My husband still has his nose this morning – but barely. I’ve talked about this nose before, how strong and handsome of a nose he has. I tend to marvel at his nose because noses are not typically a noticeably attractive feature, what with it being surrounded by the “windows to the soul” and “winning smiles” and such. But it’s the thought of his endearing nose that restrains me in those rare moments when I want to give him a good punch.
I’m not a violent person. I’ve only ever hit one person in my life and it was a creepy boy in youth group that kept trying to slide his hand up my leg, so after one very clear warning, I stood up and slapped him square across the face – my one, solitary encounter with physical violence.
But sometimes, the people we love the most can also get under our skin the most, and if they keep crawling under our skin, they eventually find that trigger under our arm that makes us want to haul off and make violent contact with their flesh.
Last night was one of those nights. Lukus and I were both extremely tired, Eisley was being especially difficult as she kept demanding to eat some non-existent chips, and Taytem was stalling on her bedtime. We were barely holding on to patience, with every word being carefully measured out of our mouths. Now, in our early days of marriage, we took every little moody tone as a personal offense, not allowing the other person to ever speak with irritability without taking great offense. After a few years, we learned to extend some grace to one another, that it was not worth taking personally, and to give the other some space until the irritability passed. We’ve been fairly successful too, when the irritability descends into disrespect, to be able to say, “I understand you’re frustrated about something, but please don’t take it out on me,” and the other will say, “You’re right, I’m sorry,” and we move on.
But every now and then…every now and then, someone says or does something so insensitive that it’s almost like they’ve turned into a caricature from Everybody Loves Raymond. Like when a husband has gone to great lengths to provide a romantic evening, and when it comes time to turn the lights down low, the wife puts on her sweat pants and rolls over to go to sleep.
Last night, my husband’s body was momentarily possessed by the spirit of Raymond. I had been working for two days straight on some major cleaning projects around the house. I had carried large pieces of furniture downstairs by myself to complete the project. Not to mention that I had been taking care of my girls all day, cleaned their bathroom, put away some laundry, and actually made our bed for the first time in four months. I had worked really hard that day, and was fairly satisfied with my efforts, hoping that they would be noticed and appreciated. And they were.
By our Korean student.
But in a moment of weakness, in that stressful window between getting home at bedtime with the girls and actually getting them into bed, my husband chose that moment to complain about a pot of day-old oatmeal that was sitting on the kitchen counter. Granted, my husband is very helpful around the house, and he doesn’t ask for much, but he really hates dirty dishes building up on the counter. He often does them voluntarily, and all he asks is that I don’t let the pan of eggs sit until it’s like stripping 40 year old wallpaper, and that I don’t let things like oatmeal turn to glue. It’s a perfectly reasonable request, and I should have taken care of it. But I just hadn’t gotten to it, and it wasn’t like I was expecting him to take care of it.
But I, too, succumbed to tiredness, and with a fair amount of defensiveness, said, “Well, I’m sorry, but I had to change Eisley immediately after breakfast, and then I spent the rest of the day doing those two big cleaning projects, as well as cleaning the girl’s bathroom and putting away laundry, not to mention that the girls kept me pretty busy all day.”
And then, to my astonishment, he said it – something every clear-headed husband knows not to say to his wife. Ever. EVER. ”Yeah, but none of those things are very important. I’ve done all of that before.”
Now, I’m not the kind of gal who bursts into tears when something hurtful is said to me. Instead, I get hot all over, and my eyes settle into an angry stare that makes even me uncomfortable. And I get sort of Incredible Hulk-angry. I waited for Lukus to realize his mishap and to apologize, but he remained stubbornly on the path that he was perfectly justified in what he had said. He said it all very calmly and rationally, which only made me more angry. This is when I started fixating on his nose, trying to remember how much I loved it, so I told him he really needed to leave me alone that instant.
I set myself to taking my anger out on the dishes, scrubbing furiously with scalding hot water, not out of spite, but because, ironically, washing dishes is what I do when I’m very angry and attempting to think rationally and objectively.
I allowed myself to cycle through all of the angry things I wanted to say, all of the self-justification, and then, I eventually slipped into mindless scrubbing. When my thoughts turned back on, I began to consider how to be objective. I was definitely hurt by what I interpreted as ungratefulness and lack of respect for what I do every single day, so I knew it wasn’t something I could just let go of. So I set about trying to find the healthiest way to express my hurt, because I have an innate tendency to want to argue a case, and I’m very good at arguing a case – stacking up the facts, what was said, making comparisons about why my position is more right and his is wrong. I’m very, very good at it, possibly because I watched a lot of Law & Order growing up.
But I remembered a marriage seminar we had attended last year, and how they talked about that the facts don’t matter – the feelings do. Stating a case like a lawyer only makes the other person feel like they’re on trial, and people are always prepared to defend themselves when they’re on trial. The most effective and honest way to handle those hurtful moments with someone is to simply tell them how you interpreted their words, and how that made you feel. Simple enough, right?
At least it should be. But when you’re angry at someone, it’s one of the hardest things to do to be vulnerable and simply say, “I’m hurting right now.” Women seem to be a little more capable of this than men, but I seem to be one of only a few women that was born on Mars rather than Venus, so I tend to dislike gender generalizations. Getting angry is what is instinctive to me, and it’s also what’s instinctive to Lukus, so we have to work extra hard sometimes because we don’t always naturally balance each other out.
Still angry, I went to find him to tell him how I felt: that I felt like I had worked very hard that day, and he hadn’t noticed my progress. That his complaint had been annoying, but even more so, to say that nothing I had done that day was important was very hurtful. He was already waiting with an apology; but I had just scrubbed a sink-full of dishes trying to figure out my approach, and I couldn’t let him off that easy, so there were a few sarcastic comments from my corner of the living room before I let myself simply be honest. But he heard me, and the spirit of Raymond left him, and Lukus returned to his senses without losing his beautiful nose.
And I had washed the oatmeal pot.
But tomorrow, tomorrow I will be calling around about the cost of outsourcing for just dishwashing.