Being the "Perfect Wife": How I Handle a Cranky Spouse
Tuesday, January 24, 2012Tweet
When Mike got home from work today, he was in a foul mood.
He'd spent an hour and a half in the car going to pick up this month's meat from our CSA. There's always terrible traffic in that area at rush hour, plus the food wasn't labeled well and we ended up short three jars of jam, plus this was the second week in a row he'd had to go out there because last week he didn't get the message they'd moved the pick-up date until he'd already fought his way there.
He dumped the bag of frozen meat on the kitchen counter, snapped at me when I expressed disappointment that they'd only given us a pound of ground beef, and then stalked off to take a shower.
So I did what I tend to do when he's cranky.
I went into "Perfect Wife" mode.
I marked down on the freezer door sheet which meat we'd gotten and put the meat away in the freezer and the honey and jam in the pantry.
I packaged up Mike's textbooks we'd sold that need to get mailed off tomorrow (something we'd done together previously).
I fed the rats.
I vacuumed the area around their cage.
I changed out of my work clothes and was just getting started on my workout when he came out of the shower. I didn't say a word to him until I was sure he was in a better mood.
I've noticed this is something I tend to do when Mike's angry. If we're having an argument, that's one thing, but if he's just in a bad mood, then my tendency is to get extremely quiet, not speak unless I'm spoken to, and go about the apartment taking care of chores and such. If I sit down, I'll avoid getting on the computer, where I could be wasting time, and will instead do something obviously benign, like knitting.
Basically I attempt to eliminate any possible word or action that could turn his bad mood against me.
On the one hand, this bothers me. It resembles too closely what victims of abuse do -- try to become perfect wives or children in hopes that the abuser won't be able to find fault and lash out at them. And Mike isn't abusive by any stretch of the imagination. It has everything to do with me and how I can't stand being reprimanded. It's like I know that the chances of him getting annoyed with me for no good reason have gone up just because he's cranky, and being unfairly accused so frightens me that I try to eliminate the possibility altogether.
(I could get all therapist-y on myself and reflect on how I developed this kind of coping mechanism when I was growing up, for the same reason... but I won't.)
On the other hand, I'm grateful for these moments. They show me my potential. They remind me that, when I'm incredibly focused, I can speed through my to-do items without dawdling or getting distracted. They prevent me from my default motion of getting on my computer, and instead force me to ask, "What's the best use of my time right now? What would I like to be doing?"
These moments where I try to be a perfect wife show me what I think the best version of myself looks like, and that I'm able to achieve that, if only for a short period of time.
Most of all, I'm glad to be forced to push my own concerns to the side momentarily. I'm able to zero in on How can I be most useful right now? What would take stress off Mike? What would make Mike happier?
I need to take care of myself, of course, but I need that balance, also. That reminder that I'm part of a partnership, and sometimes he serves me, and sometimes I serve him, but we both try to make life a little better for the other.
It's also a good reminder that sometimes we each just need some space. In a way, Mike does the same thing with me: If he figures out that I'm cranky and I'm lashing out at him for no reason, he'll separate himself from me -- go the other side of the apartment and get on his computer -- until I've calmed down. He's learned (mostly) that trying to cheer me up by joking around is the wrong way to go. If I have a sphere of anger around me, I need to clear it out in order to get rid of it. Having him in it is just going to make things worse and lead to arguments for no good reason.
Every couple is different, and some people need their spouse to cheer them out of a bad mood. I'm glad Mike and I have learned what works for us. I think we've eliminated a lot of arguments simply by knowing when to shut up and get out of the other person's space. We've learned how to recognize each other's moods and know when not to take them personally.
How do you deal with it when your partner's cranky? Do you know what makes it better or worse?