Rules of Engagement.

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My husband was a bit grumpy when I got home from a recent trip to Northern California. Perhaps it’s because he’d been working 12 to 14 hour days, perhaps it’s because some of the jobs he’s doing on our house right now are, well, disgusting. Okay, when you rip the siding off of a tool room that hasn’t been attended to in fifty some odd years, and find several generations of woodland creatures, adults, juveniles and babies, living behind it,that’s kind of cute, granted. But the fact that their nests are built on the carcasses of their ancestors and decades of excrement bulging through the insulation, it is definitely un-cute. Pulling out the nests of hair and urine-stained, shredded trash doesn’t leave you with a particularly ecstatic feeling. Maybe the fact that I was off hiking in woodland bliss and searching for new homes instead of helping him could have contributed to his vague emotional distance from me, as unreasonable as that sounds. It’s unlikely that I’m ever at fault of course, but hey, anything is possible.

For my part, after a few fun days with our daughter up north, taking in the air and the redwoods and the wonderful food, I spent my five hour drive back thinking about how much I missed him, and how incredibly lucky I am to have him and our life together. I arrived excited to see him, surging with all the passion that I started with for him, plus the years of love and fun squared on top of that, so I’m in a great mood, eager and loving.

Then I drive up to find him standing in the garage, sweaty, bleeding, and filthy, breathing with difficulty, having done as much work as an assembly team in a factory. I didn’t quite get the greeting I had anticipated. Our normal ‘mesh’ is a bit off.

Okay, we’re miles apart, and by the time I get through touring all the work he’s done and telling him all the things he worked so hard on that I’m not crazy about, (hey, I told him about all the things I loved too!) he’s a sliver snappy. I’ve learned over the years not to engage when one of us is in a mood, but that’s not always easy when one of us is feeling vulnerable or pissy.

Because when we try to talk from that frazzled, electrified place, the chances of going off on bizarre tangents ranges from excellent to certain. I will, for example, accuse him of playing the martyr role, he will insist that I have never, ever, ever, ever, ever been happy with anything he has ever done. We both are dead sure that everyone in the world will agree with our personal, and diametrically opposed, points of view. We fall into accusing each other of evil plots against our marriage, of seeing the worst in each other, of never being loved or appreciated.

Too dramatic? You should try running a theatre for 25 years, I’ll show you diva. So, when one of us gets ramped up, the other one takes a turn at playing police psychiatrist on an active shooter site. He will stand at a safe distance from behind the open door of his truck and shout into a bullhorn, “I understand you are upset, but put the rifle down and we can talk.”

When I’m pissed, he withdraws into his den or his work and lets me rage freely, swearing and sighing for all the world at this miserable lot I’ve pulled, but he never misses giving me a goodnight kiss, or offering to share a funny movie once the high octane burns itself out like a nasty oil spill on seawater. When it’s him who is wound up beyond the ticking point, I make sure he has snacks, water, first aid when the time comes, and I stay busy, lurking until his defences are down. This is quite a bit like a siege, but instead of firing flaming rocks into his castle, I’m lobbing sandwiches and beer.

So we went through our evening working our wounded egos out on our own, avoiding flare ups that might lead into something we both know isn’t even about whatever projectile we’re launching, and we commit to talking tomorrow. (That part is important, and the appointment must be kept!) We’re both exhausted and strained, and there’s that touch of unfamiliarity that comes when you’ve been away from each other a few days and haven’t had a chance to smooth it over with a cocktail or three and an episode of VEEP.

In the morning we sat down to talk, and instead of starting with communication, which would be bright, we’re both wasting time and energy justifying our ‘reasons’ for not being particularly generous of spirit or spilling over with kindness, it’s all round about, egos, and excuses, but one theme inevitably emerges, we both feel misunderstood. I thought he thought this and he thought I thought that, and we were both dead wrong.

So we smile sheepishly and I kiss him. “I’ve got an idea, let’s just go back to being madly in love.”

His face crumples into a handsome smile and he says teasingly, “Then you have to be nice to me.”

And I stabbed him with my pruning sheers.

No, not really. We just both laughed at ourselves and each other, and kissed, and got back to the business of loving and being grateful.

Sometimes you just have to get over yourself, and remind yourself how fucking happy you are.

I know I do.

Shari, April 30th, 2016

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3 thoughts on “Rules of Engagement.

  1. Such a great roundup of emotions that will happen for so many “pop up” reasons! YOU have expressed what love, marriage and every day life presents to us on a regular basis. My mama always said “life is just one obstacle after another; it is a matter of how we get through it to get to the next one because it will be there”! Thanks for your objective look at your obstacle!

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