Since I’m on a domestic tranquility kick, I’m going to tell you why the absolute, best way to reduce stress is to give up. I mean it. Just give up, already!
If your husband is anything like mine, he does this thing where he just throws his clothes on the floor. Not all over the floor, mind you, but in one designated spot. This spot is absolutely never the laundry hamper.
It’s not that big of a deal, really, except that since he throws clothes that are clean(ish?) enough to wear again (yuck) in the same pile with dirty clothes, I don’t like to throw the whole pile in the hamper in case he was planning on wearing something in it (double yuck).
But after several years of constant nagging and complaining, I realized that the sheer force of my irritation was not solving the problem. It was creating more problems. When the Ogre came home at the end of a long day feeling beaten down, instead of offering him comfort and succor I was just beating him down some more.
So I stopped nagging. The problem, however, remained, and it was a problem. I kept telling him that I would gladly put the clothes away for him if he would just tell me what was clean and what was dirty, but the poor man left the house at 8 am, came home at 6 for dinner and to help me get the kids in bed, and then left again at 7:30 to work at the writing center. By the time he finally got back home at 11, I didn’t have the heart to ask him about the clothes. I tried just guessing what was clean and what was dirty a few times, but inevitably the Ogre would come running out of the bedroom, late for class, searching for a shirt that was in the washing machine.
Then one day the kids and I were watching Singin’ in the Rain, and I found myself inspired by the wisdom of Cosmo Brown.
How could I address the problem with a sense of humor, but without nagging or making the Ogre feel disparaged?
I couldn’t. At least, I couldn’t until I gave up my need to correct him and my expectation of an immediate response. I had to give up my desire for control. I had to stop trying to force my husband to conform to my wishes (even if they’re reasonable wishes!) and ask courteously, patiently, and cheerfully.
9 times out of 10, this works. He comes home, laughs, pulls me into a hug, and puts his clothes away. The 10th time, I go to bed before he even gets home, so I dump the clothes back on the floor and re-do the question mark the next day.
When the Ogre and I first started dating, his parents asked him what he saw in me. (I guess I wasn’t too charming back then.) His answer was the same one he gives whenever I have a fit of self-pity and ask why he bothers loving me, anyway: I make him laugh.
I’ve spent most of our marriage being too stressed-out and miserable to laugh at anything, much less to make anyone else laugh. It took me years to realize that the work I have to do will be there no matter how high my stress level gets. I used to say, “something’s gotta give! I can’t keep going on like this!” every other day. But nothing could give. Everything I was doing was necessary, either for my family or for me. I kept thinking that if I got more and more stressed, until I had a nervous breakdown or a heart attack or something, fairy unicorns would magically change things because doctor’s orders and I wouldn’t have as much to do.
Luckily I got too dang tired of constantly cranking my stress level up before I could stress myself into a breakdown, and the fairy unicorns bearing doctor’s orders never appeared. But I realized that the only way I’ll have less to do, even if I have a breakdown and the doctor orders it, is if the Ogre does more. But he’s already doing more. He’s working full-time and writing a dissertation, spending the weekends with the kids, changing the light bulbs, taking out the trash, walking Sienna to school, proofing my blog posts, making me tea, and taking 99% of the night shifts with Lincoln. The only thing that could give was me.
So I did. I gave up. Well, it’s a work in progress, so let’s say I’m giving up. I’m giving up being stressed and frazzled and frantic and overwhelmed, and settling for laughing again. I’m giving up trying to force my days to conform to a schedule, and settling for reading stories even if the dishes are piled up or playing outside with the kids even if it means dinner is PB&J on plastic plates in the front yard. I’m giving up nagging and settling for question marks made out of laundry.
I’m giving up resenting the work that must be done, and settling for doing it. Weirdly enough, even though there’s no less work to do, it seems like there’s a lot more time to do it. And plenty of time leftover to make my husband laugh again.