It was the summer of 2003 that I met my husband, Judah, while working as a performer at Wild Adventures Theme Park in southern Georgia.
We spent six days a week performing three different shows on three different stages.
It was summertime, and the living was easy. We were getting paid to do what we loved. What was there to be grumpy about?
Even now, I look back on that summer, and the subsequent year, as the most fun, creative, and carefree time of my life.
It was in this semi-paradise that Judah and I fell in love.
Fast-forward nineteen years.
Seventeen of those, married.
Seventeen years of good times and bad.
Seventeen years in which Judah began to think more critically about the world around us while amazingly not losing all of his artistic expressions.
He criticizes ideas, and I criticize … him.
And, me. I am an equal-opportunity criticizer.
We’ve had seventeen years of creating stories and having feelings about why the other one does or doesn’t do certain things.
Take concerns seriously.
And yet, when he does take action, it’s not always when I want it or how I want it.
There’s no winning. For either one of us.
We recently had a three-day holiday weekend. We were both recovering from being sick, so we decided to stay home and not do anything celebratory with other people.
I ended up spending most of the day working.
Judah spent a good portion of the day on the couch reading and relaxing.
I finished my work and planned to wash the dishes and join Judah on the couch.
Kick my feet up and relax. Finally.
While I was washing the dishes, I opened the cabinet below the kitchen sink to get some dish soap.
I was punched in the face by this horrific smell.
“Ew! It smells like something died in here,” I said out loud, more out of shock than intending for Judah to hear it.
He was within earshot but made no response. I assumed he didn’t hear me.
I gave a quick look around the cabinet afraid I’d find a dead mouse under there.
It kind of smelled like rancid grease, so I smelled the bottom of one of the plastic containers I’d recently used to hold the liquid left over from making shredded chicken in the crockpot. We’ve always used glass, but I had been making chicken more regularly. We didn’t have enough glass containers to hold all the leftover liquid, so I was experimenting with plastic.
The smell was neutral.
I closed the cabinet door and went about my business, no longer thinking about the smell.
As I headed into the living room, finally able to sit down and relax, Judah got up and walked into the kitchen and sat on the floor in front of the cabinets below the kitchen sink.
I stopped in my tracks.
What is he doing?
He opened the cabinet doors and started rooting around.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Looking to see if anything died in here.”
“I already looked and couldn’t find anything.”
He started taking things out.
The roll of paper towels. The all-purpose spray bottle.
Did he not hear me? I said I already looked and couldn’t find anything.
I walked back into the kitchen as he pulled out the extra bottles of dish soap and the kitchen trash and recycling bags. He’d now emptied out half of the cabinet.
“I didn’t see anything,” I said again.
“Yeah. I figured I’d go ahead and take everything out just to make sure. Plus, I want to put it back in a more organized and intuitive way.”
I’d been working all day. All I wanted was to kick my feet up and relax.
“I’m the one who put it in there like that in the first place … in a way that made sense to me,” I told him.
This was met with silence as he continued emptying the contents of the cabinet.
How dare he attack my organizational skills! How would he know what’s intuitive under the sink anyway? When’s the last time he refilled the soap dispenser? Changed out the kitchen sponge? Used the Swiffer pads? He doesn’t even know what’s in there because he doesn’t take care of our house. I do!
All I wanted was to sit on the couch together and relax. Why had he chosen this moment to take action?
I was now fuming inside, so I sat myself on the couch in an effort to calm down.
It’s amazing how being heard and having a concern taken seriously by my husband could unleash such defensiveness and a sense of being attacked and diminished.
Timing is everything.
I was aware that my response was oversized, but it just kept going.
I didn’t even ask for his help. Why did he decide to do something about this? I already looked under there. There’s no dead animal. Now, he’s making a mess of everything when it was perfectly fine to begin with.
I closed my eyes. And breathed. Slowly. With intention.
As it turned out, the plastic container of chicken funk was the culprit. Had I smelled the seal, I would have known it immediately. As it was, I smelled the bottom.
Even after discovering the foul-smelling container, he kept emptying the cabinets.
And, I kept breathing.
Why was I so upset?
Partly because it was a day off. A day in which I would have loved to relax and spend time with him. Instead, I spent most of it working. Then, the moment I was ready to relax, he got distracted with something I’d already deemed “not important”. It felt like a waste of time.
On top of that, I felt disregarded for having already investigated the cabinet, and I felt criticized for not having organized the contents in an “intuitive” fashion. As someone who has been praised for my organizational skills, this one cut deep.
I kept my mouth shut while he completed his task.
When he was done organizing the cabinet in an intuitive fashion, I joined him in the kitchen and asked if he was going to give me a tour of this intuitive design so I could find the things I needed.
The tone of my voice as I asked let us both know that the closed-eyed, couch-breathing hadn’t calmed my critical mind.
As he shared his intuitive layout, I zoned right in on the things that didn’t make sense to me.
"Why is this pumpkin-scented hand soap front-and-center? It only gets used in the fall. The spray bottle we use every day should be in the front.”
I grabbed the spray bottle, knocking over the paper towels, moved the pumpkin-scented soap further back, and slammed the spray bottle down in its rightful front-and-center position.
I seemed to have a lot of energy pulsing through me.
“Where are the Trader Joe’s sponges?”
“I don’t know which sponges are from Trader Joe’s.”
Of course, he doesn’t. I’m the one who buys them. I’m the one who replaces them.
I grabbed the one from the sink and shoved it in his face.
“These. These are the ones we use.”
“Oh, they’re under here.”
He lifted two coil scrubbers, which we rarely use, and only then could I see the Trader Joe’s sponges. They had been completely hidden.
Really intuitive. How was I supposed to find those?
I snatched them from the cabinet with an educational, “These need to be where we can see them,” and plopped them on top of the rarely-used scrubbers.
“Where are the Swiffer pads?”
Not where I’d have put them, but fine, I guess.
“What’s all that space back there behind the kitchen soap?”
“Nothing. It’s just empty.”
Huh. Not a great use of space, but I said nothing.
I wasn’t enjoying being so grumpy. I was mildly aware of what was driving my mood, but that awareness was doing nothing to help calm me down.
I wanted to be grateful. Instead, I was critical.
I realized I needed to go to the bathroom and used that as an escape. Without saying a word, I huffed away and headed up the stairs.
“Thanks for doing that.”
It sounded more like an attack than gratitude. My irritation colored the delivery.
Why am I so freaking annoyed? Why do I feel so attacked and stuck in a stance of counter-attack?
“Sorry I’m such a bitch,” I threw over my shoulder about halfway up the stairs.
The sad thing is, I meant it. But, you couldn’t tell from how it sounded.
Just. Shut. Your. Mouth.
In the silence that followed, my brain scanned it all at warp speed, trying to find balance and perspective in it all.
Wasn’t it nice that Judah took something I said seriously? Took action? Didn’t he deserve points for that?
It was defensiveness that was telling me that I was the only one who takes care of our house, and yet, there he was, searching for the source of a horrid smell, cleaning out a cabinet, and thoughtfully putting everything back.
Thoughtfully in HIS mind.
If he was putting things back in an organized, intuitive fashion, that meant that I had arranged the cabinet in an unorganized, unintuitive fashion!
This was an attack on my character. On my organizational skills. He used to tell everyone how organized I am. I guess he changed his mind! He apparently knows better. Even though he doesn’t really use what’s in there anyway. When’s the last time he refilled the soap dispenser?
And, I’m back to attacking him as a means of defense.
Why can’t I just be happy? Grateful?
There’s an old internal script that says, “He doesn’t listen to me.”
Then, he does listen to me and takes action. And, it’s too much. Overkill.
I didn’t need him to reorganize my cabinet. There was just a smell.
I don’t always know what I want him to do, but it is instantly clear what I don’t want him to do as soon as he does it.
He’s not doing it right.
The right that benefits me.
I hate this part of me. I don’t understand her. What does she gain?
Part of me feels out of control.
That’s not what I wanted to happen.
Part of me feels defensive.
Oh, you’re going to organize the cabinet, are you?
I felt good about the choice to calm myself on the couch while he searched for the source of the stench … and then subsequently reorganized my already-organized cabinet.
I closed my eyes. Breathed deeply. Reflected on the emotions swirling inside me from a place of curiosity.
And then, I got up, marched over, demanded a tour of this brilliantly-intuitive layout, criticized what I could, barked an ungrateful sounding “thank you”, and stomped upstairs in an effort to save him from me. But, not without one last quip, “Sorry I’m such a bitch.”
A statement born of honesty that unfortunately passive-aggressively threw the ball in his court.
Your move. Let it simmer in silence. Or, come tell me I’m not a bitch.