Thursday, April 17, 2014

On Marriage and Shorthand Arguments

Just before I got married, the women in my mother's ward--though they didn't know me all that well--were kind enough to throw me a bridal shower. Somehow the conversation turned to marriage advice, and I still remember just about everything the bishop's wife said about marriage. My impression of her prior to that shower was that she was quiet and smiley and not particularly "real"--if you know what I mean. But she was more than real that night, and I am still so grateful. Just about everything she said has proved true of my own experience in marriage.

Among other valuable and down-to-earth advice, she told me that eventually our arguments would whittle down to shorthand. That after awhile we'd know each other so well and we'd have had the same conversations and disagreements so many times that we'd be able to say, "Hey, could you ...?" And the other person would know instantly how we meant to finish the the sentence and be able to say, "Yeah yeah, okay. I know." And there, that would be it. A entire fight that previously would have brought tension for several days would be over in eight words. At the time, I confess, I couldn't really imagine what she meant, but now, over five years in, I think Sam and I are beginning to reach shorthand.

There's this memory I have of our first few months of marriage that can, without fail, make me feel like giggling at how cute and misguided I was as a new bride. I had decided that I wanted more help around the house, that we really could be sharing more of the burden of running a home. We were both working full-time, and it seemed there was no reason why we couldn't split the tasks more evenly. And I geared up for the conversation and prayed about it and thought about how I would say it and sat Sam down on the couch and told him how I felt. I was so earnest! And I can't really explain why this makes me feel like giggling, except that somehow I thought this would be the end of the conversation--that I just needed to communicate how I felt and Sam would surely agree and then we'd maybe make a chart of chores or something (?!) and then we'd be more equally yoked in this matter. That's not exactly how it worked. Sam was like, "Okay, sure, whatever." And then he asked what specifically I wanted help with, and I realized I didn't really know. We were so new together, and just making sense of our home and our lives, and I had no idea that it would just take time, lots and lots of time, years and years to really figure each other out.

Of course, this is a conversation we've had since then. And I confess I haven't exactly handled it better. In fact, the problem is that I usually wait until I'm good and resentful before I bring it up. And then, sadly, I'm not really praying and thinking very carefully about how I say things. It's late at night and I'm tired and I make accusations and I'm not very nice at all. Most recently, I accused Sam of ruining my opportunities to work on my writing because he didn't help around the house more.

Sometimes I'm a terrible person.

After that conversation, I was pretty much immediately sure I had been a fool, and that I had handled it all wrong. And in the middle of the night I remembered what the bishop's wife had said, and realized this conversation was probably one that would benefit from shorthand. Sam knows I'm always anxious about the house, he knows I'd love more help. And I know he's willing, but that he's not always sure exactly where to pitch in. And why fight about it, again? Why not just say--before I'm angry and resentful and before I've attached all sorts of other frustrations to this particular problem--"Could you help me a little more around the house? I'm feeling overwhelmed by it." And Sam could say, "Yeah, okay. What do you want me to do?" And hopefully I'd know. And we wouldn't have to pull out the big guns to make our points. We could carry on, sit down to dinner, put the baby to bed, and hang out on the couch--all heavy conversations accomplished--and talk about the really important stuff, like what to watch on TV.

8 comments:

Amara said...

I always ask for help when I'm in crisis mode: the pasta needs to be drained, and Kai needs to be at soccer, and Ari is outside and needs to be found RIGHT NOW because she has to get in the car to got to her ortho appointment at the same time as soccer. In another part of the city. "So, could you drain the pasta?" I ask, "sure" he says, and messes around with something else for two minutes --not a long time, unless the pasta is getting mushy, and Ari doesn't have her shoes on either, and we're late late late!

I usually end up draining the pasta.

Deja said...

Sam totally does that too! I ask for help, and I mean nowishly, and he waits a few minutes, finishing up whatever, and I want to shout that I mean right now! Must be normal.

belann said...

I always have to remember that my request is not really his plan for the day. He is usually willing, but I am in a sense hijacking his plans. Patience is required on both sides.

Unknown said...

Lee is excellent in many ways and willing to help. I find I have to give him a time frame and specific job then we are both happy. Good stuff!
KP

Janae @ Bring-Joy said...

It's always the housework isn't it? One nice thing about having older kids is that they can start doing things that previously were a sore spot--like mowing the lawn, dishes & even laundry. I not only feel, but know that I'm being a good parent when I'm getting my kids to work & boy, can I tell you what a lovely thing it is for a marriage, to have that extra help??
(I love Sam's response to your earnest newlywed self--I think that sums up the male species right there.)

Meeshab said...

Wait, everyone and everything hijacks my plans everyday!....but I guess it's more my job, or im used tp it. But so true.

Meeshab said...

Wait, everyone and everything hijacks my plans everyday!....but I guess it's more my job, or im used tp it. But so true.

Meeshab said...

Lee is otherworldly. Just sayin......
Count your blessings