 2012 06:29 AM

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Comments

"Just checking if you were still American"

From a young woman in Norway after she hesitated at a closed door in front of us where we had worked together for several months.
Yes, still American.

Posted by: tomg51 at December 18, 2012 09:10 AM

Yikes - do people not open doors for each other in Norway?

Posted by: Cassandra at December 18, 2012 09:26 AM

"Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth." - Aldous Huxley

That happy silence was broken when women, mostly, made it known things would no longer be as they had been. And being that human nature, not purely female nature, but human nature, tends to overcompensate when it settles a score, we are left with men holding that it is better not to be bothered - lest women think them bothersome.

I recall, just within this past year, some woman writing about having been stranded when her car had broken down – I think it was a flat tire – and being exasperated that no passing car, specifically no man, stopped to help. Unless women who think otherwise, the great majority I expect, make it known they think otherwise, then we will be worse than at odds – we will ignore each other.

I would note that whatever the shortcomings of chivalry in what it had determined about women it was by several orders of magnitude preferable to the modern, feminist, selfish ideal:

Always strive to get more pleasure than you give. That's how you know that you're not being exploited.

Until it is publicly executed things will continue to deteriorate.

Posted by: George Pal at December 18, 2012 09:59 AM

I would note that whatever the shortcomings of chivalry in what it had determined about women it was by several orders of magnitude preferable to the modern, feminist, selfish ideal:

Always strive to get more pleasure than you give. That's how you know that you're not being exploited.

I understand your frustration with feminism, George, but I know plenty of women who have treated their husbands exactly the same way as this woman did and feminism had nothing to do with it.

I don't recall seeing the ideal you cite advanced by feminists, but that doesn't mean it never has been. Still, if I've never seen it then it seems rather unlikely that it's an organizing tenet either. What feminists tell women to exploit men (or take advantage of them)?

What I've seen was mainly an emphasis on everything being equal, which is perhaps flawed in its own way but isn't equivalent to "get more than you give". It's more like "get as much as you give", which in general strikes me as the basis of most healthy relationships, even if that balance is a rough one over the long haul rather than a daily tallying process.

I'm willing to stipulate they may in fact be saying this, but since I haven't actually seen it, it's hard for me to respond to.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 18, 2012 10:08 AM

Cassandra,
Sadly, they did not in a major office building 1997.
Tom

Posted by: tomg51 at December 18, 2012 10:21 AM

I'm glad you liked the piece, Cass. Nobody's said anything about it at the Hall, but my wife liked it quite a bit. I suppose that ought to be telling, given the subject. :)

Posted by: Grim at December 18, 2012 10:52 AM

I've been told by random knowledgeable commenters that sometimes people don't say anything because you already said whatever it was they were thinking :p

I liked both of them, actually. I was going to write about the 'bring chivalry back' essay but knew you'd do a better job!

Posted by: Cassandra at December 18, 2012 11:05 AM

"since I haven't actually seen it, it's hard for me to respond to."

Cass,

I hadn't meant the ideal was proprietarily feminist but belonged to the troika, along with modernism and selfishness. It may be my sense of this is wrong but I think there are women of the sort that lay claim to feminism in their being, as the old saying, updated, would have it - free, white, single, and sexually emancipated.
I've never seen Sex And The City but had heard enough about it to have gotten the sense that what it was espousing was gander/goose equality, that two can play the game of 'player'.

Posted by: George Pal at December 18, 2012 11:31 AM

I've been told by random knowledgeable commenters that sometimes people don't say anything because you already said whatever it was they were thinking :p

Quite true. And it was true for me in that instance as well.

A couple of things I'd like to point out in the essay:
"Here, let me help," he offered. "I'm nearly done now. I don't want your help," I lied. His brow furrowed. "Fine. Suit yourself. I'm going upstairs," he said.

That. Right there. I have to call my wife on this ALL the time. Ladies, when you're upset, do not lie and tell us you're upset hoping we'll realize you are upset. It's not helpful and will end up making you angrier when we take you at face value. If you are upset, or want us to help, TELL US you're upset or want help. By denying it, at best you are playing a game. At worst, you are misleading us. In both cases, and I cannot stress this enough, you are lying to us. It was only after I put it in these terms my wife began to understand why this game made me so angry. You are lying to me. I know you don't think of it in those terms, but that's exactly what is going on. Boil away all the reasons you're doing it (to spare feelings, to see if I really care, whatever). You. Are. Lying. And if we were to lie to you and then get mad because you didn't realize we were lying, you would be confused and upset. And rightfully so.

After BEGGING my wife to tell me what was bothering her, I finally told her (in some disgust) "Well, if you have that little respect for me that you're willing to lie to my face, then I suppose we have nothing to talk about." That caught her off guard. She didn't see it as being disrespectful, but essentially, that game (or however you'd like to classify it) is disrespectful. To lie to your spouses face? And then have the GALL to get angry that they didn't call you on your lie? Terrible.

Oh, and for the record, after shocking her like that, we discussed the problem and worked it out. But ladies... I BEG you, I don't know where this concept of telling your significant other "nothing's wrong, I don't want your help" when that's the opposite of true, but PLEASE... stop it.

Men (in general... as I always feel the need to point out, exceptions exist) DO NOT communicate like this. If another man makes me angry, I will not tell him "everything is fine". I will tell him "I don't like this, fix it" or some such. If my wife makes me angry, I do not stew and hope she realizes that I am mad. Because if she doesn't realize it and ask "what's wrong" then I am to blame that it doesn't get fixed. So I tell her that something is bothering me, and I'd like to discuss it. How else do you hope to get to the root cause of the problem?

Posted by: MikeD at December 18, 2012 02:41 PM

I don't know where this concept of telling your significant other "nothing's wrong, I don't want your help" when that's the opposite of true, but PLEASE... stop it.

I can tell you exactly where it comes from, Mike. Women and girls often feel shame when they are angry. My Mom can't even admit when I've made her mad. She's not trying to manipulate me - it's like the older generation strong, silent type who can't openly show tenderness. Many women are as uncomfortable with anger as many men are with tears and sadness and vulnerability. So we deny it. That has been an issue in my friendships with women - I'm fairly direct and they're usually ... not :)

And yes, men often see that as manipulative. And sometimes, it even is. But often it is not.

I can tell you that when my husband and I get into a fight and I become angry with him, it is all I can do not to cry. That's just what happens when I get really steamed - I feel sick inside and big fat tears start a-rollin' down my faaaaaaaace.

And I feel ashamed of myself for that - it's like I've been reduced to a blubbering, quivering crybaby. He's not crying! Why am I crying? (of course he yells and I don't, so we're fairly even there) :)

And the more upset I am, the more impassive and stony faced he gets (familiar?). It hurts my pride to be so visibly distraught that we are fighting. I have always prided myself on my self control. But it's worse that that because I have also prided my self on not hardening my heart against him. If I allowed myself to do that, I wouldn't cry but I know that is not a good thing for me to do because once I do, I can't shake it off and let bygones be bygones. I'm different from him in this way - it takes me longer to get really steamed but when I do, it takes me longer to recover.

The thing is, from my perspective men do EXACTLY the same thing all the time. I can tell that something is *really* bothering my husband (or when they were younger, one of my sons). And so I ask, only to be told, "It's nothing.".

But it's not nothing - it's real and it manifests itself in the way men act when they're upset. They withdraw, or they snap. I don't think men interact with men the same way they do with women.

I've often noted that a man will be very upset over some trivial thing a woman says. If a man had said the same thing, it would be no big deal.

FWIW, I agree with your last paragraph 100% :) The thing is, if I know someone is upset or angry with me and they won't address it, I want to get it out in the open and over with quickly. Usually, it's just a misunderstanding.

It has taken me many, many years to understand that a lot of men are far more upset by any kind of confrontation with a woman than women are. That's why they go so far out of their way - often to ridiculous lengths that cause further damage - to avoid dealing with small problems before they become big ones. Once I began to understand that, I learned better ways of bringing up conflicts that wouldn't cause what seemed to me like a disproportionate amount of thrashing about and hate and discontent.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 18, 2012 03:31 PM

"Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and even slower to become angry."

I don't think I ever seriously try to tell my husband I'm not angry when I am, but there is a very great temptation to say "I wouldn't ask for your help right now if I were on fire." It's just the reaction I have to someone who refused to help when I asked nicely (or who agreed to help and fell down on the job), and who now seems to be inviting me to beg while simultaneously acting oblivious about why in the world I might be upset. Not going to happen. But it's still best, obviously, to say out loud that I'm clearly upset and angry, and it's because I needed help, didn't get it, and now am too upset and too untrusting to ask for it openly.

Of course, when frustration in getting some fairly minor need met (I wasn't stranded down a mine shaft without insulin) results in a primal, inarticulate rage, something inside needs a little attention.

Posted by: Texan99 at December 19, 2012 09:01 AM

I can tell you exactly where it comes from, Mike. Women and girls often feel shame when they are angry. My Mom can't even admit when I've made her mad. She's not trying to manipulate me - it's like the older generation strong, silent type who can't openly show tenderness. Many women are as uncomfortable with anger as many men are with tears and sadness and vulnerability. So we deny it.

I can accept that it's learned behavior. I really can. Just as it's learned behavior for men to not show vulnerability. I am a victim of that as well. In the appropriate place. At home, I feel safe. I've broken down into a blubbering mess in front of my wife in our house, almost completely without shame. Because you CAN'T bottle that stuff inside and never let it out without it turning toxic. I think people need and should have the ability to let it out in an emotionally safe place.

When my wife and I were first married and she broke down in tears during an argument, she walked into the bedroom and laid down. She was shocked and a little upset I followed her to talk about it. It seems that growing up, her father couldn't handle talking to a crying woman, so he'd send her to her room until she could stop crying so they could talk about it. That would NEVER have flown in my house. So she's unlearned that by this point. And I've learned to measure my reactions to things she says.

And the more upset I am, the more impassive and stony faced he gets (familiar?).

Not in my case. Perhaps I was raised differently. Perhaps I'm weird. I don't rightly know. But if I get upset at my wife, stewing about it never helps. I can't even sleep if I'm angry with her until I talk about it.

The thing is, from my perspective men do EXACTLY the same thing all the time. I can tell that something is *really* bothering my husband (or when they were younger, one of my sons). And so I ask, only to be told, "It's nothing.".

The only times I've done something similar is when I wasn't very upset and realized it was some fault or misinterpretation of mine. I try to remove myself until I get over it (generally by going into another room) because once I get over the initial hurt it's done. Occasionally she's caught me angry and asked to talk about it. And I will literally say "I'm upset now, but it's not something that needs to be resolved. I'll be over it in a bit, just leave it be." And if it wasn't those exact words, it was pretty close. Now, we did end up discussing it, and honestly it caused an argument where one was unnecessary (Me: "I know when you said X you didn't mean Y, but that's how it sounded, so I was upset and just need to get over it since I know you wouldn't say Y to me like that." Her: "Why would I ever say Y to you?" like that), but at no point did I tell her that everything was fine and I wasn't upset.

I've often noted that a man will be very upset over some trivial thing a woman says. If a man had said the same thing, it would be no big deal.

To be fair, it may not be because a woman said it, but because a woman they care about said it. I love my mother. I love my wife. Yet there are literally no people in this world who can make me angrier quicker than these two women. People CAN make me angry. I'm not some kind of saint. It just takes quite a bit, since ultimately, their approbation (or lack thereof) doesn't really mean anything to me. But my wife or my mother can set me off because their opinion MATTERS to me. And I can't shrug them off. My father hasn't (to the best of my recollection) ever made me mad. I don't know if it's because of the extreme respect and love I have for him. He's literally the ideal I try to live up to. But it also could be because he's a lot more even tempered and thoughtful than my wife or mother, who are more like me (my wife being a stereotypical redhead and my mother being where I seem to have gotten my personality from). But I think the core of the matter is "you only hurt the ones you love" works both ways. They're the only ones who can really hurt you as well.

Posted by: MikeD at December 19, 2012 09:18 AM

there is a very great temptation to say "I wouldn't ask for your help right now if I were on fire." It's just the reaction I have to someone who refused to help when I asked nicely (or who agreed to help and fell down on the job), and who now seems to be inviting me to beg while simultaneously acting oblivious about why in the world I might be upset. Not going to happen.

I think this is the missing piece. I've heard both men and women say, "Why don't you just tell me what you want?". But often, that has already failed. Men don't always respond the way they say they will when women are direct about what they want and frankly, neither do women. Part of this is perhaps b/c we have different ideas about what being direct means (how you go about it) and part's just because we're human and not always rational.

When a woman asks for help directly, a lot of men say, "Fine, I'll do it" ...and then don't. Repeatedly. So it doesn't always work.

Or women try to be honest/direct with their husbands when they're upset, but (as this author pointed out) they way they do it causes their husbands to shut them down or shut them out. They were actually *too* direct, so lack of directness wasn't really the problem.

I'm not saying Mike's doing that, but I've seen it over and over again.

I don't think I've ever told my spouse that I wasn't angry when I was, either. But I absolutely *have* been known to say, "Nothing" when asked, "Is something bothering you?"

That doesn't happen very often, and (per my previous comment) it almost always happens when I know I'm mad and am afraid I'll either lose my temper completely and say something I'll regret or start blubbering (and lose my temper too!) :p I'm quite capable of getting angry about the fact that I'm ashamed of being so angry (otherwise known as The Trifecta of Stupid) :p

A particular challenge for me has been the normal changes that happen as we get older. I now have a fairly high pressure job, so my patience (which used to be legendary) is not as great as it once was. I get angry more often now that I'm older. When you live for 40+ years being one way and all of a sudden you find yourself reacting in ways you're not used to, it's disorienting.

So that's given me more empathy for how my husband reacts to things because now I have actually experienced it. Oddly, he's much more patient now than he used to be, so things seem to balance out - something I give him huge credit for.

I'm learning to say something like, "Yes, I'm upset but I'm not ready to talk about it yet", which is much more informative than, "Nothing".

Posted by: Pain Is Just Weakness, Leaving the Body... at December 19, 2012 09:31 AM

... if I get upset at my wife, stewing about it never helps. I can't even sleep if I'm angry with her until I talk about it.

Heh :) I'm exactly the same way. My husband, otoh, can go right off to sleep. The thing is, he's upset. He's just way better and compartmentalizing.

But it used to come across to me as cold and uncaring. Now I know better, but only because we finally talked about it. That was like having a 10000 lb weight lifted off our marriage.

Posted by: Pain Is Just Weakness, Leaving the Body... at December 19, 2012 09:34 AM

Left this out:

Example of women punishing men for being direct:

She asks him to level with her about what's really bugging him.

He does.

She freaks out.

If you tell someone you want them to be honest with you, you have to be able to take it on board calmly.

Posted by: Pain Is Just Weakness, Leaving the Body... at December 19, 2012 09:37 AM

To be fair, it may not be because a woman said it, but because a woman they care about said it.

I think you're right about that - I didn't really express myself all that well :)

Posted by: Pain Is Just Weakness, Leaving the Body... at December 19, 2012 09:42 AM

I've heard both men and women say, "Why don't you just tell me what you want?". But often, that has already failed. Men don't always respond the way they say they will when women are direct about what they want and frankly, neither do women. Part of this is perhaps b/c we have different ideas about what being direct means (how you go about it) and part's just because we're human and not always rational.

Most of the time this happens, I suspect it's because one side thought they were being clear, but the other side didn't receive the same message. An example of this would be "Honey? Don't you think it would be a nice day to mow the lawn?" The man may respond, "Yeah. I guess it would." He's answered the question posed. However, she may become upset that he subsequently does not mow the lawn and spends the day watching football. The error here is she was trying to gently imply he should get off the damned couch and mow the lawn. But that's NOT what she said. She asked him if he thought it was a nice enough day to do so. And given that she may even be asking during 4th and 2 with 1:15 to go, he may not be giving his full attention to what she said.

Which also leads to different variants on this problem. "Honey, would you please take out the trash?" "Sure, sure." he might say. But he's not giving his full attention at that moment (perhaps this time, he's at a key point in the novel he's reading and didn't really process what was requested). Note that I'm not saying the guy is in the right and the woman is wrong. I'm saying I've seen it.

And perhaps the most common cause is what I saw in the younger married couple I am friends with. They talked about an argument they had earlier. She asked him to fold the laundry. He said "Ok, after I take a shower I'll do it." He came out of the shower less than an hour later to find the laundry folded and her angry at him. "I said I was going to fold it after my shower." She thought he was subtlety trying to tell her "I don't want to do it." I knew while they were telling this story exactly what had happened. I explained to him that she wanted it done right then. "Well, why didn't she ASK me to fold it right then?" I had to explain that she thought she had. At which point she said, "SEE? Mike understands, why can't you!" I had to stop her, "But you have to understand, you DIDN'T tell him you wanted it done right then. I just understand that this is what you meant because I've been in his position before. I've got experience at this that he doesn't."

I then explained that if she had wanted it done right then she should have said "Would you fold the laundry right now? I need the basket (or whatever reason you need it done right now)." "But I didn't want to nag him about it!" Ok... I understand that it's a pain in the tuckus when a guy breaks out the 'nag' word. But I've explained to my own wife that 'nagging' is when you are after me multiple times. Asking me once to do something right now will never be nagging... that's asking me to do something now.

So I explained to her that when she wants something done at a particular time ('now' also being a particular time), then she should state that directly. I explained to him that if she asks him to do something but doesn't specify a time, he should probably ask "would it be ok if it waited until I do X first?" Rather than say "I will do it later." Give her a definite time. And be more specific than you think you need to be in order to assure her that you're not blowing it off. And I explained that this is because when he said "I'll do it after I take a shower", and did not immediately jump in the shower, that she assumed it meant, "I don't want to do it." I told her (and while it may not be true for all men, it certainly is in his case) if he didn't want to do it, he wasn't going to 'let her down easy', he'd say, "No, I'm not going to do it." To which he agreed. She looked dubious until I pointed out, "Has he ever seemed to have any trouble saying 'no' to you?" She laughed and admitted that he didn't. But as a newly married couple, they were still learning what it was to speak to someone with a completely different communication paradigm all day.

Ok, I babbled on long enough. Everyone have a wonderful day!

Posted by: MikeD at December 20, 2012 09:53 AM

Deborah Tannen has a great essay about the different communications styles of men and women. It boils down to, women phrase requests as suggestions or invitations to negotiate a mutually satisfactory plan (IOW, indirectly). Men often interpret this as:

1. not a serious request (just musing), or
2. an attempt to tell them what to do

To me, one of the funnier things about being married is realizing that although you were your own person before you got married, you become a slightly different person when you're part of a couple - how you choose to react to them determines a surprising amount of who you are.

One of the reasons I have never minded deployments all that much is that for a year, I got the chance to remember who I was before I got married - "me", not half of "us". I think "half of us" is probably a better person than "me" would have been all on her own. But still, we all give up part of ourselves when we marry.

I had more fun the year he was in Iraq - I traveled, tried things I don't have time to do when he's home, caught up with old friends, etc. I missed him, too. Terribly, at times. But there was a lot of good that came from our time apart.

I'll admit that for most of our marriage I have studiously avoided asking my husband to do anything unless I absolutely could not do it myself. It would never occur to me to ask him to take out the trash, for instance. If I want it taken out, I take it out. If I want the dishes done, I do them.

Since I broke my ankle and collarbone this Spring, I have had to learn to ask him to do some things. I healed quickly and well, but my ankle still gives me trouble sometimes and it took a while before I was able to dig holes in my garden - I just couldn't jump on the shovel the way I normally would.

There are lots of reasons I don't ask him to do things. Part of it is that I don't like depending on other people. Part is that I feel better about myself when I'm independent. But I know a part was also (especially when the kids were small) that my sense of urgency about getting many things done was greater than his. Having to ask twice infuriates me - I just won't do it.

Like most women, I spent years silently wondering why my husband didn't simply notice that this or that really needed to be done and pitch in. I won't say it never bothered me - I can remember a few years when I felt rather put upon. But I'm pretty sure he has felt the same way on more than one occasion.

Even back then, I was aware that our lives were so different that his priorities just weren't likely to match mine. So in the big scheme of things, it didn't help to get mad at him for being him any more than it would have made sense for him to be mad at me for having the priorities I had.

I never got the feeling he was doing it to spite me - just that whatever I was fretting about wasn't as important to him as it was to me and it was more sensible to focus on things that really mattered (how he treated me in general, which I have never, ever had any complaints about) than who mowed the lawn or changed a diaper.

Over the years, we both grew up (we married quite young) and he gradually started assuming more and more work around the house without my ever asking. And that has been my general experience - I get a better response by not pushing and letting him decide what's most important to him at any particular time than by trying to push my mental to do list off on him.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 20, 2012 10:30 AM

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