In case you are new to the drama that is my marriage, here is the post about our first day of counseling, which now has 235 comments. And here is the post where I blame my whole marriage on the institution of shared-care parenting, and also where I find out that the population of available babysitters in Madison, Wisconsin is reading my blog, and maybe that’s why we now offer the highest paying babysitting job in town.
At this point we’ve been seeing the marriage counselor for a few months, and believe it or not, I’ve learned a thing or two about communicating. We all want to think that our communication problems at home are different from the communication problems we have at work. In fact, though, corporate training companies like VitalSmarts have shown that communication skills are the same at home and at work, just the stakes are higher at home, where getting fired is not just a new job hunt.
So in the spirit of acknowledging that work and home require the same communication skills, here is what I’ve learned so far:
1. Make sure the person you’re talking to is ready to hear what you’re saying.
One reason there are so many comments about my posts about my marriage is that men (it’s mostly men) fear the emasculation of my husband via blogging. There is, of course, little sense of irony among these men that my husband’s masculinity would be very precarious if a few blog posts could derail it.
Regardless, this post is about our marriage. So if these posts bother you, you should ask yourself why you are reading past this paragraph.
2. Instead of complaining, ask for what you want in concrete, measurable terms.
In counseling, my husband and I had the earth-shattering revelation that we are treating each other like crap. So, we each got to ask the person to do some things that would change that dynamic and help us feel better about our relationship.
My husband asked me to stop throwing things, which really pissed me off because I have thrown things twice, in fifteen years, both times at a wall, but he brings it up constantly like I have a track record for throwing daggers at his head.
Please, don’t send me emails about how even one thing thrown is traumatizing, okay? I had about ten million things thrown at me as a kid, and the police were at our house all the time, so throwing only twice, and relatively innocuously, is actually a triumph, and the result of ten years of therapy so I don’t repeat what my parents did. No kidding: Ten years.
Here’s what I asked from my husband: That he say or do one nice thing to me every day. He definitely got ripped off in this bargain. Do not write to me about how this is a metaphor for our marriage. It isn’t. In all marriages that reach a low point, both people are getting ripped off equally, or else someone would threaten to leave. And neither of us is leaving.
3. Give feedback if expectations aren’t met, even if the effort is good.
The first day comes, and he writes me a note to thank me for taking care of the kids. Here’s what it said: Thanks for taking care of the kids. Here’s where he put the note: On my Facebook wall.
I didn’t even know he had an account on Facebook. And before you go to mine, let me confess that my assistant does a lot of my Facebook stuff – which is not uncommon because many professionals are on Facebook only because of peer pressure.
My assistant sends an email to me to let me know my husband says, Thank you for taking care of the kids.
I don’t want to tell my husband that he is crazy for posting stuff like this on my wall where thousands of people see it. But after three days of Facebook-based gratitudes, I remind him that my assistant manages my Facebook page.
He says, “Oh yeah. I forgot.” Then he keeps sending stuff there. He does chocolates. Then flowers. Then plants. By now, my Facebook page looks like a greenhouse.
I count the days until we will be back in a counseling session where I can ask for something different.
4. Take responsibility to make your boundary needs clear.
Then I got an email from Ryan P: “I see on Facebook that you and Nino got married. Congratulations.”
That’s when the Facebook thing became too much. I realized it was my husband’s way of doing our marriage publicly. Mine is blogging, his is Facebooking. So I wanted to tell my assistant to unmarry us because I don’t want to be linked to him online because I’m so sick of him. But Ryan P pointed out that if I do that, everyone would think that we got unmarried, “which would be worse than announcing that you’re married.” So I had my assistant fix it to say I’m married, but not say to whom.
5. You must keep talking. That’s the only way to make progress.
The other assignment we had from the marriage counselor was to have a conversation. Yes, that’s where we stand–we must be directed to talk with each other.
It takes us a while. I have been travelling a lot which throws off everyone’s schedule.
So on Friday night we put the kids to bed and we sit down to have our conversation. We sit on the kitchen floor because it’s already freezing in Madison and our house is hard to heat, but the kitchen is always warm. We sit across from each other on our impractical-for-a-kitchen but squishy-soft pink rugs. There is a soft hum from our refrigerator. There is an orange glow from the Halloween lights my son taped across the wall.
Our conversation topic is pre-selected for emotional safety: A book my husband’s reading. James Kunstler’s The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century.
My husband refers to this book as peak-oil literature. I am shocked to hear he’s reading anything at all because he spends so much time taking care of our kids.
He knows all the scenarios about what will happen if we cannot use technology to replace oil, and he feels strongly that it’s too late to make a difference with recycling. Here are things we talk about:
- If we cannot transport food then we all have to farm. There will probably be a feudal system because only some people own farmable land.
- Cuba is a test case for this. When they could not get oil from the Soviet Union, everyone had to farm. It has been deemed a success by agronomists.
- There is some point when oil gets so expensive that it’s no longer useful for maintaining infrastructure and then infrastructure collapses and oil is worth nothing.
I ask a lot of questions. I find all this fascinating, and so does he. We talk about the author’s blog, Clusterfuck Nation, and I have a moment of blog-title envy. We talk about teaching our two kids to farm. From a book. Because how else would we know? And there really aren’t books like that because historically neighbors have taught each other. Besides, we would need oil to get the books to people.
I tell my husband that I like the idea of not having any oil. It’s a much more simple life, and it’s appealing to me. “We would need to live close to people we love. We’d spend a lot of time sitting on our pink rugs talking.”