Hello and welcome back!
So! Where were we? Right, right! I was supposed to go on a trip and I was sick and there were dogs and multiple hours in a car. Yes, I remember that. Well, last minute car troubles canceled that trip for us. It was very disappointing to not get out of the house and see family and the U.S. Interstate Highway system, but on the other hand I think it was also a big relief. David and I had both been sick, we’re still carrying a bit of the crud with us. We were not really looking forward to spending 20plus hours in a car with two dogs and a lot of yarn flying everywhere.
So, we spent the holidays quietly, together. We drank a lot of Thera-Flu and tea and curled up together. Very relaxing.
But, life continues to happen and you still send me messages, so let’s see what’s on the agenda this week:
Dear Auntie BubboPants,
I have a feeling this is going to be another one of those letters you find tricky, because the writer is asking, “Should I do A or B?”, and what you really want to say is, “Are you kidding? A or B? They’re both disasterous! You should be looking for Q!” So, apologies in advance :)
My husband and I have been married for the past six years, and now have an adorable baby girl who’s almost one and a half. During our engagement and the first few years of our marriage, while I was still a graduate student, we were more-or-less blissfully happy. As soon as we started living in the grown-up world, though, with actual jobs that have deadlines and rent that needs to be paid, things started getting shakier. And ever since the baby, the downhill slide has been slipping by a little faster.
As far as I can tell, my husband is happy – and therefore a pleasure to be married to – when the house is clean, there’s dinner on the table most nights, I know where all his socks are, and I am relaxed enough to play a few games of dominoes or chess in the evenings, like we used to do. But this list is pretty hard to accomplish on top of a more-than-full-time work schedule, and, I feel I can truly say, impossible to accomplish on top of a more-than-full-time work schedule while also taking care of a baby. Maybe there are some people out there who can do it, but after trying and trying for a year and a half, I am certain that I’m never going to one of them.
And when my husband is not happy, well, I know I’m probably not speaking very objectively here, but he’s just not a very nice person. Not violent, just continually unkind. Very continually, and very unkind. It’s really, really, really hard to be killing myself trying to juggle elephants while being buffeted by once unsympathetic criticism after another.
So, here’s my question. How do I train myself not to care about his mean remarks? How can I stop myself from feeling hurt and disappointed every time? I never respond to him aloud (don’t want the baby to hear constant parental sniping), but I’ve tried reminding myself that his criticisms aren’t just; I’ve tried reminding myself of all the things I do right in order to counterbalance what he’s telling me; I’ve tried focusing on happier things like yarn or pretty sunshine while he’s talking so that I don’t hear as much of what he says. But none of it really works. Do you have any other suggestions?
We’ve talked about these issues endlessly, and he can’t even begin to grasp anything that I’m saying, so I don’t really think he’s going to change. He is never going to help out with the house or the socks or the baby (or, if he does, he resents it so much that it really isn’t worth it for either of us). Religiously, divorce isn’t an option, and even if it were, I wouldn’t be interested – I’m pretty sure single moms have it harder than I do, and besides, the baby adores her daddy. I just need to know how to get by in a reasonable approximation of happiness while married to someone who’s not very nice.
Dear Auntie BubboPants,
I sent you a question about twelve miles long a few weeks ago. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and I think I’ve finally managed to whittle it down to the essentials. So, if I may rephrase…?
What I’m hoping you might offer me is strategies for emotional self-defense given that I’m married to someone given to making endless mean comments. Maybe there’s some form of yoga I could take up, which will allow me to just “zen” away remarks I don’t want to hear? Maybe there are tried-and-true strategies I haven’t heard of for instantaneous forgetting of hurtful comments? Has anyone perfected a method of concentrating so completely on an intricate lace pattern, for example, that the rest of the world temporarily fades away? Where does one look for practical emotional self-defense tips?
I know you’re looking forward to your food post in the next issue, and I hope your holiday season will be so full of joyous celebrations that you don’t have a moment to worry about unseasonably-gloomy questions like this! But I’m looking forward to your suggestions whenever my question makes its way up the list.
You were very right in your first email wherein you asked me if you should do A or B but I want to tell you to do Q. Seriously. There is no A or B here. I cannot in good conscience give you strategies for living a life of accepting insults and hurtful comments. You do not deserve to live that life, you deserve a life where your husband respects you and accepts reality. A husband that accepts the reality of dealing with his own socks sometimes.
Trust me, there are ways of ignoring the hurt and the meanness, ways of letting it slide off of you in the moment, but those methods build a callous in you. Over time they transform you into something you are not, something smooth and featureless, something with no distinguishing facets. The callous becomes so thick and heavy on your soul that you give up even trying to have distinguishing features. You give up the idea of trying to live beyond the safety of that shell and there you will live, safe and trapped and unable to be anything but smooth again.
Fighting and arguing and standing your ground! These are not bad things. People often say “oh my loved one and I, we never fight ever!” Now I can understand if you mean “we never scream and yell and throw things at each other” because that’s good, but if they mean “we never disagree on a single thing, we never have a difference of opinion, if we do disagree, we don’t discuss or argue it!” that’s no damned good.
Have you ever made a souffle? When you make a souffle you grease the sides of the souffle dish then you dust it lightly with grated parmesan for a cheese souffle or some sugar for a sweet souffle. The reason you do this is that as the souffle grows and rises, it needs that texture to grab on to in order to climb climb climb to its full potential. If you don’t have that bit of grittiness on the sides it will puff up and slide back down and your souffle will fall, be dense and flat. It will taste like a souffle but it will look and feel like a leaden pancake.
Arguments and disagreements are the texture that help the souffle of your marriage grow and be something spectacular. The disagreements are only a very small part of the overall recipe that you need for a light and fluffy marriage, but they are there. You cannot learn and grow, you cannot see things in a new way, unless you accept and work out your differences.
So, no, I will not advise you in the art of building a shell around yourself. I will advise you in the ways of steeling your spine, of standing your ground. I will tell you that every time he says something cruel, every time he tries to belittle you, you will respond with a clear “NO” and you will walk away from him. You will not encourage his cruelty by absorbing it. You will strike it to the floor. Every insult will be slapped to the floor for they are not yours to take, they are not yours to care for and nurture. You may ask yourself, how is slapping them to the floor different from letting them roll off me? When you calmly accept the things he says and does, you calmly reinforce his behavior. It is okay that you are calling me names for I will do nothing and your imaginary status quo will not change.
If you say, “No, I will defend myself, I do not deserve to be hurt, if you did love me then you would not want me to feel so much hurt” then he will be forced to make clear his intentions. Does he love you? Is it okay if you are hurting? Is it okay if he is the one causing you this hurt?
Socks don’t have to be in perfect order, dinner doesn’t have to be a creative and exciting adventure every night, sometimes the dishes soak over night. A major agreement that David and I came to early in our relationship was that if there was something you wanted done in a specific way, you’d better be willing to do that yourself. That surely attempts would be made because we love each other and want to help each other, but some things just aren’t as important to one as the other. Socks came up as a minor issue. All of my socks get tumbled into the drawer when they are clean. I do not match or fold them or turn them into those little sockballs. This is a thing that I do not do. I do not. I know people do it, my mom does it, it seems like a thing that people do. I do not do this because it just seems like a lot of effort for not enough pay off. David likes his socks matched and bundled. When I do laundry I will fold all the clothes and put away most but I leave his socks for him. It is not a thing that I do. I do other things, not that thing. He does not get petty and mean, he does not insult me. He does his own socks because they are his socks and it is more important to him than me.
I want to ask you one more question, something to chew on. You have a daughter, a little girl who will grow up learning from you and your husband how a relationship is supposed to look. She will learn what is or is not acceptable in adult interaction from watching you. People make great efforts to not fight in front of the kids and while I applaud the idea of not getting into knockdown drag outs in front of the kids, I would also point out that letting kids see that sometimes adults disagree and most times adults work out these disagreements in ways that use respect and love as their tools is incredibly important. What message do you want to send to your little girl? That this is what she has to look forward to? That when she is not perfect, when she performs at only human and not superhuman levels she will also deserve scorn and ridicule? Children are sponges, think about the example you want to set for her.
You and your husband both have a lot of growing up to do and I imagine it won’t be easy for either of you, it never is. But if you commit yourself to defending yourself and not accepting his cruelties and if he does truly love you and want you to be happy then in time you will find that you are working as a couple again.
Dear Auntie BubboPants
HI Auntie, I’m hoping you can help me.
I recently took part in a yarn for woolies swap. The concept is you send someone yarn – some for your partner to keep, adn some for her to knit up into something you want for your kid.
So the lady sends me some (6 oz) luscious WAHM-dyed gaia organic yarn to knit up for her kid. She wants capris, ruffles, elastic waist, and she wants them extra big to maek sure they fit.
In exchange, she sends me about 8 oz of yarn she dyed herself. Pink and purple. That’s it. She claims it’s peruvian wool, but it’s scratchy. She says it knits up real pretty (that’s quote). But I can’t bring myself to even wind it.
Not only that, but I paid to ship it because she sent it to me with a package of stuff that I had ordered from her.
Her kid’s capris are done. I felt resentful every time I picked up my needles to knit that gorgeous gaia knowing that all I have to show for it is this crap she dyed. There’s literally 10 colours in the stuff she sent me, and she really seems to think that this was a fair trade. I’m bitter. I’m pissed.
But I have an ongoing relationship with this person (internet anyway – I order stuff from her regularly).
So do I say anything?
What would you do?
That’s the thing with trades with few guidelines, everyone gets to decide for themselves what their part is worth. This situation reminds me very much of the “Boyfriend Sweater Curse” brought up in a previous column of mine. You determine your own value for things and part of what determines that value are the untenable things like ‘effort’ and ‘awesome’, things that are subjectively quantified.
Sometimes these trades don’t work out because parameters are not well defined BEFORE people go to the mailbox. I think that is the case here, poorly defined parameters. If that weren’t the case you would not be so unsure about bringing it up to her.
The lesson here is to better define your parameters for trades in the future and then mostly stick to the business type transactions with her. Business transactions are always better defined than trade transactions. In a business transaction it’s clearly laid out that you will give exactly a certain number of dollars for a specific amount of merchandise and if one person falls short then the entire transaction gets canceled, no hard feelings (unless it’s a monthly fiber club! then there’s hard feeling all the diggitydamned time!).
Chalk this up to a learning experience. You learned to define the parameters of your trades more clearly in the future.
Also, you learned that scratchy sheep live all over the world, even in Peru (where they are probably ceaselessly mocked by their less scratchy counterparts).
Dear Auntie BubboPants,
I have a co-worker and friend who is having a really hard time currently and try as I might I don’t think I’m doing her any good. We’ve only known each other for a few years but I know she has suffered from clinical depression in the past and was on medication that helped. For a number of reasons she decided to stop taking the meds and did well for a long time.
She suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder which only serves to make things worse come winter. Last winter was bad she cried regularly, complained about how much she hated our co-workers, town, weather, isolation, and her relationship. Unfortunately none of these are things I can change and her relationship just ended which is not helping her mental state.
She takes a number of trips during the winter that should help but only seem to make her more unhappy when she returns. Our job requires that we live in northern Canada in a place with bad weather (-40 C anyone?) and 5 hours of daylight in the winter but suggestions such as a full spectrum/sun lamp have been poo-pooed.
I could go on and on about specific things she does that from an outside perspective look like they only make things worse but they are only symptoms of a larger problem. I need to know if there are things I could be doing/saying to help in anyway. For over a year now I’ve been in active listening mode, hoping that a friendly, safe and loving space would make a difference… it hasn’t.
While I’d love to nudge her towards professional help to keep her job she’s unable to take any sort of prescription anti-depressant so she won’t go to a psychiatrist. I know that there are therapies that don’t involve drugs but am I being pushy and mean if I tell her that she needs to be speaking to someone other than me at this point? Please help.
Dreading the Winter
You are not being pushy and mean. You are not a professional in the field of fixing other people’s heads. You are not a psychiatrist or a therapist or a psychologist. Your job is stressful enough without this hanging over you (note, DtW did share her profession with me but I am not at liberty to indulge it here. It a pretty damned stressful profession).
I know you love your friend and you want to help her, but you are not the help she needs. It seems that first and foremost she needs to get out of that profession and get out of that particular latitude. All the full spectrum lamps and vitamin D in the world will only be a bandage on what sound like much deeper problems. Let her know how much you care, how much you like her and want her to be happy, but also be honest with her. This is not the right job for her, this is not the right planetary latitude for her! She needs more sunlight, she needs more vitamin D, she needs a professional to help guide her through the miasma of her own brain.