I’ve decided on a new approach to my marriage — Preventive bitching. Here’s how it works:
Last week Matt and I had a fight. It all started when I handed our freshly-bathed-still-wet infant to him from the bathtub. He held the towel in his arms and I placed Christian on top of it. He wrapped it around the baby and then said, “What do I do now?”
Let me stop here and explain. Matt has bathed our toddler since infanthood and he knows exactly what to do after a bath. He’s dried, greased and diapered and dressed them both several times. He is perfectly capable of bathing them on his own. So when he asked me what to do, it pissed me off.
I snapped, “Do you stop thinking when you come home?”
“I try to,” he said.
“What the hell are you asking me for? Why are you so goddamn dependent? I F&#$ing hate it!”
“If I just do it, you’ll say I’m doing it wrong!!” he shouted from the nursery.
Really? I thought. Am I that controlling?
I really don’t think I am that controlling. I admit, I have some control issues and I’m not sure how much I visit them on my husband, but I’m quite sure that if he got the baby dried, diapered and dressed, I’d have been perfectly fine with it. I may have preferred he put him in say, a sleeper rather than a onesie, but I’d mention it and let it go. Ok, maybe I am that controlling.
But that’s not the issue. The issue is that I got so angry that I jumped down his throat. And that’s what I’ve got to change.
Why did I get so angry? I know exactly why. Matt tends to ask me what I deem too many questions whenever I ask him to do something domestic. I perceive that exchange as a display of convenient helplessness. If I wasn’t there, he’d be able to do it by himself. To his credit, he does perform the tasks, which is a step above what most husbands do. Most husbands will just do the job so incompetently that Wifey throws up her hands and gives up asking. So I have to give Matt credit for his interest in doing it right. The problem with this behavior is that I can’t stand the barrage of questions. I fail to see how he makes million dollar decisions at work but cannot choose an after-bath outfit for his son.
But Matt’s not the problem. I am. The real reason I exploded that day was that I let my anger about this behavior build. And that’s my pattern. Matt does something mildly annoying at first and I let it go. No sense making a big deal out of it. Then he does it again and it’s more annoying but I don’t say anything. It happens again and again and I get madder each time until I can’t take it anymore and I explode. That is what happened that day.
I have been doing this in relationships since my very first boyfriend. I remember giving him “chances” not to repeat some behavior and then setting a limit to my patience – if he does it one more time, I’ll scream – and I would. When we talked about it, he said, “Well why didn’t you tell me it bothered you in the first place?” As we said in high school, “Duh.”
I’m embarrassed that this lesson has taken me 25 years to learn, but I’ve made up my mind to act on it. Enter preventive bitching. From now on (hopefully), I’ll work to bitch at Matt right away when something he does bothers me. This way it won’t build up and I won’t blow up, theoretically.
But I can see this presenting a whole new problem. Matt gets really defensive whenever I give him the opportunity and I can see him playing defense every time I try to get my point across the goal line. I’ve got explain Preventive Bitching and tell him why I’m doing it. Then he can choose whether he wants to hear the little things while they’re little or let me bank anger until I attack him. Who knows? Maybe he’d prefer one big blowup to 10 little bitch sessions. I know I can’t get him to listen to the detailed explanation so I’ll just have him read this post. The blog’s proven pretty convenient for marital communication.
One thing I’ve learned from all this is to take responsibility when I do blow up. That fight lasted all of 30 minutes. I apologized after he’d dressed the baby but he was still upset and I knew it, so I waited until things calmed down and told him what had happened on my end and how it drives me crazy when he asks a million questions. He told me that he doesn’t want to hear me complain about his methods. Fair enough. We can agree to disagree about how much the complaining I need to do. But we can both agree that I can stop jumping down his throat, and Preventive Bitching is the way I’m going to do it.