April 30, 2006

Dear Abby

Yesterday, I was in a grumpy mood due to finals and my dad's ailing health and other family drama. My husband was in a bad mood due to a long week at work.

I snapped at him for loading dirty dishes into the clean dishwasher. My annoyance took some ridiculous form, like, "What is this doing in here?" (pointing at a dirty dish I made while making lunch). "I HATE it when the dishwasher is open. If you see the dishwasher open while I'm in the kitchen, it means I opened it to unload it and put away clean dishes. I don't just leave it open to slowly load it over the course of the day or let the dishes dry." (During this, I'm thinking, "How could he not notice the dishes were clean? I washed all the wine glasses, did all the dishes and cleaned the kitchen counters while he was out with friends 'til 1:30 AM last night.")

Apparently, he'd been loading the dishwasher for several minutes while I was in the kitchen. So, to him I just seemed mean and ridiculous. Why didn't I stop him earlier?

His mood declined. My mood declined. The lunch I made was too salty.

I apologized for being grumpy. Apparently, I followed up the apology with a rant about how he didn't notice that I cleaned the kitchen the night before. He retorted, "Oh. Did you do the floor?" This, of course, implies to me that all he noticed was the floor was dirty. And, trust you, me, it is! But it did nothing for making me feel appreciated. My mood sunk lower -- he refused to acknowledge anything I'd done. His did too -- My so-called apology just turned into another complaint.

I apologized for the saltiness of lunch adding, "I think I forgot that salami was so salty." His response? "And mozzarella. And garlic salt." I asked him what he meant by that -- was he actually implying that I *forgot* that garlic salt was salty? No, he claimed, he was just listing the ingredients in the lunch that were salty. I then complained about how he doesn't listen to me and that when he doesn't listen to me his comments can come across as more insulting than he may intend them to be. And, as you might imagine, the fact that he doesn't listen to me put me in a worse mood, while my complaining put him in a worse mood.

Time passed. I studied. My mood improved. I cleaned the bathrooms, he made appreciative comments. All seemed well.

But then, he tried to put up wine glass racks that I'd requested he put up a few weeks ago. The cheap cabinets in our kitchen would not cooperate. He suggested a solution. I shot it down as unsuitable. I did so while getting him a beer, and didn't think much of it. But, to him, it was just another example of how I was Captain Negative and on his case all day.

I suggested that he appeared unmotivated to finish the project and offered to take it off his hands. I explained that he was obviously frustrated, it appeared that he didn't want to do it, and it was my fault because I'm the one who asked him to do it. But, in his mind, I'd already identified this as a boy job, I'd shown my ignorance by suggesting that he put a nut on a wood screw, and I was challenging his manhood (I think this is the main explanation, I'm still not totally clear on why he didn't take me up on my offer...)

Then we went to dinner with friends and he wasn't in the best mood.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that at some point in the day he asked me if we had the measurements for his tuxedo from the wedding because he's in another one and I said something along the lines of, "Probably, but they may not be correct because you've gained a little weight." I figured he's a guy, why would he care? The men in my family carry guts with pride. Apparently that didn't do much to help with his mood either. Later that night, he claimed I said something more along the lines of "you're fat." It's possible I used the word fat, although I doubt I actually called him fat. You see my husband is quite svelt, but I may have used the "f" word in a way that was unacceptable. I should know better. Obviously, if my husband said something along those lines to me there would be gunfire. So, later, when he mentioned that fiasco, I apologized for that as well.

Anyways, all of this resulted in my husband being at dinner while in a bad mood that was visibly uncomfortable for me and noticed by our friends. The ride home was awkward. And the first 15 minutes at home were some of the most horrible I've spent in this relationship.

Sure, we eventually talked about it for an hour. We agreed that the day was just a series of terrible interactions of our moods. We both apologized. I fell asleep in his arms.

But I woke up scared today. I'm a 3rd year law student with 3 months of finals and the bar exam to get through. If his work stuff continues to be as stressful as my law and family stuff, we may be in for some rough times. Not to mention the additional fun that hormonal swings can bring (believe it or not, this disaster was in one of the happy hormone weeks).

Abby, what's a wife in my situtation to do? I want to avoid these terrible downward spirals. I've racked my brain on what I could have done to avoid this chain of lame, but to no avail. A deep breath at the dishwasher stage may have diffused some of the tension temporarily, but my composure would not have survived the garlic salt comment, guaranteed. It could have been worse for both of us if I kept it in until I could no longer handle it.

Abby, in almost 6 years of being together we've never had a day like yesterday. I'd rather it be at least 6 years until we have another. Do you have any advice on how to avoid this in the future?


Should B. Studying
City, California

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