My Poor Husband Just Wanted to Ride His Bike
A Long Post that is Worth Reading to the End (Hint, Hint, Hint)
A few days ago, I wrote about How to Defuse Anger. Many of you asked for more guidance on step 4: assuming the blame. I was expecting that, as it’s the hardest part of the process. Assuming the Blame requires you to shed your pride and embrace your humility.
My problem was this: I didn’t have a good recent situation that I could use as an example.
Around 4 p.m., my husband came home from work. I was in my running clothes. He asked, “Are you going running?”
Since it was QUITE OBVIOUS that I was going running, I instantly suspected a trap.
“Yea-ah,” I said slowly. “Why?”
“Could you pick up Kaarina?” (Note: we alternate retrieving our daughter from daycare and this was HIS day to do it, which is why I had not run EARLIER IN THE DAY.)
“I’m going running,” I said.
“I know, but could you pick her up?”
“It’s 4 p.m. If I pick her up, I won’t have time to shower, and I can’t go to meditation class tonight without showering.”
“You’ll have time. I’ll be home by 6.”
“There’s not enough time.”
“Yes, you can do it. Pleeeeeeeese?”
“Alright,” I said. “Fine.”
“Are you sure?” he asked.
The answer to that question was “NYAHIANS” (have fun interpreting that one), but I mumbled, “Yes,” and I left for my run.
To understand the state of my anger, you need to know a few facts. First, him asking me to rearrange my day in order to make his day more convenient is a Hot Button Issue for me. When our marriage fell apart years ago, my unhappiness stemmed from him asking me to take on more and more responsibility so he could assume less and less of it. When things were at their worst, I was shouldering nearly all of the parenting responsibilities while also serving as the household breadwinner.
We’ve, of course, come a long way since then. We now have an elaborate parenting system in place.
But the point is this: I’m basically a generous person, but whenever my husband asks me to sacrifice my time, I go from happy to pissed off in a matter of nanoseconds.
So there I was running through town. Every curse word that had ever been spoken was running through my mind. And, yes, I was even talking to myself. I was quite the pissed off spectacle.
During all of this, I was reminding myself, “This is great! Now you can blog about this! Now you can practice your Buddhism! What a great opportunity!”
This Great Opportunity, though, did little to calm me. So by the time I got home, I was mentally blaming my husband for every possible misfortune.
Dripping with sweat, I made a marinade and put the fish in it. I got marinade all over the kitchen floor. His fault! If I wasn’t in a hurry, this wouldn’t have happened!
I sliced up broccoli and mixed it with oil and salt so I could roast it. I dropped a few pieces. The dog chewed up one of them, leaving tiny green bits all over our white carpet. His fault!
As I drove to pick up our daughter, I got behind a slow-driving car. His fault!
There was not a single good song on the dang radio! His fault!
And so it went.
By the time I picked up our daughter, I could feel the anger ebbing. I even laughed a couple times as I tried to blame really silly things on him that obviously were not really his fault.
I wasn’t completely calm, mind you, but I was kinda close. So I thought about how I would Accept the Blame.
“Why are you so angry?” I asked myself.
It took me a while to figure that out. At first, I thought, “Because he’s a stupid idiot who doesn’t love me or respect me.”
Eventually, though, I realized that I was angry because I’d said Yes when I’d really wanted to say No. I’d agreed to do something that I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to do it for myself, and I didn’t want to do it for him, either.
What I wanted was to go back in time and undo my Yes. That way I could have gone for a longer run. Then I could have taken a nice long leisurely shower. And then I could have made the dinner I’d been looking forward to making all day long: marinated fish with roasted broccoli and twice baked potatoes.
Then I could eaten the twice baked potatoes. Then my daughter and husband would have marveled out loud about my potatoes.
And then I would have taken my happy, potato-filled self to meditation class.
I wouldn’t have had to rush. I wouldn’t have made a mess in the kitchen because I was rushing,
I certainly would not have forgotten to put salt in the potatoes because I was rushing!
And dang it, the potatoes would have been cooked and done LONG BEFORE IT WAS TIME TO GO TO MY CLASS.
Alright, that was settled. I was really mad at myself.
But I was also mad at my husband, especially when I saw him walk in the door 15 MINUTES AFTER 6 PM with his CYCLING GEAR ON. Geez oh man, you don’t even want to know about the angry thoughts that took place inside my head once I realized that I’d done all of this to myself so he could have a NICE LEISURELY BIKE RIDE AT MY EXPENSE.
Livid? Doesn’t come close to describing it.
The potatoes were done about 2 minutes before it was time for me to leave. I inhaled one, burning all of the skin off the roof of my mouth.
His fault! Yes, I was back to that.
I managed to keep my angry thoughts to myself, and I left for meditation class. Well, that fixed me. Meditation always does. It’s magic. By the end of the class, I was laughing at myself for being so angry about something so trivial.
Back at home, I sat next to my husband. I muted the TV. And I said this:
“I didn’t want to pick up Kaarina. I don’t know why I agreed to do it. I do that sometimes. I say Yes when I really mean No. And then I get mad that I’m doing something that I don’t want to do. I wish I were more assertive, but I’m not as assertive as I’d like to be. I still agree to do things because I want to make you happy and because I want to please you, even though I feel taken advantage of and resentful. I also worry that you will get mad if I say no. Would you have?”
“No, I wouldn’t have been mad,” he said.
“I don’t like feeling this angry with you, so I was wondering if we could do this. When you want me to change our parenting schedule, could you ask me the day before and give me 24 hours to make a decision? That way I’ll have time to think about what I really want and whether or not I’ll end up feeling resentful.”
I’d planned to say a little more, but my husband cut me off and said, “Yes!”
It wasn’t a “just shut up so I can watch TV yes.” It was a “Wow, I’m so relieved that you didn’t just blame all of the world’s problems on me” yes.
And although you might say that I had a right to blame him for a few things, it felt a lot better to dig deep down, find the true cause of my anger, accept the blame for it, and allow my husband to know the more vulnerable me. We’re closer as a result.
And, in the end, we’ll get to a better place.
Do you agree?
Tomorrow: I’ll list real and hypothetical situations for Accepting the Blame. Friday: I’ll list ways you can defuse your own anger.
What do you want me to write about? I’m inspired by a fellow blogathoner who is allowing blog readers to help him design his own website. I thought I’d try something similar. The first 21 people to suggest a topic in today’s comments will have their wish come true. I will write about whatever you tell me to write about. Snails? Bring them on. Garbage? So all over that. Really, anything goes. (I think?) So tell me what you’d like me to address here on the blog and I will make it happen.
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.