Bill and I were in foul moods this morning but what a relief it was to find that we were both angry about the same things and it wasn’t each other. This time it was the state of the house and the behaviour of our children. Because recently it has been about one another, in a scary, suffocating kind of way. I’m not good with that kind of anger in a relationship, I’m not the sort to naturally back away from anger, I’m not the sort to try and cover it up, nor the sort to ride it out and trust that this is the ebb and flow of relationships; I think about moving on at times like that. Maybe it is because I am the daughter of a single parent, I don’t have the fear some women have of going it alone with children. I have a kind of gallows humour about the difficulties that path would involve, but not a complete aversion to it. The arguing brought up very old arguments for us, arguments impossible to resolve, and with this some very bad old habits that we both thought we’d outgrown. I’m only writing about it now that the moment has passed because honestly, I have no perspective when I am in those moments, I couldn’t write about it sensibly, couldn’t write about it with any kind of optimism, couldn’t write about it with the sense that only two weeks ago I was thinking I would compose a message of hope to new parents based on my own experiences about how much better it all gets.
While I was this angry I talked to my friends about how angry I was with Bill and how angry he was with me. If I can be so bold, this is my piece of relationship advice for you, have friends you can talk to about that anger and who aren’t afraid of it and then hold nothing back. Even better if they will share their own honest moments of anger and disappointment with you. Nobody wants to be the only person whose relationship ever falters.
I received lots of wisdom. Some of it reassuringly matter of fact: “you will either grow together or grow apart but you can’t stop growing”. Also, “women heading into their forties are restless with energy and self-awareness but they’re often partnered to men in their forties, and men at that age are becoming increasingly inflexible and self-assured, after all, they are quite literally the patriarchs by then, they are busy becoming their fathers and probably inadvertently expecting their mothers as their wives now”.
Some of the advice was refreshingly realistic: “friends say to me they don’t know if this new relationship of theirs is the one or not and wonder when they will feel that and I tell them I’m married to this man, have three children with him, bought two houses together and love him dearly but I still make a decision every single day about whether to be with him or not”.
Some of the advice was just the relief of knowing that others go through the same thing; those friends who share their quietest, most secret moments of doubt with you.
And some of the advice was terribly clear-headed: “have you thought about the fact that you and he are under incredible stress at work right now? No wonder you’re hating each other, you’re both flipping out”.
They were right, actually. For a time there both our jobs were simultaneously being ramped up with demands while facing possibilities of job insecurity. Most often I am aware of the impacts of home life on working life, but really, you can’t underestimate the impact of the reverse. Thankfully we seem to have passed through all that safely and like magic our anger is dissipating. However, it feels like the house slid over the edge in that time and it is chaotic with mess right now and our children are increasingly frantic for our attention. So we’re annoyed, he and I, but in a shared kind of way.
And that’s the thing about being this feminist and a man in a relationship – we are in love but we are also strongly independent and so it feels at times with us, as parents, that the obligations of domesticity are trapping us together. When really, we are choosing this relationship, there isn’t a sense of fate here, there is instead a sense of mad passion and endurance and vulnerability with us, of pushing and pulling and struggling through it all for an outcome we both want that involves ‘happy’ every bit as much as it involves ‘together’.