Here, an excerpt from the interviews section of the book.
ZURIE: “We Have Two Big Rules in Our House”
Zurie is 40 years old and has been with her partner for eight years.
Mollie: What have some of your biggest disagreements as couple been about?
Zurie: We don’t have children, just cats, which might be why our biggest fight so far was about cats (except not really). Before that, our biggest struggle was learning to grocery shop together without murderous thoughts.
Mollie: Tell me more about that.
Zurie: It was a thing when we first moved in together. He works from home and I was working in an office. We both dislike the task, so we do it together (unless circumstances prevent it.)
I made a comment a while back about two types of people (on a spectrum): basically, planners and non-planners. My husband is squarely a planner. Lists, schedules, plan of attack. I can (and do) plan, but can also can make a quick decision just to get something done.
So basically, we had several things going wrong.
- I’m an introvert and being at the office all day exhausts me. He works from home, so he’s excited to go out.
- We weren’t functioning off a list, so we were buying random things that we did/didn’t need and still having to figure out dinners after.
- We both wanted to shop how we were used to shopping.
I got mad at him for staring at stacks of American cheese for entirely too long trying to determine the best price on something that I felt didn’t matter. He challenged me when I just grabbed a gallon of milk. “Why that milk? Do you like it better? This one’s cheaper.”
After several months and lots of sit-downs and me being mad, then him being frustrated (not huge fights but intense talks), we’ve figured out and refined our system:
- I frequently save recipes that I think we’ll enjoy that are healthy enough for me and easy enough for him. We pick two for the week and build a list off of that.
- We grocery shop on Sundays so I’m not tired and we have a date night once a weekish so he gets out of the house. He has also finally, just this summer, gotten a laptop to give himself the ability to leave the house once in a while.
- There are brands I’m loyal to. When it’s time to pick up those, I tell him to kick rocks off to the toilet paper aisle to find us the best deal. I give in to him on the generic canned beans because I don’t care and he lets me buy the expensive canned tomatoes without argument.
It works so much better now. We usually have as good a time as you can at the grocery store. And I even stay quiet when he asks the clerk to put the milk in bags (which is silly because the gallons have handles!).
Mollie: You seem like a pretty good problem solver. Do you use these same negotiating skills in other areas of your relationship?
Zurie: We don’t have to formally negotiate too often. We try and function as a team so if one person is doing something, the other dives in to help. We’ve got two big rules in our house:
- Everyone gets what they need.
- You have to ask for what you need.
Spats are usually due to me not being able to sort out what I’m feeling before I get crabby.
Mollie: I love those rules! The needs of one person can be dramatically different from the needs of another. Beautiful way to phrase this concept.
So what was the cat thing about?
Zurie: We fought about when to get a new cat after our last two girls died in the spring. I wanted to get a new one and he wasn’t ready.
Honestly, it was 100 percent me not slowing down to figure out what I was feeling so I could verbalize it. Eventually I just realized that I was in an enormous amount of pain and just wanted something to help. I was deeply disappointed that he wasn’t ready even though it was valid.
Once I worked through all that emotion, I was able to explain what was going on. I apologized and he listened and we compromised. We got new kitties sooner than he was ready for and later than I wanted, but they’re perfect.
Mollie: Is there something about your partner you have tried to change? What was your strategy? How well did it work?
Zurie: Sure, there are things we’ve tried to change about each other. He’s organized, but holy cow was his apartment filthy when he moved out. I’m clean, but completely disorganized. Before we moved in together, we talked a lot about chores and values. He sees the value in having things clean, though he just doesn’t notice it. I see the value in having things organized (being able to find my keys is amazing) but I’m not always as good about it as him.
I think we’ve both really tried to be patient with each other. There are times when I have to remind him that it’s okay if I haven’t put something back where it belongs because there’s a reason I didn’t or whatever. And I have 100 percent complained to myself after he does the dishes that he didn’t scrub down the stove. But I also know that criticizing will just make a person shut down, so I think a lot about “how much does this matter?” I’ve had to teach him how to clean the bathroom and the floors and the kitchen and the reasons behind it. He really gives it a good-faith effort, so I let go of the fact that he doesn’t see the dirt and is always surprised that it’s time to clean. It just doesn’t matter.
Mollie: Can you think of a time you became overly defensive in an argument? Tell me the story.
Zurie: When we first met, he used to tell a joke, then say, “Get it? It’s funny because …” and I used to feel like he thought I was so stupid or not funny if he felt he had to explain every joke to me. My dad was really hard on my brother and me and would ask us if we were stupid whenever we did something wrong, so he was really stepping on a land mine he didn’t know was there. I finally told him one night how much it hurt my feelings. I was angry and asked flat-out if he thought I was an idiot. He was horrified. Apparently, this was just something he had always said as part of a joke. He thought it was funny and had no idea that I took it personally.
While I was relieved that I was misinterpreting, I also made it clear that I was never going to be okay with it. He’d done it for so long that he wasn’t sure he could just stop. So we decided that he would make an honest attempt to say it less and I would make an honest attempt to let it roll off my back if he did say it. And honestly, I haven’t heard it in years.
Mollie: Do you think it’s important to apologize even when you weren’t exactly in the wrong, or do you save your apologies for the important stuff?
Zurie: We tend to apologize to each other when we feel it’s warranted. Honestly, we don’t fight dirty or often so I don’t feel that I’ve had to apologize when I wasn’t exactly wrong.
Mollie: Generally speaking, how much do you enjoy partnership? What do you like about it?
Zurie: I love being married. We haven’t reached a point yet where I’ve considered it difficult or a hardship. I really enjoy being on a team with him. I can be exactly who I am at any given moment with him. I can be ridiculous and silly or sad or a big baby and he understands and loves it. I love doing the same for him. I love hearing him sing songs to the cats or laugh at his podcasts while he works. I am so delighted and thankful to be with him and he seems to feel the same way. We married late-ish—I was thirty-seven and he was forty—so we’d gone through those mid-twenties struggles already and had started establishing our own values when we met. Maybe that has something to do with it.
Mollie: Do you have any ongoing arguments that can’t seem to be resolved, even with your great communication skills?
Zurie: Not that I can think of, so definitely nothing major. Things are tough right now for us, but not between us. I’m lucky: he’s funny, responsible, hard working, compassionate and loyal. We make a good team.
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