How I'd Handle It Now - Elisabeth Klein

One of the first times I really knew something wasn’t quite normal in how my marriage partnership was functioning was the time that I was telling three close friends about what I had just done a few days prior.

I had turned the thermostat up in the morning to a temperature that I was comfortable with as the weather had become chilly.  At the end of the day (meaning, just before my then-husband came home), however, I remembered that I needed to turn it back down.  I noticed it wasn’t dropping to the temperature it was “supposed to be” so I stood there in front of my thermostat fanning it frantically and, get this, begging Jesus to make the number go to where it was supposed to be.  Yes, I really did that.  Oh, and I was crying.  I was a Lifetime TV movie right there.  I was one of those women, but I couldn’t see it.  So I was telling my friends this story, thinking they’d be like, “Oh yeah, I do that all the time,” but instead I saw three sets of eyes looking back at me with a mixture of shock and pity.  “Wait, you guys don’t do that?” I asked.  I got three resounding no’s, and one even said, “My husband just wants me to be warm and comfortable in my own home.”  “He does??” I was floored.  And that’s when I think I really knew…something wasn’t right between us.

People who haven’t lived in this cannot understand this.  So, let me give you one example of how, early in my marriage, I handled a recurring issue.  We’d be at the grocery store.  I would put something in the cart.  And I would be asked, “Why do you need that?”  I would either attempt to argue with, “Well, I don’t need it, per se, but I’d like it,” or, knowing I wouldn’t “win”, I would just take it back out and put it back on the shelf.  (Side notes: we were the same age…in other words, both adults.  And though those were lean years, we were doing fine financially.  Oh, and it’s not like I was tossing a fur coat in there…it was like, I don’t know, a bag of chips.)

I would then seethe, holding in my anger (and, deep down, sadness) over the injustice at least until the car, if not all the way home.  Then I’d unleash my wrath, usually in a rage, sometimes with tears and sobs punctuated by me having to stop to catch my breath because I was so upset I was on the verge of hyperventilating.  I would say things like, “Either we should both have to ask and have veto power, or we should both be able to put whatever we want – within reason – in the cart.”  There was really nothing else for me to say except this one sentence over and over again.  It felt like common sense to me.  It felt fair.  It felt equal.  And I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand this inequity among us.

No headway would be made.  No headway on this issue of fairness was ever, ever made.

So we would go back to the store and do the same thing, again and again.  Until, I just stopped going to the store with him.  And then a couple years later, I began receiving a monthly allowance for things like books, clothes for me and the kids, toiletries, etc. and with that money, I would buy food I wanted to buy for myself.  Nothing resolved, by any means, but a band-aid that kept me quiet and somewhat satisfied.

I know. You must be thinking right about now, “What the hell? Why didn’t you just put the bag of chips in the cart and keep them in there?”  I don’t know.  Well, I probably tried; but I’m guessing they were just taken back out.  You don’t really know what you’d do in a situation like this until you’re actually in it.  But I felt all I had to try to persuade were my words; and they weren’t working.  So I just sucked it up.  And I sucked it up in a thousand ways just like that for almost nineteen years.

Here’s perhaps how I would handle the exact same situation now.

Pre-next-hypothetical-marriage: go grocery shopping together and see if I can put something in the cart without having to fight for it. If I toss something in, and my partner said, “Why do you need that?”, the 42-year-old Beth would say, “I don’t need that. I want that.” And I will keep it in the cart and keep walking.  If he were to take it out without a discussion, I believe I would have to end the relationship because that would (SHOULD) be a huge red flag that I hadn’t learned anything and I was willingly (albeit subconsciously) choosing to relive my first relationship all over again.

How it should go: I toss something in, he tosses something in. We keep on walking.  And they lived happily ever after.  😉