I’m really frustrated this morning, because my husband thinks I’m rejecting his gifts and criticizing him if I don’t ooh and ah over his unsolicited offerings. With him, all I am able to do is praise and thank. Anything else gets met with sullenness.
This morning is an example of why he’s difficult to communicate with. He decided with no prompting from anyone else in the house to cook a full breakfast. I was going to just fix myself a bowl of cereal and would have been perfectly happy with that. But hey, you want to do something a little extravagant on a Sunday morning? Nice, and thank you.
When he said we were out of biscuits and everyone would have to eat toast, I didn’t bother telling him what I really thought: “Oh, then, don’t bother for me. I’ll be fine just eating cereal.” Because a rejection of his food is — to him — a rejection of him. Or he perceives it as a demand that he go to the store and get biscuits, when all I really mean is, “I’m fine with cereal, but thanks.”
The issue is that I am only allowed to accept what he provides as perfect and complete. I can’t say, “Would you mind cooking a little of our bacon less crispy for me? I like it a little chewy rather than brittle.” (He cooks it until it shatters into tasteless burnt pieces when you bite into it.) And I can’t say, “Oh, I’d rather not have a full breakfast if we only have toast instead of biscuits.” And I can’t say, “Let me wipe off the eyes of the stove before you start cooking, so that it doesn’t smoke up the kitchen from the residue left over from the last time someone cooked.” Or, “Would you clean off the eyes of the stove when you’re done, or call me in there to do it?”
My throat is sensitive. When there’s smoke in the kitchen, the little particles in the air irritate my throat and make it burn for a long time. Sometimes my eyes burn too. Even if he’s in the kitchen and I’m in the living room, the smoke will make me start coughing and make my throat hurt. So when I just (nicely) asked this morning if he would turn the stove exhaust fan on because my throat was burning, he said snappishly, “**I** don’t see or smell any smoke.”
Then he flipped the exhaust switch anyway. I was so irritated at his dismissiveness that I said, “Oh my GOD” at his claim he couldn’t smell anything. REALLY?!
Apparently, I am imagining the burning sensation in my throat, judging by his tone. If it doesn’t bother him, then it doesn’t exist and I’m just “being dramatic.” [Note: Although he maintains he was just innocently surprised at my “demand” to turn the fan on, he later slipped and made a reference to when he snapped at me. He **knows** what he is doing, even when he denies it out loud.]
He gets huffy and bustles around the house in a visibly irritated manner if I say anything. So these days I quietly just break off the ends of the bacon that aren’t cooked quite to death when I eat his cooking. (I then get disapproving looks for tampering with most of the bacon slices.) Or I go into a more distant part of the house when he cooks to avoid the smoke.
Mind you, he is cooking of his own volition and hasn’t been asked to cook. And I always thank him for the meal when he cooks.
He is only happy when he stubbornly does things his way and gets lavishly praised. And I get really tired of pretending. Sometimes I just think, “Fuck that noise.”
We ran into this on Valentine’s Day many years ago. I don’t particularly like roses, because the inexpensive ones don’t last long, they don’t always have a scent, and the ones that do smell often get a dusky, decaying scent pretty quickly. So I tried to tell him at different times of the year that I really like mixed bouquets and hey — bonus — they’re less expensive anyway. That didn’t work. So I told him less subtly right before Valentine’s Day. That didn’t work either. Finally, after Valentine’s Day one year I told him that I loved how he wants to give me flowers, but I’d prefer different ones. He informed me that red roses were his signature flower. (Seriously.) I asked him, “So, the point of you giving flowers is that you like how you look as a man, giving red roses. It’s not to please me.” That seemed to baffle him. I finally got mad said, “Don’t bother buying me flowers anymore if you don’t get the ones I like. I’d rather do without than get them just because you like how red roses make YOU feel.”
He still doesn’t understand that.
So he feels unappreciated and criticized, and I feel dismissed, unheard and disparaged for being picky and “dramatic” again.
FUCK. THIS. NOISE.
If you’re thinking, “What’s the big deal? I’d feel grateful for anything my man did for me.” Then let me ask you: Is it really a gift from him if he’s only doing it because he likes how it reflects on him?
Those irritations pile up. A lot.
If you have a bucket, and you have your choice of filling it with a few big rocks or a lot of tiny ones, don’t you still have a heavy bucket of rocks when you’re done? So does it really matter if he fucks up in a few big ways, or if he is consistently, stubbornly and defiantly fucking up in a thousand small ways?
I’m tired of pretending. I’m tired of trying not to be mad, and feeling my emotions leaking out anyway with smoldering resentment because he doesn’t want me to speak up. The way he acts tells me that his gifts are about feeding his self-image, not about feeding my heart.
Update #1, same day: Not long after I wrote this, I asked him to come in the bedroom where I was. I wanted to tell him that he hurt my feelings when he dismissed me about the smoke burning my throat. He got furious. He said he was tired of me bitching at him all the time, and he was already mad because I kept saying, “Nope” or “No” that morning when he asked me if I needed anything. (I was trying to stay out of a discussion until I could do it without temper or tears. But apparently, what I was doing was punishing him, or so he implied.) I tried to tell him that what I heard when he was being dismissive was a reminder of his affair, when he complained to his girlfriend that his wife was “just being dramatic.” That comes to mind for me everytime he dismisses me.
Apparently, that was the wrong thing to say. Apparently, explaining to him why something hurt me more than, on the surface, you’d think it should, was me “throwing things up to him.”
He leaned in, his face beet red, and he SCREAMED at me that he was sick and tired of being bitched at.
I don’t bitch at him. When he calmed down, he admitted that, no, I don’t bitch at him “all the time.”
I asked him if I could have some time to myself to compose myself because by that time I was crying and trying not to do the big gulping, shuddery “ugly cry.” He left me to put my makeup on. I finally calmed down and put my makeup on and left with my younger daughter to go visit my older daughter as planned. I texted him that I needed the space, and that I didn’t want him to come with me.
I’m done. This is totally over as far as I’m concerned. The only time in my life I have screamed at this man was when he had an affair. He doesn’t get to scream at me like that.
I will be nice. And I will get along. And I will save my money and pay off my debts until I can move out. This is the living end for me. I’m going to start applying for jobs as far from here as I can get.
But I will be goddamned if I eat another goddamned thing he cooks. I’m still angry about being screamed at, after I ate his shitty cooking and breathed his shitty smoke.
I’ve been wavering on the edge of this decision for five years now, since his affair. I actually — foolishly — had hope. But I was wrong. This marriage really, truly is dead. If he has such a “negative halo” of me that he can’t hear my worries and my pain, and he only hears criticism of him, that I’m done with this shit. It’s not worth it.
HE is not worth it.
Everything isn’t fucking about HIM.
I’m worth better than this.
* * *
Update #2, same day: I’m feeling a little less dire after talking with him tonight. I’d like to think after more than two decades together we can weather the storms. I’m also trying to see clearly, rather than just with rose-colored glasses of hope perched precariously on my face. I don’t know if I’m feeling renewed hope right now or if I’m just talking myself away from the edge of the cliff. I don’t think he can or will ever change, honestly. But I told him very clearly tonight that I wouldn’t tolerate being screamed at a second time. And I told him that if he couldn’t live — long term — with the damage he did to me with his affair, then he needed to let me know. Because I almost never mention it, although something about it hurts me every day, even if it’s only noticing the scars. On the rare times I do mention it TO EXPLAIN WHY SOMETHING MINOR TRIGGERED ME, he needed to be strong enough to handle it, because that is now part of the package that I am, thanks to him. If he can’t handle me when I mention my pain, then he just can’t. And I don’t need a man who can’t be there when I need him.
His sheer fucking effrontery is amazing — being mad that I am hurting him when I mention how he hurt ME with his affair.
I can’t walk on eggshells all the time. And I won’t.
* * *
Update #3 (6-30-17): I’m astonished that this just now occurred to me, but he has screamed at me before when he felt embarrassed, cornered, and unable to cope. The most memorable time was 23 years ago. When we were engaged and had moved in together several months before the wedding, we got down to the wire of about two months in advance and still hadn’t secured enough money to pay for the wedding and honeymoon we had planned. We had already mailed out the wedding invitations. But we found that our poor credit (our fault) made us ineligible for a loan, even for the remaining $1,000 we needed. I finally put my foot down and said we needed to temporarily suspend the wedding plans if we didn’t pull the money together immediately. He did his usual shuck-and-jive about how “things will work out,” but I wasn’t buying it anymore. Just waiting wasn’t making reality change. He was too embarrassed to announce to people that we had to postpone our plans due to lack of money and poor planning. He was muttering his usual crap about how he was going to “keep trying” (even though he wasn’t doing anything to help), and I had had it. I finally broke down sobbing because I was so frustrated and stressed out. He tried for a few minutes to cheer me up, but when I continued falling apart, then I found him leaning over me while I was still crying — and he screamed and screamed at me to shut up, just SHUT UP. He was red in the face, bulging eyes, trying to intimidate me into not making him so uncomfortable.
I can’t **believe** I still married him.
Ultimately, he borrowed the $1,000 from his dad, and we repaid it over the next year. He apologized for yelling at me under the “stress of the moment” when he felt “so panicked” I was going to leave him.
And I put it out of mind, as unsettling as it was. But doesn’t that memory make an interesting bookend along with the more recent screaming episode at me.
I’ve got to divorce him. And I’ve got to not divorce him. That’s where my head and heart are right now.