By the second week of motherhood, I found myself keeping a mental tally of every time I said “thank you” or “can you” to my husband.
“Can you grab me another diaper from the closet? Thank you.”
“Can you hold the baby so that I can take a quick shower? Thank you.”
“Can you unload the dishes before our guests get here? Thank you.”
Whenever I spoke to my husband, I was either asking him to do something or thanking him for completing some menial task. It made me resentful and anxious. I was overly conscious of the fact that every time I opened my mouth I was asking for a favor. Meanwhile, my husband rarely asked anything of me, rarely needed my help. So I had to be the problem. Right?
Lack of sleep kept me from seeing my situation for what it really was. My husband wasn’t asking me for anything because he didn’t have to ask. He didn’t need me to grab more diapers because I always made sure they were stocked. He didn’t need me to hold the baby so that he could shower because I was already holding the baby. He didn’t need to ask me to wash the dishes because I washed them the moment they hit the sink. And so on.
After more than a few venting sessions with some fellow mamas, I realized that I wasn’t alone — far from it. One mother’s metaphor about her partner’s lack of proactive behavior really resonated with me. She said something like, “I feel like my husband is a robot. His natural state is ‘turned off.’ So, if I need his help, I have to go over, flip his switch, and give him a task. Now ‘turned on,’ he stands up and [usually] completes the task. But if I don’t flip the switch, nothing happens.”
This was a recurring theme in my conversations with other mothers. No matter who I talked to, my situation and others like it always seemed to come down to the same thing: two different types of personalities fiercely and frequently clashing.
While often differentiated by gender, to avoid stereotyping all men and all women, let’s just call these personalities Type A and Type B.
Type A maintains a running to-do list. The trash needs to go out tonight. The laundry needs to be taken out of the dryer and folded. Baby has an appointment tomorrow.
Type B needs an assignment. Take out the trash. Fold the laundry. Take the baby to the appointment.
My husband has been a Type B since the day we met and I have been a Type A since the doctor told my mother, “Congratulations, it’s a girl.” Our different personalities have caused more than one skirmish throughout our decade-long relationship, but it wasn’t until we had our first child that the skirmishes became something that had to be addressed. After months of arguing, I finally took it upon myself to step back and figure out what needed to change. Here is the mantra that saved my marriage:
Give yourself a break and give your partner room to step up.
Instead of letting myself feel burdened by the dirty dishes that had been in the sink for an hour, I kept them out of my mind for a day or two. After a couple days, I found that my husband — unprovoked — loaded the dishwasher himself.
Instead of asking my husband what his plans were for the day and then adjusting my own plans, I would tell my husband what I needed to get done. My husband was happy to stay with the baby while I ran my errands.
Instead of arguing with my husband about all of the tasks that he hadn’t managed to complete, I made a conscious effort to always show my appreciation for what he did get done. It only took a matter of days before my husband was mirroring my behavior and thanking me for my work inside and outside our home.
Bottom line: instead of focusing my energy on trying to change my husband, I took a step back and critically examined my own behavior. And it turned out that as I changed, so did my husband. Our house may look more lived in than I may like, but the family making the messes inside is much happier and healthier. So, if you find yourself in a situation like mine, I encourage you to give yourself a break and give your partner a chance to step up.
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