Over at Must Be Too Tall to Ride., Matt wrote a great post called The Worst Things Wives Do, very poignant and well said. I was chuckling with a bit of wry humor, because there are quite a few of us crappy wives in the world, all who had to learn the hard way that love is going to be just one act of forgiveness after another. So many people speak of marriage as if men are just horrible, all women are just awful, or marriage itself is a bad idea, a failed institution, and of course very few people ever consider the fact that they just might be the problem.
I am a crappy wife or I was at one point, but I am also married to a flawed and imperfect man who often feels as I do these days, like he won the marriage lottery.
It’s not easy on the pride, but there is something to be said for taking responsibility for our own selves, our own marriages, because that is where our power lies. My husband and I don’t come from perfect homes, in fact we both have a train wreck of a history. I don’t wish to be mean here, but I actually have to give my mother credit for inadvertently teaching what to do if I do NOT want to have a healthy relationship. The truth of this comes across so loud and clear these days because she lives with us now.
So my mother is a narcissist and she cannot really help herself, I suspect she cannot even see the nature of herself, but she can be very emotionally draining on those around her. It is all about her, all of the time. No empathy for anyone else at all. No cooperation, no sense of sacrifice, in any way, shape, or form. Defiance like a small child, “I’ll eat when I’m ready, I’m watching TV right now, I’ll do it my way or I won’t do it at all.” She rarely goes anywhere with us anymore because if we aren’t going where she wants, doing what she wants, eating where she wants, totally focusing exclusively on what she wants and needs, she ain’t going.
She also rejects all affection, all gifts. It is crushing and hurtful to try to give your mother something, a muffin for example, and she promptly declares, I don’t like those, I don’t approve, I don’t want it, take it back. That’s my mother for you. Nothing you do will ever live up to her standards and expectations.
The worst is the subtle undermining, especially of my husband, a palatable kind of contempt that can be felt from miles away. She likes to roll her eyes at him when he’s not looking, imply he’s doing something, actually everything, all wrong. He cut the grass too short today, she doesn’t like it. My husband’s pretty good at telling her to keep her disapproval to herself so these things are mostly muttered under her breath or said to other people. It is hurtful to realize your mother bad mouths you to other people in a demeaning way over the dumbest stuff. She has no loyalty, it’s a betrayal. My mother will always choose what is beneficial to her personally, and she’d sell the rest of us down the river for two bits.
It all adds up to erode your confidence, your sense of self-worth and value, and create distrust. Contempt can be a very destructive force. There are wives who do these same things to husbands too, all the time, some deliberately and some inadvertently. I’m pretty sure the subtle undermining, the contempt I used to show was inadvertent, unintentional. I did not realize it was so hurtful. I am more of accidental crappy wife, but a crappy wife just the same. Once when our roof had been leaking, I had a bucket in the kitchen, and it had been raining for weeks, and I said to some people, “Someday I’ll get to live in a house that doesn’t have a leaky roof.” Well, hubby totally took it as a complaint about him personally, about the house, about our standard of living, about his ability to provide. Men’s very identity can be entwined around their ability to provide, so it was like a slug in the gut for him. All he heard was, she thinks I’m unworthy. In truth he couldn’t fix the roof because he’d been too busy working for other people and the rain was preventing it and he already felt bad, so it was a sensitive issue I just managed to pour some more salt on.
Grovel. Groveling works.
I’m being somewhat flip here, but in all seriousness, work cooperatively, don’t be defiant, be grateful for every gift and lavish one another with your affection. When we lift each other up rather than undermining and tearing each other down, it goes a long way towards smoothing the path before us.