Chapter Eight: Change Your Partner the Right Way
After the First Trimester Tussle, I promised I’d forgive myself. And I did—but that didn’t solve everything. Though in my second three months of pregnancy my nausea and discomfort decreased significantly, the unease I felt about my marriage lingered.
Matthew and I were still treading water.
In the months following the argument, we stuck to our child care schedule. Yet no matter how fair things seemed on the surface, I couldn’t shake the feeling something was missing. Matthew was doing his part. He was taking Poppy out, helping with the cleaning. I could do my work without interruption. But he was withdrawn. He was distant. He watched the clock, checked the boxes.
He was just doing his duty.
Which is part of the reason that in late March, just two months after our worst fight ever, we had another that was nearly as bad.
It happened because of the dishes. Well—not just the dishes, maybe, but the dishes as well as my repeated requests for Matthew to take care of them. One evening, before doing what I thought of as a favor to him–taking Poppy to an art class for two hours during his scheduled Poppy time–I repeated my request yet again.
“The dishes, Hon, the dishes. They’re really getting bad. Can you do at least some of them while we’re gone?”
Matthew gave me a grim look and did not respond, so I sighed, packed a diaper bag and left with Poppy. I enjoyed our outing, but when I returned later that night, the dishes were still in the sink . . . and Matthew was on the couch watching TV.
Seeing this, anger. Waves, like before. I’m getting tired of this. I need a boat already. Where is it?
I didn’t find a boat that night. But I did find a log to grab onto–one just big enough to give me a short rest. Rather than mentioning my disappointment to Matthew, starting an argument I couldn’t win, I asked him to take Poppy out the following evening.
He agreed. I was relieved. But the following night, just before he walked out the door, he called something over his shoulder.
“Can you do the dishes while we’re gone?”
I didn’t reply, but he didn’t wait for me to, anyway. I heard footsteps, then a purposeful bang. Matthew had closed the door and left without saying goodbye, something that he knew I hated.
My first response: Gut check. Wow. That was rude. Why would he shut the door on me like that? Is he mad at me for asking him to do the dishes last night? How petty. Now we’re in a fight, and for what?
That evening at the restaurant, Matthew and Poppy dined on thick fries and a thicker steak, but home alone, I didn’t eat much. The meal I’d planned and the book I’d selected were postponed for another day and I lay in bed and wallowed instead. When Matthew returned, I decided once again to break my own rule.
I started an argument at night.
And it was bad. It was bad for all the reasons sudden nighttime fights are usually bad—uncontrollable emotion due to exhaustion and the freshness of the wound. Added to that, though, was the built-up resentment that I’d been unable to let go of for so long.
Simply put: I was out of control.
The scene went something like this: Matthew and Poppy got home. When they found me in bed, Matthew gave me the baby. With glazed-over eyes, I took Poppy and started to nurse. Then I started in on Matthew.
“It was my first night off in a week, and you left in a huff. How could you be so rude to me, Matt?”
“All I did was what you did, just the night before. You asked me to do the dishes on my night off.”
“Your night off? That was my night. I gave that one to you. And the dishes would’nt’ve taken the whole time.”
“But the dishes are your chore. They’ve always been your chore. It’s like now that I’m doing more with Poppy, your standards have just gotten even higher. You want me to start taking on more of the housework and you’re nagging me about it every day. I’m sticking to the schedule. How much more will you want from me?”
“The dishes are my chore? I don’t think so.” I got out of bed and set the baby on the floor. I was shaking.
Here, we rehashed our chore breakdown in detail, as well as our evening schedule. Twenty minutes of shouting later, we still differed in our perspectives. While Matthew felt I should take on the responsibility alone, I thought we should each wash what we used.
“Anyway,” I concluded, “This isn’t just about the dishes. It’s about how rude you were to me. You walked out on me, angry. You ruined my night. You really need to apologize for that.”
“Apologize? Not a chance. You should apologize. You’re the one who’s nagging me all the time.”
“And why wouldn’t I? If I don’t, you conveniently ‘forget’ what we’re doing that night. I have to practically beg you to keep your agreements.”
“Hey, that’s not fair. I would do it without being reminded. You just never give me a chance to.”
“Fine, Matthew, I’m sorry. I know I’ve been nagging. I just don’t know what else to do.”
“How about not being such a control freak? You barely talk to me except to ask me to help you with something. I get less grief from my boss.”
“When do I even see you? When do we have time for a conversation? You’re working all the time. You won’t even take all your vacation.”
“And you continue to make things harder on yourself, Rachel. You still don’t take naps. You still won’t get a babysitter so we can go out together.”
“You know how much work it is to find a babysitter? Oh, no, you don’t–you’ve never done it.”
“Well, it’s not as if I’m not doing other things. Ever since making our schedule, we’ve stuck to it. What more do you want from me?”
“I don’t know.”
I sat. I took a deep breath. “I don’t know, Matt. I don’t know. I want you to be nice, even when you’re in a bad mood. I want you to want to clean the house and be with Poppy, even when you don’t absolutely have to.”
“You want to change me.”
“Yes, I guess I do.”
“Thanks, Rachel. Thanks a whole lot.”
“No, Matt, that’s not what I meant. I meant . . . I don’t know what I meant. I really just want to be a loving, happy family.”
“Well, then, we have to spend family time together. But when? With you working and me taking Poppy out all the time? Is there even time?”
I picked up Poppy and held her to my breast again. She nuzzled into my chest.
“I don’t know.”
Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.