Thursday, January 13, 2011

Relationships are hard

My husband and I are in a rough patch these days. We're clashing over housework, mostly. I tolerate, even enjoy, a slightly messy house. I like piles of books I haven't read (or that I'm halfway through) in the living room, and I can handle a pile of folded clothes on the dresser. I dislike actual dirt, however, and tend to choose wiping down counters to putting away stuff. My idea of a clean house is one where I can eat off the floors or counters, but where it's clear that a happy family is living there.

M, my husband, is different. He likes things to be perfect. Everything in its place, no sign of actual people who read, eat, play, or enjoy their lives. He gets this vision from his mother. His mother's house is like a freakin' museum. I swear I wouldn't know that people live there. It always has that "model home" kind of look. It's cold, quiet, and uncomfortable.

The paradox about M's desire for a super-clean house is that he is incredibly messy. I mean scary messy. He takes socks off and they lay wherever he left them for weeks, usually one in the dining room and the other one in the upstairs hallway. He cannot keep track of a piece of paper to save his life. Just ask us about the current tax issue we could easily solve if he could find his 2009 W-2s but can't. Mine are in the file folder I created named "Taxes, 2009." He also doesn't seem to understand basic hygiene. For example, I have to routinely remind him to wash his hands after cleaning the catbox in the basement. If I didn't remind him, it's entirely possible that he would make dinner with dirty hands (I'm shivering just thinking about it). He defrosts meat on the counter and "forgets" to clean up the little puddle of ickiness that it leaves behind (oh, the germs!). I won't even get into the issues in the bathroom. If I could, I would gladly live in a house with separate bathrooms in the master suite so I didn't have to share with him. I'm just sayin'.

Every week or so, he goes through little rampages through the house where he "cleans." To him, cleaning means that he randomly puts things away in drawers, which means that we can't find anything for weeks because there is no logic to his drawer-stashing. And he can spend an hour in the kitchen cleaning, but you'd never guess it because the counters are dirty, the sink is half-full, and things are shoved randomly in the cabinets. I honestly cannot figure out what he does for an hour in the kitchen that makes it seem worse, not better.

During these rampages, which have been happening with increasing frequency, he sometimes asks for my help, but he doesn't ask in a way that feels good to me. He says, in an exasperated voice, "I can't live like this!" and then stomps around angrily until I stop whatever I'm doing to help him out. I don't mean to make him sound like an ogre--he's usually a sweetheart. But I really hate these habits of his, and his anger is getting more palpable.

His anger also pushes a series of my own buttons. I'm aware that I'm not very neat and organized, and I have some anxiety about this fact. When I was in middle and high school, my family was poor. I mean poor like we ate mac and cheese every night using water instead of milk because it was the cheapest and most filling thing my mom could afford. We (me, my mom, and my brother) lived in a tiny two bedroom apartment. And my mother is messy. Messier than I am, in fact, though that's probably debatable. That whole period of my life was embarassing. I hated that I couldn't invite friends over because I didn't want them to see where and how we lived. So I carry with me this anxiety about having a comfortable home, even though the way I'm living now is completely fine. If someone stopped by unexpectedly--right now--I'd be happy to invite them in for tea. I'd ask them to excuse the toys strewn about, but otherwise, c'mon in!

The dischord between me and M about this is big and it's getting bigger and more contentious. He's clearly worked himself up about it in recent weeks, and our discussions are less friendly and playful than they once were. They're also emotionally charged, and he doesn't do well when I make an emotional connection to something we're discussing. I'm a quick crier and can shed tears over the lamest of commercials; during serious relationship conversations when I'm feeling attacked and accused of being a "bad wife," it's a sure bet that I will cry. M was married once before me, and one of the stupid things that got stuck in my head about his former wife was that M's biggest praise of her was that she did a wonderful job keeping the house the way he wanted it. (She was also manipulative, cruel to him, and had no job, which might have allowed her the time to "keep the house" while she was plotting to take his money and leave him...I'm not bitter, though, right?)

I'm planning to talk to him tonight to remind him that I respond much better to these kind of conversations if I have some positive feedback about what is going right with us alongside what is going poorly. I know that sounds pathetic--it's like the compliment sandwich I sometimes use in commenting on students' papers (give some praise, talk about what isn't going well and needs improvement, end on a note of hope and encouragement). It works! I think it always helps me feel like M is not attacking me.

There's no resolution here--I'm not sure where to go or what to do. I think he's projecting some of his own shit onto me (for example, he knows he's terrible at picking up after himself so he's accusing me of being terrible at picking up after myself). And I think he's otherwise frustrated with things in his own life. He's not eating well, he's working a lot, etc.

Relationships are hard. Right now, my relationship feels like it's got a canker sore or a hangnail. Or maybe a broken limb. I'm sure we'll work it out, but I hope we're able to find a way to let these ongoing disagreements not consume us. I don't want to live in a house where I resent him or am uncomfortable. And last night, I barely slept because I kept running over his latest rant about it in my head.

1 comment:

  1. I know this post is older, but I jumped over to your blog from your comment on mine and saw the title of this post and had to read it. OH.MY.GOD! I could have written this post! Seriously. The only thing missing is that my guy doesn't necessarily want everything to be perfect, but suddenly he'll get so frustrated that it's not. And it's always these under the breath jabs, at me, saying he can't put it away because he doesn't know where anything goes (because I'm alway the one who ends up putting stuff away!) Anyway it sucks. So I just wanted to say that I totally understand where you're coming from. I hope it get's better. And if you guys come up with any kind of system that lessens the problem, let me know!

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