He comes into the house armed with Tilex, Murphy’s Soap, and a plastic bag of other cleaning products I haven’t even noticed.
Oh. Dear. God.
I take a breath. I let it out – slowly.
We talked about this. I’m delighted to have his help, but I prefer that he not do this now. He knows I’m under a tight deadline to do with my sons, and I’m gathering financial data over the next few days not only for taxes, but for FAFSA.
“I appreciate this,” I say. “But it isn’t the best time.”
He kisses my cheek and reassures me it will be fine.
First I hear the Rolling Stones. I tune it out, and go on with my work. Twenty minutes later, fumes send me scrambling to throw open the windows and doors as he emerges from the bathroom with sponge in hand, utterly unaffected by the offending chemicals.
I’m pissed. More than pissed. I begin to bitch. I flash to a scene of Carrie and Aidan; she’s trying to write on deadline and he’s refinishing her floors. She knows he’s being a Great Guy with a couple of capital G’s, but undisturbed? Um, not exactly.
As for me, my tasks are interrupted and my rhythm for the next hours is entirely off. Worse, I’m genuinely feeling sick. Nonetheless, I apologize for bitching and he in turn apologizes for inadvertently attempting to “poison” me.
We both laugh, and we both learn something.
Still, I ask myself: Will our lessons stick?
Great Guys, Life’s Irritations
A man who offers to scrub my bathroom? Golden. His intentions? The best.
The fault when it comes to our tiff – if that’s even the right word — mine, and also his.
I should have set clearer boundaries around my weekend – stating my need to be alone.
And he should listen and believe me when I tell him that chemicals make me sick!
Eventually, we air out the house, throw together some dinner, and enjoy a nice evening. He says he’s sorry he annoyed me; I let him know that anyone would annoy me when I’m in this state – stressed and struggling with something complex.
I remind him that I’m well aware when I’m being annoying. Hell, I frequently annoy myself.
Besides, isn’t it impossible for two people to like each other at all times? But if we can talk about the situations that set us off, we protect the relationship through an honest exchange. And we tend not to overreact, and hopefully – not to repeat our mistakes.
Relationship Learning (A Continual Process?)
In every relationship there is a learning process – how we work, how we play, how we socialize in our varied settings. There are the ways we deal with stress, and how our bodies function on their own – or together.
For yours truly, apparently, there’s also how my lungs work (or not) when subjected to cleaning chemicals in a very small space.
- We learn to talk to each other – or hold things in until they worsen.
- We learn to listen to each other – or tune our partners out, causing problems later.
- We learn to moderate our tone – or risk hurting feelings (and making a mountain out of a molehill).
- We learn to set boundaries in a gentle and loving way – something I still struggle with – or we ultimately bear consequences.
Ideally, we look at our relationship patterns and examine beyond the surface. We consider emotional triggers, interpersonal skills we’ve yet to master, what we’re doing that is good for us, good for the other, and what we’re doing that’s anything but.
Unhealthy Patterns, Childhood Echoes
I didn’t speak up in my marriage when I needed to, on all sorts of subjects. I take responsibility for that and I also understand my own behavior – now. My mother was loud and overbearing, she steamrolled most people (including me), and consequently, I spent the better part of 30 years doing my best to be nothing like her.
Ironically, I married someone who, in some ways and at some times, left me feeling just as small, as unworthy, and as steamrolled as I felt as a child. Subconsciously, we may gravitate toward the familiar, even if it’s unhealthy. I also recognize that I am drawn to fairly traditional “masculine energy,” which my ex had in abundance.
And these are exactly the sort of patterns in ourselves and our relationships that we can try to identify – and then change – that is, if we’d like to achieve a different result.
Dating After Divorce
Looking back over the years since my marriage ended, I see relative progress in terms of the people I spend my time with. The first man I dated after divorce was wonderful to my sons, but otherwise shared many (less than desirable) qualities with my ex.
Several years later, I paired up with a more giving and gentle man who was exceptionally good at communicating, but lacking in that critical masculine energy factor. My communication skills flourished in that relationship, and happily, they continue to grow.
But the other issues? For me, they were insurmountable. Sharing values and love isn’t always enough, when other aspects of the relationship be they personal, physical or circumstantial are entirely out of sync.
Manly Men Bearing Chemicals
I look at the Great Guy I am dating now and I see how far I’ve traveled. I consider myself extremely lucky and to hear him talk, he feels the same. He recognizes that he’s learned much since his own divorce; enough years have passed for that to be the case.
It appears that we both look at our patterns of relationship – before, during, and after marriage. We’ve broken some patterns, we’ve made continuously improving choices, and while the process has been a bit hit-or-miss, we seem to be moving in a positive direction.
On my own and in the relationship, I’m finding it valuable to give voice to who I am. For me, that includes my need for time alone, which doesn’t preclude time alone – together.
I hope I am encouraging my Tilex-wielding friend to be equally aware of what he needs from me. Sometimes this leads to discovering another set of differences. Sometimes it means growing closer. We talk, we negotiate if necessary, and we compromise accordingly.
I’m not used to sharing so much of myself with another adult and I confess, at times it’s exceedingly difficult, especially if I’m under stress. Yet working on a relationship with a self-confident man, one who gives his all and cleans the bathroom?
I may be his Carrie. He may be my Aidan. And whether that’s so or not, my patterns seem to be improving.
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