My husband brought a flask of tea home from work then left it, half-full, beside the kitchen sink.
"Why don't you empty it out?" I am braced to say. My body is tensed, ready to launch into an attack. But, I keep quiet. Instead, I walk calmly towards the flask, tip the remaining contents into the sink, and wash it myself.
I congratulate myself on my restraint.
It is almost habit now to bite into my husband, and reprimand him for the smallest wrong-doings, like leaving flasks of tea beside the kitchen sink. When I think about him, I am not filled with anger - I love him. But no matter what he does - good, bad, or indifferent - I don't miss an opportunity to slash him down, and tear pieces off him.
One of the repetitive acts of slaying is in response to his daily sleep-in. Seven o'clock in the morning is hardly outlandish, given he goes to bed at 11pm each night, but for some reason, every morning I have been up from 6am with the baby, I have to meet his morning kiss with a series of complaints about his laziness.
I've just been reading Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow, and he refers to a famous study of 1979 conducted by M. Ross and F. Sicoly. The study found that in marriage, individuals experienced their contribution to household tasks, like walking the dog, was greater than their spouse's.
The researchers referred to this as an availability bias. Basically, we believe that we contribute more than our partner because the content and amount of what we contribute is readily available to us, where our partner's contribution is more abstract.
I thought this was relevant to my own case.
When my husband leaves for work for the day, I perceive him walking out the door and then - Puff! His being evaporates into the stratosphere, and my attention is directed to the two little munchkins who scuffle through the house, leaving a wake of toys behind them.
In my experience, I am playing with the girls, hanging out the washing, washing up after breakfast, dressing the girls, reading to them, gardening with them, preparing lunch, preparing dinner and encouraging them to sit up at the dining room table. Then, Puff! my husband magically reappears. I give him the usual low-down of the day, squeeze in a nag or two, then we descend into the bed-time rush.
Between the Puff! when my husband disappears, and the Puff! when he returns, my perception of him is zilch. In his own perception, he is driving a client 200km, managing challenging behaviours, and averting crisis after crisis. His perception of my day is no doubt minimised to a mere residue of a day at home with two young children. How much can there possibly be to do? (He secretly wonders.)
I had a little think about my nagginess, and decided that much of it centres on my need to make my husband sympathise with my situation. I am crying out for attention and validation. Please, notice that I mopped the floor! Thank me for the dinner I prepared one-handed, with a baby on my hip. I want to assert that I have done a lot - in my experience, more than he has done. I should feel more tired than him. I deserve that sleep-in more than he does.
No doubt, he is seeking the same validation.
I am thinking about unwinding from the negative cycle. Maybe, I can begin by taking a wider perspective. I need to stop and visualise where my husband is and what he is doing at certain points throughout the day. I need to take into account that his day too is full and busy. Maybe this will help me give him validation, rather than criticism.
Parents of young children often feel under-resourced and depleted. Because of this, we find it hard to feel generous towards each other. We crave validation, but haven't got the energy to give validation to our partners.
By initiating generosity, and redirecting the cycle of our relationship pattern, I can only hope that my husband's cup is full enough to fill mine in return.
Flask by flask, I am going to crack this nut.
Follow Zanni Louise on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zannilouise