They say that your character is determined by your response to stress.  So, I decided to learn more about myself by analyzing my reaction to a situation that I’ve found frustrating in the past.  I focused on a recurring situation I have with my husband that I call, “Why can’t we do things according to my schedule?”  

My analysis has shown that this situation typically unfolds in four stages:

Stage One: The Set-Up

I often seize moments such as naptime to take on long-neglected projects such as cleaning out a closet or going through old boxes of junk in the basement.  Proud of myself, I tell Dick what I’m doing and wait for him to congratulate me on my initiative and volunteer his assistance.  

Dick: “That’s a great idea, sweetie.  What can I do to help you out?”

Me: “Well, I can use your help with moving empty boxes up to the recycle bin.”

Dick: “Sure.  No problem.  Just let me know when you’re ready.”

After several hours of scary encounters with basement spiders and enough dust exposure to ensure my future in an iron lung, I’ve got a 7 foot high stack of empty boxes to go out to the recycling bin and there’s been no sign of Dick. 

Me (shouting up the stairs): “I’m ready for your help now…”

Dick: “Help? Hm, uh, I’m in the middle of something.  I can help you in 20 minutes.”*

Me: “Well, I need your help now. I can’t really unpack any more boxes until I get you to move some stuff out of my way.”.

Dick: “20 minutes and I’m there.”

*Note: Estimates are always 20 minutes – never 120, or 5, or “about 20″ – just 20.    

Stage Two:  I’ve been duped

After an hour of gingerly working around the leaning cardboard tower of Pisa in my basement, I venture upstairs to see what the hold up is.  Typically I find Dick doing one of two things, A) playing World of Warcraft, or B) napping on the sofa.  Dismissing his convenient memory-lapse, I try to nail him down on specifics like the exact time, day, date or decade he’ll be available to pitch in.  Dick, always reluctant to commit, estimates he’ll be able to lend a hand in – you guessed it - 20 minutes. 

Not only am I annoyed because I’ve realized he’s pulled a bait & switch on me, but I also know I’m going to need to “get mid-century housewife on his ass”, lest the half-finished project remain so for the next 2 years.  This means I will now pull out my verbal rolling pin – all the cliche, passive aggressive and bullying tactics that my mother used to use on me (unsuccessfully) – and begin clobbering him over the head with it.  In response, Dick employs his evasive maneuvers making vague promises, or worse, throwing another “20 minutes” my way.  Days go by…

Stage Three: The Confrontation

So now, I’m hell-bent on pestering him until he begs for my forgiveness and moves the damn boxes to the recycle bin using only the limbs I’ve allowed him to keep.   Eventually, my assualt escalates into a full-on confrontation – a ranting tirade, really.  

Me: “Why do I have to wait for things to be convenient for you?  After all, I’m using my free time to do important things to improve the quality of our lives. Who knows when we would’ve gotten rid of that ripped pair of green corduroy overalls if it weren’t for me?  Meanwhile, as I’m “slaving away” (a phrase lifted straight from my mom’s script)  you’re up here sleeping, goofing off, or out gallivanting (thanks again, mom)!  In light of my sacrifice, shouldn’t you just cooperate?  Is this too much to ask?” 

Apparently it is.

Dick’s face develops a bewildered, hurt look, or more often, a look of disappointment mixed with annoyance – as if I’d accidentally put strawberry jelly on his PB&J when he’d asked for grape. 

Dick (in a calm voice): “Dear, I don’t understand why you’re so upset.  I said I’d take care of it.  I wasn’t aware that you had a specific schedule in mind.  I’m not sure why you think this kind of hostility is going to motivate me to help you.”

This statement has the effect of rendering me speechless.  Inside my head, my brain is throbbing, screaming, “Whaaaaaaat?!?” in Scobby-Doo’s tell-tale voice of bewilderment.  

Stage 4: The Epiphany

I take some deep breaths.  Initially, I do this so I can launch into yet another tirade, but soon the deep breathing brings me a moment of clarity.  With the pressure released, this is the opening that my superior female brain needs to regain control of the situation.  I begin by asking myself, “Where did I go wrong here?” 

Have you caught the exact moment where I went wrong?  It’s not, as you may think, on my first date with Dick.  That’d be easy.  It’s more subtle than that.  So as not to leave you in further suspense, it was the moment I described the project to Dick.  I never stated my expectation that this would be a “team” project from the start.  Perhaps if I had said, “I think WE should focus on getting those boxes of junk sorted during nap time,” I would’ve provided Dick’s brain with a red-flag warning that says, “Whoa! Wife is scheduling you to participate in something that sounds a whole lot like work. Alert! Alert!” Had I done this, it would’ve at least triggered a negotiation of terms and circumvented the whole infuriating cycle.

But, by representing it as MY project that he could help with, in his mind, I took sole project ownership relegating him to a supporting role.  I made matters worse by never clearly stating my expectations for his level of participation.  Perhaps I would’ve experienced a different outcome if I’d provided a simple explanation such as:

“______ (insert name here), you have been selected to participate in an onerous household task scheduled for today, (insert day & date here), from approximately 1pm to 3pm (insert time zone here).  During this time, you’ll be assigned to the following duties: 1) Opening specified boxes, as directed by me, 2) inventorying the contents, 3) showing me potential items for recycling or disposal, 4) sorting items into their proper categories, 5) once items are approved by me for disposal or recycling, you will, 6) gather them neatly into reasonably sized groups and then, 7) remove said items and their empty boxes to the designated recycling area.” 

I know what you’re thinking.  This is a ridiculous level of detail.  A normal person would understand that they’re supposed to take the friggin’ boxes up to the recycle bin when asked to do so.   Maybe that works for some of you people, but not for me and Dick.  And since I can’t control Dick’s actions, all I can do is control my own. 

That’ll be 5¢, please.

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