I started snapping at my husband. Again.
A few years ago, any time that I was stressed out, it was inevitable that I’d snap at him. I’d nit-pick. I’d nag. My voice would take on an edge that was both unattractive and demoralizing to the relationship. My husband is a patient man, and it helped that I would always apologize–but everyone has their limit, and he was hitting his.
The edge that crept into my voice, the tendency to snap off some irritated comment when I was tired, felt so habituated that I wasn’t sure how I’d ever change.
And then, one day, it shifted. I saw very clearly why the pattern was continuing.
I was able to stop doing something that I had been doing regularly for as long as I could remember. It was powerful beyond measure, proof-positive that if you really want to see things change, they can change.
* * *
After having our baby, things were bliss for a few weeks. Then the sleep-deprivation started to kick in. I’d ask my husband to grab something for me–I’d be exhausted; the baby would be crying–he wouldn’t know where the something was located–I’d be exhausted; the baby would be crying–I’d tell him where it was–I’d be exhausted; the baby would be crying–he’d tell me that the something wasn’t where I thought I’d left it–I’d be exhausted; the baby would be crying–and I’d snap at him, telling him he must have moved the something, why do I always have to find the something, do I have to do everything, around here?
Nearly all of my friends have confessed to doing this with their partners, especially in the early weeks of having a baby.
After the snapping, cue the shame (especially after realizing that I’d moved the something I’d been asking him to find).
Why do we do this, if we know better? Why do we snap at the one person who’s on our team, who’s on our side, who just wants everything to work out for us?
Sometimes, my husband would do things like clean the kitchen and get the baby down, and then, there I’d be, seeing the one thing he’d forgotten or complaining about the one thing that didn’t go smoothly.
Then I’d have another shame hangover–God, here I was, doing this again, and this time after he cleaned the whole kitchen AND got the baby down? What was wrong with me?
It’s in these moments when you take yourself aside and sit yourself down for a little talk.
“My love,” you say, “Nothing’s wrong with you other than you’re sleep deprived, and overwhelmed in a way that goes beyond those capital-S Stories you’re always talking about–this is physical. Someone can only handle so much sleep-deprivation before things just start shutting down. Breathe, hon.”
“My love,” you remind yourself, “It’s really hard to not to know what the hell you’re doing. It’s hard when the baby cries because you love her so much–way down deep in places that you’ve never loved anyone, before, and it’s raw and vulnerable and when she cries, all you want in the world is to have an answer, to just know what to do.”
“My love,” you say, “when you don’t know what to do, the defenses come back up as a means of coping. Anger is a defense. It’s an old one. It’s a survival mechanism. You can choose to use it, if you like, but I only want to (gently) remind you: it doesn’t work. You know this. You know this to your bones.”
The Fear of Alone
I realized why I was snapping at him, again, on a random Wednesday. He came home early from work and immediately gave me a big smile and said, “Want me to take the baby while you go out and get some time for yourself?”
He didn’t ask for a thing for himself. He was just excited to be home and eager to support me in getting a break and enthusiastic about spending time with his daughter. Our daughter.
It had been an easy day with the baby; his coming home early had been a surprise. When he walked in, I was in the midst of playing with our daughter and she was looking up at me, smiling. It felt like a gift on top of a gift.
Later, driving home after some time out, I clearly understood that I do this thing, this pinchy, snippy, irritated thing, because in those moments when I snap at him, I feel I am alone. I live in the Story that I am Kate, Alone With This Dilemma Of Figuring It All Out Alone.
Alone on top of alone, the worst kind.
It’s not a true Story. It’s just the one that’s oldest, the one I’ll reach for most easily. That’s what we do–we reach for what is easiest when we are tired.
I came home; I gave him a hug; I apologized and cried. Instead of using it as an opportune moment to really let me know how shitty I’d been, he pulled me close and hugged me.
We create our fears, and we act from there. Later, I thought this to myself, as I tucked into bed beside a man who loves me and loves our baby.
I thought, “This is what contentment looks like. Contentment is not creating the fear by perpetuating the story.” Lights out, I snuggled next to my man under the covers, and we went to sleep.