I remember in sixth grade, our scientific focus turned away from absorbing information and toward testing ideas. That’s when we learned the Scientific Method. According to my research, the semantics of the Method have changed over the years but in sixth grade, its first step was “Define the Problem.” Now it’s “Make an Observation,” followed by “Ask a Question,” which, if you ask me, is the same thing as “Define the Problem.” I guess they had to dumb it down because some children got left behind.
Through making observations and asking questions (thus defining problems), I’ve learned that the Scientific Method applies not only to discovering the best way to grow mold but also to romantic relationships. That’s right, relationships. We (well, women anyway) hear and read so much relationship analysis that characterizes so many of our differences as unknowable, we begin to think fights happen because “men are impossible” or “women are so hormonal.” And truthfully, some fights do stem from the differences between the sexes. Some really are irresolvable. But what I’ve realized, using the Scientific Method, is that some fights have nothing to do with our behavior or our hormonal state. With the right solutions, some fights just go away.
The key is to define the right problem. My husband, Matt, and I used to fight at least twice a week because we didn’t have clean forks. Dishes were Matt’s job and if he hadn’t done them, I’d look in the drawer for a fork to say, beat some eggs, and the only thing in the fork slot would be crumbs. Blood would flood my face, my head felt as if it would explode and I’d yell, “WE’RE OUT OF FORKS SO I CAN’T COOK! HOW THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO COOK WITHOUT FORKS?” And then Matt would say, “I was gonna do the dishes tonight.” And I would say, “Well we need dishes NOW!” and we would argue until he did the dishes or I resentfully washed one fork and wouldn’t talk to him for the rest of the day.
When we first moved to Seattle, we were at Wal-Mart shopping for the new apartment when we stumbled upon the flatware displays. Matt said, “Do you want to get a new set now?” For ages, we’d said that we would buy an additional set of silverware but the opportunity never presented itself. Now here we were. So we bought a new set. We brought it home and no matter how long Matt dragged his ass on doing dishes, we never ran out of forks again. Boom. No more fight.
So let’s define the problem. I thought it was, “Matt drags his ass on doing dishes so I never have the right tools to cook.” Matt thought it was “Maria would rather bitch than wash a freakin’ fork.” The problem really was: We don’t have enough forks. It’s not like we didn’t know that. Like I said, we’d been intending to buy more silverware for a long time. It’s just that we got so mired in our own definitions that it never occurred to us that if we instituted this one little fix, we’d solve the whole problem. Instead I thought Matt needed to stay on top of the dishes and he thought I should just shut up and wash what I needed. Both of us were too stubborn to cave, so if we hadn’t supplemented our silverware, we’d still be having that fight.
Here’s another problem we couldn’t correctly define. Since the start of this pregnancy, I’ve been sleeping poorly. The kid wakes me up between 3 and 5 a.m. Between the natural pregnancy insomnia and Matt snoring I can’t get back to sleep. Once I slept so poorly I couldn’t function the next day so I asked Matt to work at home and watch Rose so I could go back to bed. Anytime I interfere with his work, he gets really mad. He stayed home that day but he insisted I call the doctor and see what she could do about the insomnia. I knew there was nothing she could do because insomnia’s a normal symptom of pregnancy and you can’t take aspirin, for God’s sake. It’s not like you can take sleeping pills. But he continued to rant that day that he wasn’t sleeping well either because the woman who was carrying his second child was getting up too many times during the night to pee.
It’s not like sleeping was a sea of bliss for us in the first place. I go to bed before Matt because I can’t fall asleep while he’s next to me. He dozes; he jerks, he dozes; he jerks. Then when he falls asleep, he snores. For the record, I snore too, but he can sleep through mine, whereas I cannot sleep through his. So additional sleep issues just stirred the pot. Plus, losing sleep makes us irritable, so that exacerbated the marital unrest.
I was telling my best friend about the sleep issues and she said, “Just get a new bed! You’ve been talking about getting a king-sized bed forever anyway. What’s $3,000 compared to saving your marriage?” The marriage was never in trouble, but who knows what would have transpired had we kept losing sleep and fighting about it? Plus, she’s never steered me wrong so I said, “You’re right. We should buy a new bed as soon as possible.”
We raided our savings and got a really good deal on a bed at our buying club, so with a good chunk of cash and some wee-hour Benadryl we solved our sleep problem. We got a foam bed, so I don’t feel Matt jerk when he dozes anymore, and he doesn’t awaken when I get up to pee because he can’t feel me move either. We still snore, but I wear earplugs when he’s snoring now.
So the problem was not, “Matt is impossible to sleep next to and now he’s even more of a pain in the ass,” like I thought it was. And it was not, “I never should have knocked up my wife because the bitch wakes me up five times a night now,” as I imagine he thought. It was: We have inadequate sleeping accoutrements.
Although each problem ultimately involved making a purchase, I want to emphasize that retail therapy is not the answer to all marital problems. And even the Scientific Method, in all of its glory, doesn’t fix everything. But for some fights, especially the ones we believe would be resolved if our partner could just CHANGE, maybe we’re focusing on finding fault where we really should be finding a solution. If we focus on the problem itself and not our partner’s role in it, maybe we can see clear to a simple fix that will make us wonder why we didn’t just do that in the first place.