When I was 29, I lost my husband to cancer. Months later, I remember being in the locker room at the gym and listening to women complain endlessly about how their husbands didn’t ever remember to do this fill in the blank thing or were forever doing this other fill in the blank annoyance no matter how many times they were nagged to do and not do the things. I wanted to yell at them. I wanted to grab them by the shoulders and shake them. Their men were driving them crazy, yes, but they were ALIVE. On the planet. Right now. These women were lucky and they didn’t realize it. I vowed never to be that person — the wife in the locker room who complained about her husband not putting his dishes in the dishwasher or leaving his socks on the living room floor. I have since remarried, and I’m sorry to report that I am, indeed, that heinous whiny person in the locker room. I do complain. And what’s worse, I know better.
My husband is on a quest to be a better man (his words, not mine). Obviously I am enthusiastically in favor of this. To be fair, he is already a good man. The basic non-negotiables can be checked off: doesn’t smoke, worships the ground I walk on, makes me laugh. Check, check, and check. But I definitely do more stuff like keeping the animals and children alive, preventing the house from collapsing under dust bunnies and clutter, waging war against the garden weeds, these kinds of things. Tom will do anything I ask, but I do have to ask. He suffers from a certain kind of blindness when it comes to piles of newspapers, dirty rugs, and clutter.
Even though our relationship is not equal in terms of sharing the burden sometimes, I’m pretty sure I still get the better end of most things. For example, early in our relationship we agreed that when we set down our beers on the kitchen counter, become distracted, and then lose track of whose is whose, whichever one is more full is always mine. If he suggests something and I’m not for it, we generally don’t do it. If I suggest something and he’d kind of rather not, we still are probably going to do it. When we hit bumps in the relationship, he generally takes the blame and works hard to make things right. I am free to call him on his shortcomings and complain about them to him. He tells me I am perfect and that I have no faults. So you see, not so equal.
This morning I decided to maybe not be such a horrid nag for once, and maybe I would just do something else instead. What if instead of being bitter and irritated by the stuff he wasn’t doing, I brought my attention to the things he was doing? What if I decided each thing was an act of love, a kindness toward me, or a contribution to our household or family. Here’s what I noticed today:
Shared his breakfast with me
Fed the chickens
Sharpened a hatchet and made some kindling
Made a fire in the wood stove
Turned off the light in the kitchen
I will try not to dwell on the fact that I do exponentially more stuff considerably more consistently and rarely get acknowledgement or a thank you for it. (Note: I did not say “never.”) I am resisting the urge to compare our lists. (Filled, ran, and emptied the dishwasher, cleaned up the kitchen, started a meal in the crock pot, brought in wood, did a load of laundry, swept, tidied up.) A good friend once told me comparisons are odious. I haven’t read Lydgate’s Debate between a horse, a goose, and a sheep — arguably the original source of the saying — but I think I get the gist. Comparing Tom’s list to mine takes the focus off the thing that matters more and places it on the thing that matters less. It’s not a competition — if it was I would be seriously kicking his ass. The important thing is not that I am winning. (I’m winning!) The important thing is that when I focus on his list of things and think of them as acts of love I like him more. I feel better about things. And the bumps don’t feel so, well, bumpy.