Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Marriage Scoreboard

"Everything ok?"

He was watching the same Parks and Rec episode for the 40th time and giving short answers to my customary questions after not seeing him all day: How are you? How were the kids? Did they eat okay? How was bedtime? It had been a particularly busy weekend with rehearsals, shows, and coaching so the reason for his demeanor was easy for me to diagnose.

"Uh well... I guess, it's just getting to be a bit much."

"What is?" I asked, bracing myself.

"Look, I really support your dream and this improv stuff, but... I don't know... like, what's the end goal here? You're giving away a lot of your time without getting paid and I just..." he trailed off and looked at me with a mix of annoyance and remorse.

I knew this conversation was a long time coming. My clairvoyance about it, however, sure didn't give me the good sense to respond properly. My defensive shield was slowly rising up through my body like the Baryon Sweep eliminating radiation particles from the USS Enterprise-D (whaddup my TNG NERDS). Was he seriously calling ME out for being gone too much?!? Ohhhhhhh... bring it on, Paul.

The conversation devolved into a blubbery mess where I shamed Paul for making me feel worthless. He was bringing up valid points... points that were a significant source of irritation for me as well. I had done what so many creative people do; overcommitted to too many projects. Also, I was very frustrated that the fields of sketch and improv comedy were basically volunteer gigs, and most of the time it's a sunk cost. Every week I was driving at least 2 hours round-trip to every rehearsal or show, paying downtown Denver rates for parking, performing for almost empty houses... it was taking its toll as much as the highway toll... was taking its toll. See, shouldn't I get paid for this?

So, Paul and I were actually on the same page, but on that Sunday night, I chose to make Paul the villain. He was trying to say that I should realize the value of my talent and time, but I took it as an attack that I was wasting my time with a frivolous hobby. How dare he say that after EVERYTHING I've done for him, dammit! If we're going to talk about who is gone more for their own shit, well mister... one of us is deeply in debt and it AIN'T ME!

Ah, the "keeping score" trap. It'll get ya every time.

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I wasn't sure what to expect from marriage. I'd heard about how hard it could be, how communication is the most important thing, how compromise is the cornerstone of a good union... and of course I was well aware of the bleak divorce rate in the country. I'm also an optimist. Going into my marriage over 11 years ago, my expectations were pretty broad. It was a very "go with the flow" mentality that I believed would work in our favor... don't make too many rules and then you could just figure shit out as it comes. Well, after all these years, we've had to figure a lot of shit out and sometimes I cannot help but think who has given up more.

ASS out of U and ME
"We need to talk." Oh, did your butthole just tighten up? Mine too and I typed it! I've never been great at having serious conversations and annoyingly, I didn't magically master that skill after getting married. Paul is in the same boat and we sail compulsively on the waters of withheld thoughts and concerns. I know I'm to blame for our tight-lipped relationship since my serious convo track record is fraught with tears, defensive attacks and over-dramatic monologues. Progress has been made, believe me, but the battle scars of the past have no doubt affected Paul's comfort level with expressing his feelings, particularly feelings that may upset me.

Since we avoid confrontation, both of us assume way too much. We assume everything is fine because neither of us seem bothered. But, both of us act like we aren't bothered because we are avoiding an uncomfortable conversation. It's a vicious cycle. Part of me also struggles with the whole "pick your battles" method of self-preservation. Which issues warrant the dreaded conversations and which just require a deep breath or two? This is a huge hurdle when it comes to feeling like I'm being taken for granted. Too many times I opt to gulp it down and hope the emotions dissolve away.

Sheevani or Ofpaul?
My primary mission for the entirety of our marriage has been to bring some balance to Paul's life. This makes me feel a bit icky... and saying it makes me feel icky makes me feel even more icky. I'm proud of being a supportive wife, but my feminist side hates to admit that many aspects of my life revolve around my husband's convenience. The actions range from small (letting him skip family events) to huge (moving to Denver) with the sole purpose of seeing him at peace. Let me explain; I've married an intense person. Anything below 100% effort is not where he operates and that has only gotten more potent with time. I've lost count of how many times I've reluctantly agreed to a decision with the words, "I just want you to be happy."

While I didn't map out what our marriage should look like, I guess I did subconsciously presume that things would have a 50/50 feel to them. Things like big decisions, parenting, individual time, etc. Going into our union, I knew Paul's ambition would put him on a path to a career that would require a lot of time and travel, but until we became parents, I didn't see that as much of an issue. After our daughter was born in the middle of his masters program, we knew the first few months would be really tough, but once that program was over, we'd achieve a better balance. Well, it's almost 9 years later and I'm still waiting.

I've finally woken up to the reality that it's not up to me to hand him balance. Just as I admitted this to myself a few years ago, you cannot assign your happiness as someone else's responsibility. I'm not saying Paul has been guilty of that... he hasn't been looking to me for his balance and contentment; in fact he knows he needs to figure it out himself. I guess I'm just getting impatient. For my part, I feel I've done all I can to keep an open path for his ideal life, and now it's up to him to change whatever he feels is falling short. But for a perfectionist like him, I'm not sure that's possible without him feeling like he's disappointing people. And by people, I mean people he works for/with, because I'm used to having altered expectations. His career often pulls rank and I've made the necessary adjustments to shield him from the burden of guilt.

Comparison is Futile
Oh boo hoo for me, right? No, it's not that simple. I'm not saying I deserve a medal or anything, people do this all the time in marriage. But, from many conversations I've had with women over the years, it seems to mostly be the wives who are running interference for their husbands in order to maintain a drama-free home life. This isn't about feeling sorry for myself or saying I'm suffering because holy hell, I am not suffering. This is about loving a man who gives so much of himself to his career and feeling helpless against an avalanche of stress that sometimes makes him hard to recognize.

Keeping score is pointless. How do you compare such abstract elements in a marriage? Last I checked, there's no key in the back of a book. Does packing lunches every morning equal shoveling the driveway? Who can tell if making sure the kids are up to date with their doc and dentist appointments is the same as making sure our taxes get done. Do I get more points for cleaning up a bathroom accident than he gets for helping our daughter construct the perfect science project? Can I really say it's unfair when his absence is mostly due to work and I don't have an income? These types of equations are more complex than that Good Will Hunting chalkboard problem in the hallway!!

Still, I sometimes find myself abandoning that logic and feeling a great imbalance. I think about how many times I've quietly accepted his absence when I really wanted him around. I think about how I never make plans without first thinking about how they will affect him. I think about how many times I've had to comfort the kids because Daddy is traveling or busy with work. And most of all, I think about how all these internalized feelings are starting to affect my own mental health. When it comes to granting him some time to himself for both work and pleasure, I never say no, even if I want to. The few times I have said no, I immediately feel like a sack of shit.... I cannot win.

It all comes back to opening my damn mouth and telling him my honest feelings. Because you know what? He listens. He really does. I've married an intense man, and part of that intensity is his love and respect for me and our family. And hell, he didn't expect to be the sole earner of our household. My current role wasn't in the plans for either of us, but as we navigate this crazy ride, we are trying all kinds of scenarios that satisfies us both. While I get in the ruts of self-pity, I yank myself out with the confidence that both of us love each other and truly want the other to be happy. That is one score that is never out of balance.

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I cannot guarantee I'll ever stop falling into the trap of keeping score. As life gets more complicated and stressful times ebb and flow, I know I'll get frustrated and feel taken for granted. However, out of respect for myself, I will try not to feel guilty about expressing my true feelings to Paul. As this bod gets older, I'm not so resilient to keeping shit bottled up, so I'm gonna let it out! The important thing is that we work together to figure out a balance, because I really haven't given him the chance to be a partner in that realm. Yup, that's right... "We need to talk," is going to roll off my tongue with ease pretty soon... I just hope Paul's butthole is ready.

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