“I feel neglected.”
That’s what I said to hubby recently while firing up the stove to make an egg sandwich for my dinner. He was about to head to the gym. Yes, I agree, it was a particularly melodramatic and inflammatory comment. But at that moment it seemed fitting after a particularly stressful and busy week. If you had to guess, what do you think happened next?
If this had been a few years ago (during hubby’s neurology residency), I could have told you word for word, in my sleep, what would have transpired because we’d each memorized — and stuck to — our half of the script. I’d have said I feel neglected, he’d say he’s doing his best, and maybe a door or two would be closed a little harder than usual.
But, to both of our surprises, the conversation went like this:
“I feel neglected,” I say as I take some eggs out of the refrigerator to make some semblance of a dinner for myself.
“Those eggs are expired,” he says, “Use these instead,” he adds as he hands me a fresh carton. I crack them over the skillet.
“It feels like everything's on my shoulders and no one cares about how I'm doing,” I continue as I take out a knife the size of a machete to haphazardly cut off a small slice of bread over the sink. No cutting board necessary.
“You’re going to hurt yourself if you don’t do it properly. Let me cut that for you.” Hubby moves swiftly to the sink and removes the large piece of cutlery from my hand.
“I come last.” I complain, as he points out that the eggs should be fried over lower heat and would probably be better with salt and pepper.
Suddenly we realize what's going on and burst out laughing. I’m criticizing him for not caring, and he’s helping me circumvent a lost finger or visit to a burn center while helping me cook a decent and even tasty dinner.
As the giggling subsides, we realize that this, the warm thaw at an argument's climax, has actually been happening a lot lately. We seem to be moving away from our usual routine, with me complaining, him withdrawing, and a cold freeze hanging over the breakfast table. So the million-dollar question is: What’s different?
My first guess was that it's just part of the typical cycle we marrieds often experience. You know, the cycle: the times when the relationship is like a well-oiled wheel, spinning around effortlessly. Then, by chance or circumstance, the wheel gets stuck and you need to be the Incredible Hulk to rotate it, until one day you wake up and, wow, there it goes again, whirling around with relative ease.
But now that my daughter recently turned five, we’ve settled happily into Chicago, and our careers are getting to where we’d hoped they’d be, here's what I'm thinking. Maybe it's a whole new wheel. This time, it's a fancier high-endurance model, with super-strong tread and all sorts of bells and whistles. It's the kind you get after almost a decade together, when you know exactly what works best for each of you. I know that even this one will inevitably suffer its share of bang-ups, but maybe this time around I won’t worry as much that it can’t withstand the pressure.
~By Wendy Widom, Partner, Families in the Loop
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