Prior to the pandemic, my husband and I rarely fought over the course of our twenty years together. We’ve been married for fourteen of those years, and while not blissful, they’ve been a satisfactory muddle of four children, a house, and a pleasant life in the suburbs. Enter the pandemic (actually, I can’t really even blame the pandemic since he worked from home even before the lockdown), and now, we have full-on drag-out screaming fights every few weeks.
Now, while that may be the norm for some of you, that is definitely not the norm in my relationship. I mean, the yelling is normal for me, mind you, because I’m an excitable, dramatic sort. But it’s not at all typical of my mild-mannered, easy-going husband.
You may be wondering, dear reader, why my husband may be going against type and for the first time, actually telling me his opinions and feelings (and honestly, they’re all wrong wrong wrong). Like what could he possibly disagree with me on since I’m the paragon for all that is lovely and wifely?
Welp, turns out, after years of me stomping over all his dreams and wishes, he’s finally voicing what he wants and making moves to achieve those things — and I don’t like it.
I mean, bully for him. How great that he has thoughts and ideas and feelings of his own that are separate from mine. I’m not unreasonable. But like, why do I have to hear about them? Why does it have to come at the cost of me? I try not to talk to him much — why can’t he return the favor?
Isn’t that why we have friends? (Oh, except he has no friends.)
The secret to our relationship
Part of the reason our relationship has lasted two decades thus far is that I tell him what I think, and he doesn’t tell me what he thinks. I pop off quite often and if I end up sharing an opinion (which is a non-zero number of times), he just sits there and listens. On the rare occasions he tried to advise or give a differing opinion — you guessed it — fights ensued. And so, my husband, out of either self-preservation or apathy, stopped telling me what he thought (not that he ever really did).
Wait, you may be thinking. Didn’t you just say you don’t talk to him much? I mean, I don’t — but also, define “much.”
Either way, I don’t actually want to know what he thinks. (Work with me: that’s the key takeaway here.) Mostly because when I do find out what he thinks, I’m either disappointed or annoyed. Like, think better thoughts, dude.
And honestly, who wants to be reminded that their husband thinks dumb thoughts? (I’m sure he also thinks I think dumb thoughts — I’m convinced most people think dumb thoughts the vast majority of the time — he’s just too polite to say so, and I’m too deluded to think he thinks otherwise.)
I mean, it sounds like I’m an asshole, and while this is not untrue, it’s also not all true.
For most things, my husband just didn’t care enough either way to have an opinion, let alone go through the effort of forming one. And since I’m the one who cared about the color of a car or what we were having for dinner, I usually got my way. But the instant he ever expressed an opinion about something — for or against — he usually got it.
In other words, he generally had veto power over my choices, and on the rare instances where he expressed an actual preference, I would defer to him since he almost never cared about anything — the least I could do was oblige him when he did.
This worked quite well. Until it didn’t.
And, I guess this past year, in the Year of Our Lord Corona, it didn’t.
My husband went through a midlife crisis of his own, and while he wasn’t exactly pleased when I went through mine a few years back, he wasn’t actively pissed off about it. (Or, actually, maybe he was — I just didn’t know because, surprise surprise, he didn’t tell me.)
And sure, dear reader, you would rightly ask if I would’ve even cared — and yes, yes I would have. Because truthfully, it’s not that I don’t care about his opinions — I just don’t want my feelings hurt. Just because I’m an asshole doesn’t mean I don’t also have feelings.
He was generally supportive in the way people who are not actively rooting for your demise was. Is that considered supportive? He was, after all, fine with me taking money out of our joint account and spending it on my new hair, wardrobe, hobbies, accessories, etc. Like I said, he’s an easygoing guy and only really objects when the dollar signs accrue in a three-car pile-up.
And now, all of a sudden, he has opinions. About everything. And if he disagrees with me, he disagrees with me — and makes sure I know it. Which, I guess, is fine? He’s a person — he’s allowed his opinions.
It’s a good thing, right?
Yes? No? Both?
Look. Far be it from me to tell anyone — let alone a person I’m partnered with — that their feelings don’t matter. (But also, I don’t have to be happy about how he chooses to express these feelings.)
I’m glad he’s finally figuring out what he wants. I’m glad he cares about things now. Feel all you want! Care about all you want! But why inform me of these opinions?
I don’t want to know them. I’m of the firm belief that other people’s opinions about you are none of your business — so why does he keep telling me things about myself that I never asked him to? (Yeah, yeah. I get it. We’re responsible to and for each other — but still?)
I’m sure when I finally get over my tantrum and act like a functional adult again, I can grasp the concept of “and” versus the false binary of “or.” My husband can express his feelings AND not hurt me in the process. I can listen to his feelings AND hold space for them while feeling differently at the same time. I can be aware when I’m feeling defensive and not judge myself for feeling that way while being careful to respond and not react.
I suppose if we stay married (and inertia is at work here so we will likely still be married for the foreseeable future, so, yay, physics) — or even if we don’t (because maybe neither of us like who the other has turned into over the course of two decades) — ultimately, that’s a good thing for my husband. It’s a good thing for him to finally find his voice and go after what he wants. Even if it’s not me.