The Changing Nature of Relationships: On Maturity, Mental Health, and Mantras

She's a beauty. Am I right?

She’s a beauty. Am I right?

My long-term relationship has certainly seen its fair share of changes over the course of twenty-eight years. Mostly, it’s me who has changed. I’ve certainly mellowed. While I may not fully embrace the quirks of my husband’s personality, some of which are just north of crazy, I have resigned myself to something resembling acceptance.

At the outset, let me just say that I love my husband. He is an extremely nice guy. I daresay that most folks are probably of the opinion that he is way nicer than his wife. (An opinion no doubt shared by our own progeny.) He loves animals. He asks after people. (He may not remember their names, but he never forgets their hardships or their maladies.) He gives generously to any child trying to raise money outside of the grocery store for their annual trip to, say, Timbuktu. He assists the elderly. To the outside world he is easygoing and mild-mannered. The few of us who know him well and the two of us who live with him can attest to the fact that he has a dark side. He’s a closet control freak.

This affliction manifests itself in matters both large and small. I try not to sweat the small stuff, though it’s difficult sometimes. Like, for example, when he “checks” the silverware for cleanliness or when he instructs me on the proper way to close the car door (for the 10,000th time!). I bite my tongue. I remind myself that he can’t help himself. I will admit to the occasional passive-aggressive act. Once in a while I will deliberately throw caution to the wind and improperly exit the car. Of course I know it will piss him off, but sometimes I can’t help myself either. Nobody’s perfect.

For the most part I try to behave like the mature grown-up person that I have become. I do so by resisting the urge to argue with him or, worse, to throttle him. I have found it helpful, when he engages in these and similarly annoying behaviors, to repeat silently and often, “He’s a good guy! It’s not a big deal!” I’ve come to think of this as my relationship-saving mantra.

Still, I am in awe of women who can go out and buy things like bed linens or curtains or, heaven forbid!, furniture without their husband’s “approval”. I don’t just envy them their larger budgets or their perfect children or their several bathrooms or even their Maytag Neptune™ washer/dryer combos. No. I envy them their ability to just go it alone at their local Target™. To choose what they like and buy it. I would love, just once, to be able to purchase something as simple as a pillow without my husband feeling the need to “come with” on the shopping trip.

Sure, I’m an independent woman with a job and my own bank account. It’s not always about the affordability of an item, although we do have spending limit rules. We agreed long ago not to spend over a certain amount of money on anything for household use without discussing it with the other person. It’s a good rule, for the most part.

For example, I certainly wouldn’t want to be stuck finding a place for an expensive autographed poster of The ’86 Mets. Don’t get me wrong, I like baseball as much (or more) as the next gal and while I think we can all agree that ’86 was almost as big a miracle for The New York Mets’ as ’69, I still wouldn’t want Gary, Keith, Ron, and the rest of the gang hanging over my couch. By the same token, my husband does not share my affinity for Edvard Munch’s The Scream — he finds it creepy. Out of respect for his taste, you will never find a Munch in my house.

Redecorating, as you can imagine, is a bit of a trial for us. We find ourselves, once again and not for the first time, in the midst of such a project. Earlier in our marriage I would fight tooth and nail about things like coffee tables. I was always less concerned about whether or not the table was at the correct height for plopping one’s feet upon it. I was more interested in its aesthetic appeal. Because he is less flexible and far more intractable than I will ever be, we often wound up with a coffee table more suited to foot plopping and less decorative than I would have wanted.

It’s not so much that I mind losing these silly little battles. It’s more about the process that my husband employs prior to making a purchasing that makes me a little crazy. (It used to make me a lot crazy — I’ve evolved!) The larger the purchase, the more time and energy he expends “researching” the item. It used to be that he had to consult Consumer Reports prior to choosing a can opener.

Then someone (maybe it was Al Gore, maybe it wasn’t) gave us the Internet. BAM! Now all of that information, which one previously had to cull from various sources — both independent ones, like the previously mentioned Consumer Reports, and anecdotal ones, like Aunt Franny — is now, quite literally, at our fingertips. So, one would think that for a research monkey like my husband, the advent of the Internet would have been a great thing. One would be wrong. For the decision-challenged individual the Internet is a morass — a morass that contains far too much information.

As a result, this is what often happens. We decide that we want, let’s say, a new living room television. We discuss and come to an agreement on certain specifications and a price range. We scan some advertisements and visit some websites in an effort to narrow down our choices. I would imagine that something of this nature takes most people a day or two to accomplish. It takes my husband months. Months! Because he reads every product review he can get his hands on. Every single one. And he takes them all seriously, regardless of the source. I don’t know about you, but I would take with a grain of salt a review of any electronic item written by Luddite1934, unless it’s for some new-fangled thing, like an icebox.

Last Christmas, which was way back in December of 2012, we began the process of replacing our old television. I would have loved to have seen The New York Giants win the Super Bowl on a 50” screen. As it turns out, I’ll be lucky to see either The Baltimore Ravens or The San Francisco 49ers do it in February of 2013.

I picture Luddite1934 as a 79-year-old curmudgeon. I know that he could just as easily be a 12-year-old girl, but the likelihood of finding a 12-year-old girl who would use Luddite as her screen name is fairly slim. I know that 1934 could mean any number of things, but I’ve decided that it’s Luddite’s birth year. I’ve also concluded that he is a man. He may or may not be elderly, a man, or a curmudgeon. He is, however, presently and, to be fair, unbeknownst to him, my latest nemesis. In dashing off his product review he declared the sound quality of the television that I thought we had at long last decided to buy as less than stellar.

The fact that my husband takes so long to make a fairly simple decision regarding an ordinary household appliance is no longer something that sends me round the bend. A tribute, I think, to my evolution as a person. It still bothers me that he puts more trust in the opinion of one Luddite1934 than he does in himself. I have learned to let such things go. I’m no psychologist, but I would venture to guess that his problem stems from a lack of trust. I used to take it personally. In the past I had assumed that it was me he didn’t trust. That’s simply not true. What I have come to realize is that he doesn’t trust his own decision-making skills. Why he trusts the opinion of Luddite1934 is slightly puzzling, but this is one of those questions that may not have an answer (at least not a simple one). Resigning myself to the fact that some things are just inexplicable and slightly sad is far more healthy in the long run than taking his behavior to heart.

In the past, making major purchases would have resulted in much screaming, yelling, and carrying on (mostly by me — my husband is NOT a fighter), which would in no way have changed anything. No longer do I get my feelings hurt or take a blow to my self-esteem when these situations arise. As our relationship matured (and me right along with it), I stopped worrying that he didn’t trust me. I came to understand that he is the one who is fraught with self-doubt. Sure, I still bear a grudge against Luddite1934, but I no longer carry the burden of bearing a grudge toward my life partner over things like coffee table, televisions, or can openers. I have resigned myself to the fact that there will be, sometime within the next decade, a new television occupying my living room. When he is ready to put aside the opinions of the Luddite1934’s of the world and trust himself, we will buy a new television. I only hope that I don’t have to wait until The Mets win another World Series for this to happen. Because that could be a very long wait indeed.

genfablogoThis piece is also appearing on the NEW! GenFab website. There’s bound to be a great deal of incredible writing over there — grab another cup of coffee and read the day away. The laundry can wait. So can the dishes. Show these ladies some love!

photo credits:
large screen television

5 thoughts on “The Changing Nature of Relationships: On Maturity, Mental Health, and Mantras

  1. ohlidia says:

    I have to admit I like to do a little research myself, although not to the extent of your hubby. And I definitely wouln’t let one reviewr sway me because of negative comments. Great post! Once again, you had me smiling and giggling on a grayish, yucky day!


  2. javaj240 says:

    OMG… the mental image of you and your hobo stick… I literally burst out laughing.

    I really need to write a post about how much anguish my shoe collection causes him. So. Much. Anguish.

    And, yeah, he’s a control freak, but he’s my control freak. I’m no prize myself, LOL!

    I am happy to hear that your clothes and your wife’s clothes are coexisting peacefully!


  3. Ned's Blog says:

    This is such a terrific piece on so many levels. Absolutely loved it. I was married to a closet controller for 15 years. All my close were on a stick, which I practically carried around like a hobo — because, at least in terms of closet space, I was. Today, I am fortunate enough to share my life — and a closet — with a woman who, like me, is a regular purger of clothes. Sure, her shoe collection triples mine, but it’s a small price to pay for the joy of seeing her close hanging with mine. I have to admit though, when it comes to major purchases, we agonize together.


  4. Somewhat thankfully both my husband and I are spontaneous decision makers about big purchases. The plus side is that there is not long agonizing discussions, fights and investigating. The bad side is we often regret everything we purchase (including our house) and sit and have long discussions about our stupid decisions. The ONLY thing that I spent weeks researching was when I needed a new vacuum. You can clearly see where my priorities are!


    • javaj240 says:

      Oh, even after all that — he still regrets decisions. It’s mind-boggling.

      With three small children, I would think vacuuming would be a priority.


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