No matter how fantastic a spouse may be, living with another human being is bound to bring the occasional conflict. Most of us are probably familiar with the toothpaste tube scenario – one spouse squeezes from the middle, the other from the bottom, and angst ensues. On the surface, this is a banal and even petty issue, but somehow it can become representative of an entire relationship:
“If you really loved me, you’d squeeze from the bottom! You don’t value my feelings! You don’t respect me!!!!”
Granted, this is an extreme reaction, but for some reason, these minor differences can become a point of great frustration in a relationship. The goal is to keep these small frustrations from becoming Big Problems. Here are some tools I’ve used to keep things below the boiling point.
Disclaimer: I’ve been married for a grand total of four years, so it’s not like I’ve got decades of experience here. That said, this is what has worked in my relationship, and, I think, improved it. Every relationship is very different, so please feel free to agree, disagree and add your own tips!
After I got married, I realized that I was less in touch with my emotions than I had previously thought. I couldn’t really predict why or when something would upset me. This was problematic on many levels, and a little embarrassing.
Over time, I’ve learned to tap into what’s really going on in there, to pinpoint why I feel what I feel. Am I feeling overwhelmed by a kitchen full of dishes, or the pressure of an impending deadline? I’ve noticed that when I am under stress for any reason, otherwise innocuous habits can become unallowable infractions. By simply acknowledging that I’m feeling stressed, I become more aware that I’m in danger of blowing things out of proportion. Just having that in mind has helped immeasurably with keeping my cool.
I’ve also learned to gauge when I need to ask for help, how to ask for it (see below), and how not to feel guilty about it. Sometime there’s no one else around, so I ask Hashem for help. This is so effective when I’m in the middle of a frustrating parenting situation and feeling exceptionally aggravated.
After learning how to anticipate a stress blow-out, I realized that just because I’m aware that I’m teetering on the edge of my patience does not mean my husband is aware of it. Not in the least. It took a little while, but I eventually learned how to say, calmly, something along the lines of:
“Just to give you a heads up, I’m feeling really overwhelmed right now.”
He then knows to give me some space and let me regain my composure so I can be a mentsch.
When asking for help, the more specific I can be, the better. “Can you start getting the kids ready for bed?” is not as effective as “Can you get the kids into pajamas?” Also, I try to keep it to one request at a time, maybe two if it’s a natural pairing, i.e. “Would you clear the table and wipe it down?”
Also, it never hurts to communicate how much I appreciate him and love him. That’s probably the best communication to do, right there.
Eliminate the Problem:
Sometimes it’s possible to sidestep the problem altogether. When thinking about the toothpaste tube dilemma, it seems to me that one easy solution is to simply use two different tubes.
I used to hang my face washcloth next to the hand towel. My husband had a habit of using the washcloth, rather than the towel, to dry his hands. This bothered me. I tried reminding him, but it didn’t really work. So instead of being perpetually frustrated, I simply started storing my washcloth in a completely different location. Problem solved.
Another solution we developed was the result of an amusing, yet problematic phenomenon. My husband has an uncanny ability to consume food items I have earmarked for a recipe. Uncanny, I tell you. After this happened many, many times, I learned to tell him which foods were off-limits (and he learned to ask). Problem solved.
Let it slide:
Finally, I’ve learned that sometimes it’s just better to ignore whatever is getting on my nerves. If it’s something that I know is not going to matter in a year, then it’s okay to let it go. I don’t need to open my mouth every time something bugs me. It’s most likely better if I don’t.
Also, not bombarding my husband with my seemingly endless list of preferences helps make my genuine requests more noticeable, and probably more valuable.
I had my husband read over this post to make sure he was okay with the info I was sharing. We had the following exchange regarding the washcloth incident:
Me: “Do you remember that?”
Him: “Um … no, not really.”
I’m linking up to the January Project Marriage Challenge. They have a challenge each month, and this month it’s sharing our marriage resolutions. While these aren’t resolutions, per se, it certainly won’t hurt me to resolve to implement these strategies more often!
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