Over thirty years ago, I married my complete opposite. I was a young, foolish extrovert who made decisions based on feelings and intuitions. He was equally young and foolish, but was an introvert who made his decisions with facts and evidence. When he wanted to make decisions quickly I felt pressured. But I had been raised in the South to please my man, so at least early in the marriage, I tended to go along with his ideas for the sake of harmony. On his part he was often stunned that there could be any opposition to his ideas, because they were so logical. Of course, too much going along for the sake of harmony makes for a cranky spouse, so through the years we have had to learn to respect and even celebrate our differences.
I understand now that my detail oriented husband may actually have a heart attack if he cannot read the EXACT amount a check has been written for. For me, “about $70.00” is close enough. So I write checks out of another account he never even sees. Problem solved! He doesn’t like clutter, so I try to cheerfully hang up my clothes at least twice a week. On his part, he tries not to pressure me to make decisions quickly, because I have to know I have looked at all possibilities first. He is kind to me about things I don’t notice, like whether or not a car needs gas. He knows that is way too boring for me to be involved with.
We have worked through the power struggles and communication problems of the earlier years and have emerged into the bliss of the empty nesting world. But a recurring challenge is how to come to mutual decisions. Things always come up. When we have conflicting ideas on how to handle a situation, what do we do? Does one partner capitulate to please the other, and deal with the resentment later? Does one partner doubt his or her own judgement and wonder if they’re just too controlling? Or do the partners keep working and keep talking until an agreeable decision is made? Where is the line between our individual selves and our partnership?
As I look back over the last three decades, I see that we have always done our best when we have been honest with ourselves and each other and have stuck to the work of working it out. Because we are constantly in the push/pull of being individuals and partners simultaneously, it is draining. Because we are opposites in personality styles, it is messy. But in the end it has brought us to the best emotional places in our marriage.
Recently a new “thing”( meaning an incident we will laugh about later but not yet) came up that reinforced the importance for me of listening to myself. Here it is: In the process of preparing our pied a terre, we moved our bed from our home to the condo. This meant we would be purchasing a new bed for our home. But first our bedroom needed to be painted. In the interim, we had been sleeping in another bedroom in our home. When we moved our bed, I gave away an armoire that had held many of my clothes, so my clothes were all over the place in plastic bags and various boxes.
Finally we picked a bedroom paint color and new bed linen. As soon as my husband painted the room we could get new bedroom furniture. But no, first my husband wanted to do something about our laminate floor. Some of the boards had been pulling away from each other, in approximately the same place where I had used a space heater for several winters. My husband didn’t like the look of it. I thought we had bigger fish to fry, as the hardly anyone could even see the place. See Exhibit A.
Would anyone really notice this?
My husband proposed that he (which I thought would surely also mean me) would pull up the existing laminate while the room was empty, and lay an engineered hardwood floor. Although I am always happy to improve my home, I did not like this idea. First, we had been neck deep in renovations at the condo for almost a year, and were so close to getting it furnished. I thought our efforts should go there. Second, all projects take longer than people think they will, especially if either of the two of us is involved. Third, I had been without a bedroom or place to put my belongings for six weeks now, and I wasn’t interested in extending the time. I was tired of all this left brain decision making. I even wrote a post about it! I told my husband that if he must have a floor, that I would rather someone else put it in. No, no, no, he replied. That would be too expensive. He could do it himself for much less money. ( And five times the effort, I said to myself. I’ve matured over the years, so I don’t have to say everything I think.)
The next couple of weeks were excruciating for me. Every time the subject of the floors came up, my husband gave me his very logical reasons why we should follow his idea. I gave him my very valid reasons why we should not. I went to a flooring company just to get estimates, hoping there would be little price difference between having someone put in the floor or doing it ourselves. My husband saw the estimates and said they were too expensive.
I stewed. I did not want to be a poor sport, but I did not want to pull up a floor and lay another one right now. Why couldn’t he just listen to me? We didn’t (and don’t) even have a car big enough to bring laminate home in! And what would we do with the old laminate? How many weekends would this take? I wondered if this could be just a rare instance on my part of being stubborn. Surely not. But my husband was so stuck on this idea. Could I just give in? And readers, I could not. I had to listen to myself. We were going to have to go through the messy process of working it out. It made my stomach ache to think about it.
To the Moon Alice!
I brought it up one last time on a Thursday night. Sparks flew. We both defended our positions. I had tried giving my husband lots of facts, since I thought he could hear those better. But finally I told him that if he proceeded the way he proposed it was going to cause more trouble than a few boards gone awry. What was his actual problem with the floor, and could we solve it using less drastic means? Since my husband could not live with the appearance of the floor, we tried to order more laminate on the internet to repair it. But of course it was discontinued. Then he reluctantly agreed to try to glue the drifting parts down. Crisis averted, I hoped. My anxiety went down by one thousand points. I had taken care of my individual self, and the relationship had survived.
That Saturday he glued down the boards. On Sunday he began to replace the quarter rounds he had taken down to repaint the bedroom. We were just about ready for our new bed! Oh, I was so glad I had not just given in to what he wanted. I celebrated by spending an hour or so in my swimming pool. After a refreshing dip, I went into my bathroom for a shower. But…. the threshold to the bathroom was pulled up, and the laminate seemed … damp. What had happened?
My husband walked in at that time and said that yes, water seemed to be coming from somewhere in our bedroom, but where? And why? For the next hour we ran the wet /dry vac and tried to locate the source of the ice cold water, which we had found seeping out from under the wall. Reluctantly my husband began to pull up pieces of laminate to see where the water was coming from. Things kept getting curiouser, and in the end we turned off the water and put in a call to a plumber.
I was planning to attend a Ramadan dinner that night with a friend, so I had to leave before the plumber arrived. Dinner was later than I thought, for I had failed to take in account that food could not be served until after dusk. As I listened to a speaker expound on working for the common good of all, I received a text from my husband. The plumber found that my husband had driven a nail through the wall into a water pipe coming in from under the slab of the house. He would have to jackhammer into our bedroom floor in order to fix the pipe. Water had seeped under the laminate, so our floor was of course, ruined.
On the way to the condo, where we had to sleep because we had no water at our home, my husband was so upset with himself. How could he have done this, he asked. How much was it going to cost to fix it? And why was I not angry with him? Why should I be angry with you? I asked him. It was just a mistake. Anyone could have done it. It’s not the end of the world. I meant that. At that moment I felt fully available to be a partner. That didn’t make my stomach hurt at all.
The next day a plumber came and fixed the pipe, and we were able to wash the 23 or so wet towels we had from the leak. My husband called the insurance man, and someone came to patch the hole in the wall from the repair. Sometime during that week my husband said in a quiet voice that when we got a new floor he no longer thought he had to install it himself. Oh, O.K., I said in a nonchalant tone.
That same day that the plumber fixed the slab, I attended my usual yoga class. Before we began, our teacher wanted to discuss two Sanskrit words, paksa, (roughly , going with the flow, ) and prati paksa (roughly, going against the flow). She related the terms to our yoga practice, saying that sometimes in order to properly do a pose we go the way the body wants to go, but at other times the best way to achieve balance is to take an opposite path. We must always assess which is the better choice: going with the flow, or going against the flow. Indeed.