31: Critical Condition

31: Critical Condition

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Married Life!

Critical Condition

Only two things are necessary to keep one’s wife happy. One is to let her think she is having her own way, the other, to let her have it.

~Lyndon B. Johnson

Back when Erica, my wife, was merely Erica, my girlfriend, she was much more tolerant of my faults. My faults, in the beginning, were really just “foibles,” “quirks,” and “slight imperfections.” But as time went on and various rings were purchased and distributed, things began to change. More and more, I began to hear about how things I’d done could have been done “differently.”

Erica is a woman who is not afraid to speak up for herself and that’s one of the things I love about her. If I’m really messing up, I appreciate being “kept honest.” If, for example, I were to get drunk at a bachelor party and somehow charge ten thousand dollars at a gentleman’s club, I’d be disappointed if she didn’t at least say, “Hey, that’s not cool.”

But there are some things that she chooses to point out that I think just aren’t worth the effort. Like when I use a paper towel in a situation where a napkin might be more appropriate. Or a napkin when she would have used a tissue. Or a tissue when I should have used an industrial strength power cleaner.

What bothers me most, however, is when I’m criticized for things for which I believed I deserved praise. While some husbands might get nagged for never doing the dishes, or for doing the dishes but not using enough soap, I get berated for doing the dishes and using too much soap. I’ve been reprimanded for taking out the garbage before the bag is completely full. I’ve been scolded for bringing my wife a glass of cold water that was “too full” — and by that I don’t mean that it was overflowing, just that it was 11/16 full, while she was hoping for 5/8.

A few years ago, when the iPod just came out, she wanted one for Christmas. Not anticipating the popularity of this product, by the time I went shopping for it, it was completely sold out across the city. The iPod display cases at most stores looked like they had been in a nuclear attack. I managed to get one, however, from someone online. When Erica opened her gift, the first thing she said was, “When did you get this?” As lying is not one of my faults, I said “A couple of days ago.” “Where did you get it?” When I explained the story about my adventure, she was not amused. I used to think that the problem was that my wife’s expectations were too high. Now I realize that the problem is that they’re way too specific.

Before getting married, I’d envision how thankful my wife would be when I volunteered to do some household chore like going grocery shopping. Now I dread shopping since Erica seems to see it as forty-seven opportunities for me to screw up. I’m given a list and I dutifully check off items as I shop. Most of the items, I have no trouble with. One jar of chunky peanut butter. Check. Four cans of tuna in oil. Check. I inevitably run into a few snags. I’m supposed to get cilantro, but I can’t distinguish it from the Italian parsley. Then there are some items that they don’t seem to have. Sometimes I’ll call from the store and say, “I don’t think they have Israeli couscous” and she’ll respond “yes they do” as if I’d said they don’t have any butter.

Rather than make that call, I’ll sometimes get the thing that is most similar to what’s on the list. I see on the list something like “toasted unsalted almonds.” On the shelf I’ll find two things that are close, but not exactly. There are raw unsalted almonds or toasted salted almonds. I need to make an executive decision about which is the more vital adjective. Contemplating which wrong item to choose is like choosing if you want to be executed by firing squad or by lethal injection.

Then there are the subjective things like “one medium sized onion” or, the worst of all, “something yummy for dessert.” Finally, there are the things I don’t even understand. Once when I was really cranking on a particular shopping spree, I was derailed by the mysterious word “mirepoix.” (In case you are wondering, it’s chopped up celery, onions, and carrots.)

Knowing that communication is very important in a marriage, I eventually confronted Erica with my concern. “I’m not asking you to never criticize me. But maybe you could only criticize me about twenty percent of the time that you’re tempted to.” She solemnly responded, “I already do.”

A few years ago, there was a movie, As Good As It Gets, where Jack Nicholson tells Helen Hunt, “You make me want to be a better man.” That’s how I feel about my wife too. Maybe then she’d stop criticizing me.


~Gary Rubinstein

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