Last Sunday night I had two little rocks in my shoe.
First, there was the inadequate (in my view) appreciation from my husband for doing yard work. I had weeded, generally cleaned up, and put in some plants he had bought.
Maybe I’m high-maintenance, but I look for some serious cheerleading when I do gardening. It’s not my first love. And it’s hard for me because of a back problem. I can find satisfaction in it, but only if I have a strong feeling of “we.”
Instead what I got was a tepid, “Great, honey.” But John didn’t really unhook from his Kindle. O.K., I know he was doing research on a crucial problem at work. And when he’s concentrating, he doesn’t shift gears easily. But still.
I tried to brush it off and went to take a shower.
Then on our way out to dinner, he clipped a curb with the wheel on my side of the car. The jolt startled me and I barked, “What are you doing?”
He barked back: “I didn’t do it on purpose!”
“Why are you yelling at me? You’re the one who hit the curb!”
Now, I was in a full-fledged snit and I stayed in it until we were back home.
“What kind of way is that to treat the most important person in your life?” I grumbled to myself. “First, you ignore their hard labor. Then you knock them around in the car, and instead of apologizing, you get mad.”
My husband sat down on the couch beside me and started chatting, but he quickly picked up on my unfriendly mood.
(It did feel good to be “read,” like that, I have to admit.)
“Oh, I don’t know.”
I looked at the floor. Should I say, I wanted more attention from you for the yard work? That seemed kind of silly. After all, it is my house and it was just routine work. It’s not like I spent all day out there re-landscaping the front yard.
“Come on, what is it?”
“I’m a little mad at you. Well, not really. It’s not really anything.”
“You’re mad at me? Why?”
“Well, first you weren’t a cheerleader about the yard work. When you planted those rhodies last month, I was all over you telling you how wonderful you are. I thought that’s what we do. And I planted your plants for you! Then you bumped me in the car and got mad at me for it!”
“I’m sorry, Sweetie, I guess I was buried in my book. I do appreciate all your work and I should have said more about it. But you also threw away my plant!”
I forgot about that part.
“I’m sorry. I thought it was dead.”
“I was coaxing it back to life! It had a little bit of green still on it.”
I should have remembered he was especially partial to that plant. And he hadn’t been able to find a replacement.
He continued, “And when I hit the curb, you yelled at me.”
“I didn’t yell at you, I just cried out in surprise.”
“You said, ‘What’s wrong with you? How could you do that?’ ”
“Are you sure? I have no memory of saying anything like that.” (Yikes.)
“Well, you did. You were very accusing. As though I’d done it on purpose.”
Hmm. Really? Possible, I suppose.
I could feel my ironclad confidence about what had really happened slipping away. Along with my anger.
Because I was getting something more satisfying-the knowledge that John cared about how I felt and how he had affected me. When you’ve got that, it’s not so hard to admit your part in the problem.
It’s not the size of the rock in your shoe that tells you you need to speak up, it’s the size of your feelings.
And how long they linger. We all know that bumps in the road like this come along all the time in marriage life. We certainly can’t dissect each and every one. On a different day, I might have genuinely moved on and felt no need to talk.
What makes the difference? You won’t necessarily know. We humans are complex and unpredictable creatures.
What you do know is how you feel.
If you’ve got that cold and distant feeling (I had that), a diminished interest in what your spouse is saying (check), and maybe a diminished interest in even being with your spouse (I didn’t get that far) you need to clear the air.
You might feel silly about speaking up. But when you get that dose of caring that you need, your feelings thaw and you feel a rush of closeness that is quite wonderful. When you’ve got that, there’s nothing better than a perfectly ordinary Sunday evening at home.