Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Scenes from a Marriage

I've decided not to write about all of the gory details of our big argument about chores, because frankly, they're sort of dull. But there was one part that is indicative of how easily things can go awry in a marriage, particularly when both partners are busy and expectations are made from assumptions instead of communication.  As I mentioned in my last post, reading the comments on Moxie's recent post how you know when a marriage is over made me think that there might be some value in writing about the arc of a disagreement in a healthy marriage (which I think Hubby and I have)- from inception through full-blown argument to resolution. Too often, we see a picture of a happy marriage as being one in which the partners never disagree, and that is about as realistic as the saccharine portrayals of a vision of motherhood composed of nothing but laughing babies and hugs from adorable toddlers.

Anyway, the argument started because Hubby was annoyed because I spend so much time blogging (when y'all could tell him that I clearly don't spend much time blogging at all, since I post so infrequently these days). I pointed out that he finds the time to watch at least 30 minutes of TV a few times a week, and that I thought that was about equivalent to my blogging time. Hubby responded that he only watches TV late, after I've gone to bed, while I blog while he's still up doing chores.

So I asked him why he thought I went to bed so early. He said that it was because I needed more sleep than he does.

This just floored me. He is right- I do need more sleep than he does. I think that left to our own devices, I'd sleep about 9 hours a night and he'd sleep about 7.5. The thing is, I don't get anything remotely close to the amount of sleep I "need". At the point at which we were having this argument, I hadn't had more than 5 hours sleep for the previous week. Petunia's been waking up a lot, and staying awake to party at least two or three times a week. We haven't figured out what to do about her 2 a.m. parties, but that's a topic for another blog post.

I pointed out the real reason that I go to bed so early, and Hubby had the grace and good sense to recognize that he'd lost the argument. Ironically, I was too tired to capitalize on my victory, though, so I stormed off to bed and the argument dribbled on for another couple of nights. Finally, a few nights later, we sat down with beers and really worked things out.

The details of the resolution don't really matter- they are as dull as the rest of the argument was. The important thing is that we finally made the time to really talk about the issues. I was amazed by how spectacularly differently we were thinking. He had completely discounted the middle of the night work I was doing (because sorry, anything that I have to do at 2 a.m. is work), whereas I was counting it double. No wonder we were grumping at each other. We could have let it fester. That would, in fact, have been the easy way out- we were both tired and busy and really, who wants to waste an evening talking about how we divide up chores? But nothing good would have come of ignoring the issue.


I don't really know what the point of the above story is. Maybe just to say that this marriage and parenthood thing is hard. Hubby and I are both feeling overstretched. We're busy at work. We're planning Pumpkin's 4th birthday party. We're dealing with Petunia's health concerns (which, thankfully, seem to be turning out to be nothing worse than "she's prone to fevers", but finding that out has been a long road and we may yet have further to go on it) and the 18 month sleep regression. We're trying to figure out how to deal with the on again, off again issues Pumpkin is having with B at day care. And amongst all that, we're cooking dinner, cleaning the house, and fielding random things like the summons to jury duty I got last week (I'm postponing because I'm still breastfeeding, and not feeling the least bit bad about it- as far as I'm concerned, parents of children under the age of 5 should just get a free pass). Some weeks, we just have to look at each other and reaffirm our commitment to still be there for each other once this latest storm has passed.

Given all of this, I can understand why Hubby might look at me blogging, and wonder why I'm finding time for that, but not to sit on the sofa with him and watch some TV. There is the practical answer- that my computer is in the office next to Pumpkin's room, so I can easily pop up and turn over her pillow, find the Silly Bandz that she suddenly, urgently needs to have stored with the others, or whatever else she needs when she calls "Moommmeeeee!"

And then there is also the more accurate answer- that I need the outlet blogging provides. My new job is going well, and I really like it. But I think I have finally accepted that the skills I have that people will pay good money for are organizational more than creative. I love what I do for a living, but it is only part of what I need to do. At work and at home, I have a never-ending to do list, most of which revolves around what other people need. Blogging lets me express myself in something less structured than a project plan. Without it, I feel like a two-dimensional representation of myself. Somehow, in reducing pieces of my life to text, I regain my third dimension.

I've explained this to Hubby, and he tries hard to understand it. I don't think he fully succeeds in understanding, but he accepts it, and that is enough.


Lest you think that Hubby always comes out on the losing end, I offer up the story of Petunia's bedtime music, which was also Pumpkin's bedtime music for a couple of years, until I replaced it in my (successful) attempt to create a routine that let me leave her room before she is asleep.

Hubby is not a fan of traditional lullabies, so he picked out a CD by Suzanne Vega to listen to while rocking/bouncing Pumpkin to sleep. When Petunia started needing more than just a nurse and a burp to go down for the night, he brought out the same CD. Which means that for the past three years, I have spent many, many nights rocking a baby to sleep while listening to this song:

Which is either awesome or horrifying, depending on how you look at it.


  1. It can be really hard for non-creative types to get that need. In my marriage a similar big thing has been my DH's introversion. It gives me creative time but he still needs more, especially on weekends. I think the goodwill to make that step to believe it is a real need is essential. And goodwill is hard to find in the midst of stress.

  2. I'm glad you linked to the Moxie post and discussed your own argument here. My husband and I had a particularly difficult weekend, and while we're nowhere close to divorce (heck, we've barely just married), I still needed to hear from other women that marriage is hard, and that we are not the only ones who get a little grumpy under stressful conditions.

  3. Keeping track of who is doing what work is actually work. And it isn't work that you generally get credit for. My ex used to consider things like "organizing our social life" (aka inviting all his friends over and not letting me get any alone time) to be a major contribution and actively resented me doing things like cooking dinner because that resulted in him needing to wash the dishes.

    It is really hard to keep track of what work your partner is doing. The fact that you're both able to express yourselves and explain exactly what you're doing and why, and then accepting the other person's explanation is pretty great.

    Thanks for writing this, it is really fascinating to see how another relationship works. And I'm seeing a lot of parallels between what you're describing here and how my husband and I resolve issues - even though our approach is really different superficially.

  4. Remember when I was life-threateningly ill and my primary care sent me to a health coach?

    He asked to see me and DH together. He turned to DH and asked him, "Why are you trying to kill your wife?"

    It turned out that the bulk of the housework I was doing slipped below DH's radar and therefore did not count in his mind.

    Then he sputtered something about how I enjoyed housework so that it should count toward my hobby time instead of chore time.

    It was nice to have a neutral party there to adjudicate a new division of labor.

    We found out through a friend that NSF pays a sociologist to read the blogs (among other things) of female scientists to learn about the impediments in our careers.

    He told her that she should read me blog. She said that she already does. You're probably on her list, too. See, you need to blog to help her research, which in turn is to help our nation make full use of our analytic talent. It's your duty to blog for the national good.

  5. Thank you for sharing this. My DH and I fight so much more since we had DS because of the lack of sleep and stress that can bring. Since we both work, the arguments are usually about who is doing "more" or not, and I too have come to realize that it is mostly based on perspective and a good talk helps a lot. The problem, as you say, is finding the time to talk :)

  6. Thanks, everyone! I'm glad I didn't bore all of my readers to tears.

    @badmomgoodmom, that is the second comment I've read today in which a man thinks that his wife somehow enjoys housework. WTF? Does anyone actually enjoy housework- in the, "gee I'd rather do that than sit down and read a book" sort of way? Where on earth do they get this idea?

    And that sociologist at the NSF has an awesome job! Although, maybe it gets depressing reading the same problems from so many different sources.

  7. Not boring. Heartening actually. I actually get cranky if I go more than a few days without being able to carve out space to catch up with the blogs I follow. I think it is a mental break of sorts - that watching tv or some other group activity just wouldn't give me. So I get it and props to you guys for accepting your differences and making room for them as best you can while your kids are so little and there just isn't much wiggle room.

  8. Anonymous3:27 PM

    With apologies for hijacking (apparently I need my own blog)...

    @badmomgoodmom about the NSF and female scientist blogs: Is that really true?! That's amazing! Message to mysterious NSF reader: If you make parental leave an explicit part of your prestigious post-doc grants, then (1) everyone will be more confident that there's a single, fairly implemented policy; (2) early-career people won't have to stress about whether it will somehow hurt them to ask about parental leave policy before they accept the grant; and (3) university departments will likely follow suit with their own parental leave policies for post-docs.

    More on topic: Cloud, it's always enormously helpful to me to read your thoughts on marriage. My partner and I are just starting down that path and I'm trying hard to set the right precedents for a reasonable division of labor. The mundane details about chore arguments are not so boring when you're trying to figure out the same issues yourself.

  9. Anonymous6:30 PM

    I agree with Anonymous (and will remain Anonymous too). Explicit support for parental leave, rather than a no cost extension, on NSF postdoctoral fellowships would be great. If NSF is trying to encourage women to stay 'in the pipeline', being supportive of them and their families during their postdoc years is important.

  10. So glad you shared, @ Cloud. I always appreciate when people make the phrase "working on their marriage" so much more granular with specific examples like yours.

    @badmomgoodmom - Wow. Props to that health coach for the call out on the division of labor at home. Thank you for sharing that.


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