Why Cooling Off Periods are Good for Your Marriage
My husband pulled a carton of eggs from the fridge and opened it. There was just one egg left.
“Momma! You ate all the eggs!” he quipped.
I tensed up and clenched my fists. But I said nothing. After all, he spoke the truth. Yes, I’d eaten all but one of the eggs. I eat eggs every day. We get new eggs every Wednesday. It was a Tuesday. On Tuesdays? There usually are no eggs left.
“There’s still one left,” I said.
“It’s not enough,” he said, closing the carton and stuffing the one egg back inside the fridge. He’d wanted to make Belgian waffles that morning, just as he’d wanted to make them on Sunday morning. He hadn’t made them on Sunday because he hadn’t had enough milk. He hadn’t had enough milk because I’d used most of it the night before when I’d made twice-baked potatoes. Usually, I’d put buttermilk in twice-baked potatoes. I didn’t have buttermilk, so I used regular milk instead. I’d used more milk than usual, too, because the last time I’d made twice-baked potatoes my husband had complained that they were not creamy enough. So this time? I used a lot of milk.
And I’d done that for him. He couldn’t make Belgian waffles on Sunday morning because he’d enjoyed his exceptionally creamy twice-baked potatoes the night before. As far as I was concerned, the lack of milk was his fault, not mine.
He made a special run to the grocery store Monday night, just to buy milk.
But he had not told me why. Had he told me that he would be needing eggs come Tuesday morning, I would not have eaten eggs for breakfast Monday morning. I swear, I would not have. I’m a caring spouse like that. I’m willing to give my husband my eggs if he needs them. I am.
But he hadn’t said anything. So I’d had no way of knowing. None I tell you. None.
“Well, sor-ree,” I said.
But, in reality, I wasn’t sorry—not for eating 11 out of 12 eggs anyway. At that moment, I was only sorry about one thing—that we were both standing in the kitchen at the same time. And I was thinking a series of very snarky things. Like I was thinking that, if it were me, I would have found a way to make Belgian waffles with just one egg—because I’m creative and smart like that. I was thinking that, if it were me, I would have checked the eggs the night before, just to make sure I’d had enough.
And if it were me, I wouldn’t be blaming the lack of eggs on my poor spouse, who hadn’t done anything wrong.
And I was thinking that I should say all of this out loud, as I often blog here about how it’s never a good idea to expect your spouse to read your mind. How many times have I told you all to speak your voices? A lot, okay? A lot.
At the same time, I knew that saying anything would be a ginormous mistake. I knew if I opened my mouth, the wrong words would come out and they would come out just like this: Why are you such an asshole?
(Sorry, readers, I do try to not swear on this blog. But sometimes I just can’t get around it. This was one of those times.)
So I kept mum.
“I’ll say something about it as soon as I calm down,” I thought.
But I didn’t calm down. I just kept staring out him with the “I wish you would just drop dead” look.
He finally left for work. We didn’t say good-bye. That almost never happens. Usually? We’re good about saying good-bye, even when one of us is mad.
I tried to get ready to catch my bus to New York. I could only find one glove. I cursed my husband. Of course it was his fault that I could only find one glove. Why, you ask? I have no idea. But I was just as sure the missing glove was his fault as I was sure of the fact that he was wrong for blaming me for eating all of the eggs.
I couldn’t find the glove, so I grabbed a pair of his. Yeah, I’d be looking really fashionable when I showed up for my business meeting with my dressy outfit, leather jacket, and men’s ski gloves. Damn him for only wearing men’s ski gloves!
(And if you think my thoughts were irrational and crazy, I must ask you this: have you not had these very irrational thoughts about your own spouse? Be honest now).
I stayed mad at him during the entire 1.5-hour bus ride into the city. I stayed mad at him during the entire 30 minutes it took me to walk to the restaurant. I stayed mad at him during the entire meal. I stayed mad during the 30 minutes it took to walk back to catch my bus home.
I didn’t stop being mad until I fell asleep on the bus.
I woke up an hour later. I texted my husband, “On the 3:30 bus. See you soon.”
As soon as I sent the text, I knew I was no longer mad. The anger? It was gone. I was looking forward to seeing him, even if he was a grumpy pain in the ass who blamed his wife for things that were not remotely her fault.
Later that night, I hugged him and I said, “Do you remember what you said when you opened the egg carton this morning?”
“You blamed me for eating all of the eggs,” I said.
“I’m sorry,” he said
“Maybe next time, when you are disappointed because you can’t find what you need in the fridge, you might just say, ‘Oh, there are no eggs. That’s disappointing!’ Do you think you could word it that way?”
He said he would try to word it that way in the future. We hugged some more. I was glad that I hadn’t called him an asshole earlier in the day.
What a difference a few hours and nap makes, eh? Had I tried to confront him that morning, it would have been ugly, ugly, ugly. I can tell you that. But because I waited until we were both calm, the conversation went much more smoothly. There were no raised voices. There was no stress. There was no sarcasm.
It was just a conversation about a conversation about eggs.
Do you wait to cool off before you confront your spouse? Are you able to speak your voice when you are mad? If it were you, would you have blamed your spouse when you couldn’t find your other glove? Do you think a better title for this post would have been, “That’s the last egg!”? Leave a comment.
A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.