Just the way it goes?

Earlier this month B and I had a true argument. It was about dishes. I tried to gently and respectfully ask that he alter one thing about the way he washed them. And it didn’t go well. He felt criticized, so he criticized back. Turns out each thinks the other is not doing a very good job at getting the dishes clean. And so we went round in circles, and I tried to keep smiling and be rational and not let it escalate to ridiculous levels. Because, really, it’s just dishes. I was reminded of the episode of Parenthood when Jasmin and Crosby break up after arguing about the best way to load the dishwasher. Of course dishes are no small thing–they’re always there, needing to be dealt with. I’m a vegetarian and he’s not, so sometimes there’s even chickeny dishes.

In the end, he left the room after we agreed that we’d both change our washing strategies (even though we felt that doing that wouldn’t get the dishes any cleaner). I stayed where I was and tried to think of a solution that would really work for both of us. And since I hadn’t moved an inch, B eventually reemerged and asked if I was okay. I said I was, but then I started to cry. I get sad, but I’m not really a crier. Fighting with the person I love (and feeling criticized by that person) is apparently very emotional. B sat next to me again and felt sad and bad because I was crying.

The dishes argument had come the day after I’d changed around some furniture even though B thought it was fine the way it was. I thought the new way was a marked improvement, and B didn’t understand why I’d wanted to change it at all, but I didn’t change it back for him. And so I was reminded of the times B has told me, “You want everything your way.” And I’m reminded of my parents’ relationship (married 44 years) and my sister’s with her husband. I’m stubborn. I think things through, pick what I think is the best option, and then stick to it. I lived alone for seven years before I moved in with B. I’ll hear what he says, and but still think he’ll see that my idea works better after we try it. Not every instance, but most of the time. And there are little projects he’ll do on his own that I’ll wish I’d been there for to nudge him in a different direction. (Our TV is mounted too high on the wall, which is the first thing I thought when I saw it, but I kept my mouth shut, and he realizes now it’s too high too.)

There’s plenty of jokes on TV and quotes in the media about the woman always being right. A couple has been married 81 (yes, 81) years and in the interview he said, all we’ve argued about is the cooking. And she said, that’s what he thinks. Men get it wrong, and women are always right. I never liked that about my parents’ marriage, and I often sided with my dad (in my head) because I felt bad for him. I never wanted to be that way. I think I’m more aware of it, and I try not to be that way. But I still am who I am. B and I have talked about it very frankly; I’ve told him that I want to be nicer and more respectful to him than my mom and my sister are to their husbands. I tearfully said, “I hope you don’t feel like I don’t listen to you.” He answered quietly, “I know you listen.” I motioned to the new furniture arrangement and said, “And then I go and do it my way anyway.” I think it is partly just our dynamic. B truly is often undecided about things and wants me to decide. But when he does have an opinion, I have to learn to really consider it and not brush it aside.

The following morning, I still felt pensive about our discussion the night before, and B noticed that I seemed quiet. I walked him out to catch his commuter bus, and he apologized (about the dishes argument). He said the point I’d tried to make did make sense and that he had just felt attacked and was being irrational. I thought it was so lovely of him to say that, and I also felt sad, because he’d put me in the right.

Other than that, we’re really good. And we’ve had some really lovely times this month that I’ve meant to write about.

Do you have any thoughts on this? Can you think of any relationship that doesn’t have one person more “in charge” than the other? Is that just the way relationships go?



5 thoughts on “Just the way it goes?

  1. In my (limited) experience, most relationships do have one person who criticises more and one who feels criticised more. I don’t know of a definite example of a balanced one. So I guess it’s pretty normal for things to end up this way, but I think it’s good that you guys can talk about these things afterwards – that’s much better than letting resentments quietly build up.

    The other thing I try to avoid (but don’t always succeed) is arguments which escalate quickly in the heat of the moment and then seem overly harsh in hindsight. Sometimes if we’re both locked into certain positions it’s helpful to try to agree that we’ll pause the discussion and take some time to think individually about how important the issue really is, and to cool the intensity of the debate. I know that sometimes I can get carried away trying to prove that I am right and then afterwards realise that I was pushier than I meant to be.

    • Thanks for your comments. I think if we agreed to pause, then I would want to bring it up later but wouldn’t know how in a way that would be well received. And B would just hope that we wouldn’t bring it up again at all! Neither of us is very “heat of the moment-y” though. We don’t let things get very intense; it’s just uncomfortable when things tip from ‘discussion’ to ‘argument.’

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