My “Aha Moment” happened because of a package ofhamburger meat. I asked my husband to stop by the store to pick up a few thingsfor dinner, and when he got home, he plopped the bag on the counter. I startedpulling things out of the bag, and realized he’d gotten the 70/30 hamburgermeat – which means it’s 70% lean and 30% fat.
I asked, “What’s this?”
“Hamburger meat,” he replied, slightlyconfused.
“You didn’t get the right kind,” Isaid.
“I didn’t?” He replied with his browfurrowed. ” Was there some other brand you wanted or something?”
“No. You’re missing the point, ” I said.”You got the 70/30. I always get at least the 80/20.”
He laughed. “Oh. That’s all? I thought I’dreally messed up or something.”
That’s how it started. I launched into him. Iberated him for not being smarter. Why would he not get the more healthy option?Did he even read the labels? Why can’t I trust him? Do I need to spell outevery little thing for him in minute detail so he gets it right? Also, and thething I was probably most offended by, why wasn’t he more observant? How couldhe not have noticed over the years what I always get? Does he not pay attentionto anything I do?
As he sat there, bearing the brunt of myrighteous indignation and muttering responses like, “I nevernoticed,” “I really don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” and”I’ll get it right next time,” I saw his face gradually take on anexpression that I’d seen on him a lot in recent years. It was a combination ofresignation and demoralization. He looked eerily like our son does when he getschastised. That’s when it hit me. “Why am I doing this? I’m not hismom.”
I suddenly felt terrible. And embarrassed formyself. He was right. It really wasn’t anything to get bent out of shape over.And there I was doing just that. Over a silly package of hamburger meat that hedutifully picked up from the grocery store just like I asked. If I had specificrequirements, I should have been clearer. I didn’t know how to gracefullyextract myself from the conversation without coming across like I have somekind of split personality, so I just mumbled something like, “Yeah. Iguess we’ll make do with this. I’m going to start dinner.”
He seemed relieved it was over and he left thekitchen.
And then I sat there and thought long and hardabout what I’d just done. And what I’d been doing to him for years, probably.The “hamburger meat moment,” as I’ve come to call it, certainlywasn’t the first time I scolded him for not doing something the way I thoughtit should be done. He was always putting something away in the wrong place. Orleaving something out. Or neglecting to do something altogether. And I wasalways right there to point it out to him.
Why do I do that? How does it benefit me toconstantly belittle my husband? The man that I’ve taken as my partner in life.The father of my children. The guy I want to have by my side as I grow old. Whydo I do what women are so often accused of, and try to change the way he doesevery little thing? Do I feel like I’m accomplishing something? Clearly not ifI feel I have to keep doing it. Why do I think it’s reasonable to expect him toremember everything I want and do it just that way? The instances in which hedoes something differently, does it mean he’s wrong? When did “myway” become “the only way?” When did it become okay to constantlycorrect him and lecture him and point out every little thing I didn’t like asif he were making some kind of mistake?
And how does it benefit him? Does it make him think,”Wow! I’m sure glad she was there to set me straight?” I highly doubtit. He probably feels like I’m harping on him for no reason whatsoever. And itI’m pretty sure it makes him think his best approach in regards to me is toeither stop doing things around the house, or avoid me altogether.
Two cases in point. #1. I recently found a shardof glass on the kitchen floor. I asked him what happened. He said he broke aglass the night before. When I asked why he didn’t tell me, he said, “Ijust cleaned it up and threw it away because I didn’t want you to have aconniption fit over it.” #2. I was taking out the trash and found a pairof blue tube socks in the bin outside. I asked him what happened and why he’dthrown them away. He said, “They accidentally got in the wash with myjeans. Every time I put in laundry, you feel the need to remind me not to mixcolors and whites. I didn’t want you to see them and reinforce your obviousbelief that I don’t know how to wash clothes after 35 years.”
So it got to the point where he felt it was abetter idea or just plain easier to cover things up than admit he made ahuman error. What kind of environment have I created where he feels he’s notallowed to make mistakes?
And let’s look at these “offenses”: Abroken glass. A pair of blue tube socks. Both common mistakes that anyone couldhave made. But he was right. Regarding the glass, I not only pointed out hisclumsiness for breaking it, but also due to the shard I found, his sad attemptat cleaning it up. As for the socks, even though he’d clearly stated it was anaccident, I gave him a verbal lesson about making sure he pays more attentionwhen he’s sorting clothes. Whenever any issues like this arise, he’ll sit thereand take it for a little bit, but always responds in the end with somethinglike, “I guess it just doesn’t matter that much to me.”
I know now that what he means is, “thisthing that has you so upset is a small detail, or a matter of opinion, or apreference, and I don’t see why you’re making it such a big deal.” Butfrom my end I came to interpret it over time that he didn’t care about myhappiness or trying to do things the way I think they should be done. I came toview it like “this guy just doesn’t get it.” I am clearly the brainsof this operation.
I started thinking about what I’d observed with my friends’relationships, and things my girlfriends would complain about regarding theirhusbands, and I realized that I wasn’t alone. Somehow, too many women havefallen into the belief that Wife Always Knows Best. There’s even a phrase toreinforce it: “Happy wife, happy life.” That doesn’t leave a lot ofroom for his opinions, does it?
It’s an easy stereotype to buy into. Look at themedia. Movies, TV, advertisements – they’re all filled with images of haplesshusbands and clever wives. He can’t cook. He can’t take care of the kids. Ifyou send him out to get three things, he’ll come back with two and they’llboth be wrong. We see it again and again.
What this constant nagging and harping does issend a message to our husbands that says “we don’t respect you. We don’tthink you’re smart enough to do things right. We expect you to mess up. Andwhen you do, you’ll be called out on it swiftly and without reservation.”Given this kind of negative reinforcement over time, he feels like nothing hecan do is right (in your eyes). If he’s confident with himself and who he is,he’ll come to resent you. If he’s at all unsure about himself, he’ll start tobelieve you, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Neither one is adesirable, beneficial outcome to you, him or the marriage.
Did my husband do the same to me? Just as I’msure there are untold numbers of women who don’t ever do this kind of thing totheir husbands, I’m sure there are men who do it to their wives too. But Idon’t think of it as a typical male characteristic. As I sat and thought aboutit, I realized my husband didn’t display the same behavior toward me. I eventhought about some of the times I really did make mistakes. The time I backedinto the gate and scratched the car? He never said a word about it. The time Iwas making dinner, got distracted by a call from my mom, and burned it tocinders? He just said, “We can just order a pizza.” The time I triedto put the new patio furniture together and left his good tools out in therain? “Accidents happen,” was his only response.
I shuddered to think what I would have said hadthe shoe been on the other foot and he’d made those mistakes.
So is he just a better person than me? Whydoesn’t he bite my head off when I don’t do things the way he likes? I’d be afool to think it doesn’t happen. And yet I don’t remember him ever calling meout on it. It doesn’t seem he’s as intent as changing the way I do things. Butwhy?
Maybe I should take what’s he always said atface value. The fact that these little things “really don’t matter thatmuch to him” is not a sign that he’s lazy, or that he’s incapable oflearning, or that he just doesn’t give a damn about what I want. Maybe to him,the small details are not that important in his mind and justifiably so.They’re not the kinds of things to start fights over. They’re not the kinds ofthings he needs to change about me. It certainly doesn’t make him dumb orinept. He’s just not as concerned with some of the minutia as I am. And it’s whyhe doesn’t freak out when he’s on the other side of the fence.
The bottom line in all this is that I chose this man as mypartner. He’s not my servant. He’s not my employee. He’s not my child. I didn’tthink he was stupid when I married him – otherwise I wouldn’t have. He doesn’tneed to be reprimanded by me because I don’t like the way he does some things.
When I got to that point mentally, it then mademe start thinking about all the good things about him. He’s intelligent. He’s agood person. He’s devoted. He’s awesome with the kids. And he does always helparound the house. (Just not always to my liking!) Even more, not only does herefrain from giving me grief when I make mistakes or do things differently thanhim, he’s always been very agreeable to my way of doing things. And for themost part, if he notices I prefer to do something a certain way, he tries toremember it in the future. Instead of focusing on those wonderful things, Ijust harped on the negative. And again, I know I’m not alone in this.
If we keep attempting to make our husbands feelsmall, or foolish, or inept because they occasionally mess up (and I use thatterm to also mean “do things differently than us”), then eventuallythey’re going to stop trying to do things. Or worse yet, they’ll actually cometo believe those labels are true.
In my case it’s my husband of 12+ years I’mtalking about. The same man who thanklessly changed my car tire in the rain.The guy who taught our kids to ride bikes. The person who stayed with me at thehospital all night when my mom was sick. The man who has always worked hard tomake a decent living and support his family.
He knows how to change the oil in the car. Hecan re-install my computer’s operating system. He lifts things for me that aretoo heavy and opens stuck jar lids. He shovels the sidewalk. He can put up aceiling fan. He fixes the toilet when it won’t stop running. I can’t (or don’t)do any of those things. And yet I give him grief about a dish out of place.He’s a good man who does a lot for me, and doesn’t deserve to be harassed overlittle things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
Since my revelation, I try to catch myself whenI start to nag. I’m not always 100% consistent, but I know I’ve gotten a lotbetter. And I’ve seen that one little change make a big improvement in ourrelationship. Things seem more relaxed. We seem to be getting along better. Itthink we’re both starting to see each other more as trusted partners, notadversarial opponents at odds with each other in our day-to-day existence. I’veeven come to accept that sometimes his way of doing things may be better!
It takes two to make a partnership. No one isalways right and no one is always wrong. And you’re not always going to seeeye-to-eye on every little thing. It doesn’t make you smarter, or superior, ormore right to point out every little thing he does that’s not to your liking.Ladies, remember, it’s just hamburger meat.