I Don’t Know How to Build Trust in a Relationship, and I’m Scared


Because seriously? This guy might burn our house down and not even realize it.

by Anonymous

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Today, my husband set our kitchen on fire. From the other room I saw the smoke pouring off the stovetop where my favorite blanket—placed strategically to protect the glass top during a microwave installation—was smoldering. I immediately sprang into action and told him to open a window. I raced toward the front door in an effort to welcome in a gust of wind to push the smoke away from the fire alarm. After propping the door open with a pail of pet-safe sidewalk salt, I ran back into the kitchen to find that my husband had opened the window and then closed the blind back over it, essentially blocking any smoke from leaving through said window. After yelling at him to pull up the blind I ran from room to room on the main floor opening all the windows. I came back to the kitchen to find him just standing there. I ran over and scooped up the smoldering remains of my blanket and threw it outside in the snow, yelling at him over my shoulder to get a fan. Which he did. And then he plugged it into an outlet in the living room nowhere near the kitchen or a window. I was now starting to lose my shit. Who was this person I married? How is this his response to a crisis? HOW AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO IS FREAKING OUT THAT SOMETHING WAS ON FIRE IN THE KITCHEN?

I tell him to get a trowel to scrape the melted polyester off the stovetop. He comes back with a plastic trowel. FACEPALM is the only way to describe my reaction. When I point out to him that the still hot stovetop will obviously melt the plastic trowel as it did my blanket, he replies that he’s going to wait until it cools. Which I not so kindly point out is stupid because if it cools it will harden and be impossible to get off. This is the point where I begin to yell at him for not doing anything. And he says I’m freaking out for no reason. And I respond that a fire is a reason to freak out. And he responds that technically there were no flames.

And I seriously reconsider whether I can have a child with this man.

Because I suddenly feel very unsafe. I feel unsafe that he didn’t take precautionary measures like taking the knobs off the stove or unplugging it after he admittedly noticed that he was pushing the knobs down as he screwed in the microwave. I feel unsafe that he didn’t spring into action when he realized something was on fire in our home. He stood there as I frantically ran around the house trying to keep it from filling with choking black smoke. He stood there as I coughed from the fumes. He just stood there. I felt so insecure. What if I was unable to do these things I am doing because I am passed out from smoke inhalation or asleep? What if this happened with our dog in the house and he didn’t think to put him safely outside? What if this happened with our child in the house and he failed to act as I would?

Marriage requires so much trust. Including trusting that the other person will do their best to keep the house from burning down. Trusting that the things that must be done to respond to a crisis will occur to your partner. The grown-up things. The things my dad instinctively knew how to do. The things I watched him do. The things I trusted he would do. The things that reassured me that I was safe in our house. The things I do to make sure I am safe in my house. The things I need him to be able to do to know that I will be safe in our house. That our dog is safe. That someday a child will be safe.

As the smoke cleared, I sat back down at my computer to submit an assignment that was overdue. He sat in our kitchen on his phone after I explained to him that he would need to wait for the stove to cool down before continuing with the microwave installation. I tried to tell him how I was feeling. How much this scared me. It sounded like I was just rubbing his nose in it. I was rubbing his nose in it. But I need to know that it scared him enough to get him to spring into action next time. I didn’t get the response I was looking for. His eyes never left his phone screen. I’m not sure where this leaves our marriage. I do know that tonight, I am going to bed with my trust in him a bit damaged, and my future a bit less certain.

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  • Spot

    The Red Cross offers emergency preparedness and first aid classes that train folks how to correctly react/respond in a crisis…but I’m not sure if you can train someone to care enough to react/respond at all in the first place.

  • Danielle

    Oh god. I’m sorry, girl. Couples counseling?

    • afew

      REALLY? I get the sentiment, but does everything have to be about needing couples counseling?? This seems like a bit of an over reaction to a isolated situation that a couples counselor could not really help with.

      • scw

        yeah, but it is an isolated situation that made the writer think more broadly about the future of the relationship. “can I trust this person with our potential future children?” is a big question, and probably not something that came out of nowhere. I don’t know if suggesting couples counseling is really so odd.

        • Jess

          I was kind of thinking that too – if it’s a single event and you’re reeling from it short term, but can relax a bit later, talk it through, and feel better? Probably not needed.

          If it’s still bugging you and shaking your trust a few months later? The isolated event probably isn’t the only time you’ve felt this way, and it’s worth talking about how to move forward towards rebuilding the foundation. If you can’t do that alone, do it with help.

      • Danielle

        Well, each partner had an incredibly different response to the situation. It seems like communication wasn’t there in the moment. A third party could help them talk about their different feelings and see how they could respond differently next time.

        Especially because emotions were running really high, I think it would be good to talk it out with someone who was detached and neutral.

        But sure, couples counseling might not be for everyone in every situation. I personally love it :)

        • Helen

          yeah, I’m of the school of thought that counseling is not reserved for relationship emergencies.

          • Nameless Wonders

            Couples counseling worked best for us when we were going in with the mindset of a “tune-up”. Things were not dire and it’s certainly much easier to smooth things out when there isn’t a HUGE problem.

      • Lawyerette510

        Well considering this incident has caused her to question her marriage and if she feels safe in the home with her spouse and that she didn’t feel like he was communicating with her about how she felt afterwards, I think this is the kind of thing that doesn’t sound like an isolated incident and where having a professional who can facilitate a conversation that perhaps she isn’t capable of having with her spouse (or he with her) without assistance.

  • another lady

    This might not be the worst thing in the world – it is just one example of a person not reacting well to a stressful situation. For stressful situations, there are generally 3 reaction: Fight, Flight or Freeze. You sound like a ‘Fighter’ (do whatever you can to fix the situation, spring into action and run towards the fire, etc.). Your husband sounds like a ‘Freezer’ (stand there and do nothing, needs help to do something because he is ‘frozen’ in place, make mistakes when tying to help, etc.). He also blew it off, which is a little concerning… but, he probably wanted to act like nothing happened (cause it’s embarrassing to set your wife’s favorite blanket on fire!) You may need to talk about it more and work on some strategies for what to do in the future. My husband is a ‘fighter,’ but doesn’t always make the best decision in the moment… we had a carbon monoxide detector go off in our house when I was pregnant, at 2am. He wanted to run around the house and unplug/ re-plug in all of the other co2 detectors to see if they were working right, then check the gas lines and heater and oven, etc. (I thought that we were just wasting our time in an unsafe environment). Then, he wanted to disable it and just go back to bed (my thoughts: so we could die?!?) I wanted to call 911 / the fire department to have them come check it out and then get out of the house to reduce the possible co2 inhalation. (Which is what we did after a few minutes of him running around trying to figure out why it was going off… it turned out to be a faulty co2 detector.) Not sure that either reaction was ‘right’ at the time, but we both had different strategies for how to ‘fix’ the problem and what to do in an emergency. If there was a fire – he would be turning things off and running around opening windows, where I would be calling 911 and getting the heck out of there. Not sure if either one of us would actually think to use the fire extinguisher that is in the kitchen, though!

    • another lady

      Also, why did he use your favorite blanket to cover up an area where he was working on construction!?!? My hubs would have totally done that a few years ago. Now, we have specific supplies to use to cover areas when working on house projects. We also have grungy towels to use to clean the dog and whip up dirty messes (after a few too many times of him using our nice wedding present towels to wipe off the muddy dog and clean up red smoothie spills, etc.)

  • Amy March

    Its so interesting to me, because this could go either way. Maybe he is completely incapable of taking care of himself, you, and children. Maybe there was no fire, just a bit of smoke, and waiting for it to go away was fine, and waiting for the stove top to cool before messing with it was wise, attacking it with metal hot a recipe for disaster.

    • another lady

      my husband would say a similar thing about messing with a hot stove! Let’s not create more of an issue.

    • Mags

      I thought this same thing! The description was written through such a biased lens that I couldn’t tell if the smoke emergency was actually a big deal or not. I wonder if the husband would write a companion article about how his wife is so anxious that she gets really upset about minor things and needs to control everything he does.

      • CMT

        This isn’t a news event where we need balanced accounts from both sides. The point isn’t really the fire (or lack thereof). It’s the fact that they had such different reactions.

    • Mrrpaderp

      Re: attacking the stovetop with metal – If they have an induction or glass range, scraping it with metal is a good way to permanently damage the cooktop. Husband’s idea of waiting for it to cool a touch and then quickly scooping the melty bits with something plastic was actually the right way to handle it.

      Edit to add: I had a glass range a few years ago and I pretty regularly melted plastic utensils on it. The melted parts always popped right off once everything had cooled.

  • scw

    beautifully written, and I think something a lot of people can understand – “what if (s)he fails to act as I would?” there’s no easy answer here and I hope you’re feeling a little better with some distance between you and the event.

    • Lawyerette510

      I think one of the hardest things about marriage is navigating all the times your spouse does not handle something the same way you would.

      I’ve been married nearly 2 years and we lived together for 5 years or so before that and just this morning, we had a discussion about sharing responsibility for removing no-longer-good-produce from the fridge. My initial reaction upon finding a slimy cucumber in the bottom of the produce drawer was to say “what the hell! Why would you put all the new produce in her last night without taking out anything that wasn’t good. Don’t you respect our food, the money we spent on it and the people who worked hard to get it here to us?” But that’s not very constructive because I’m putting all my values on him and in his mind he did a good job of getting everything in the fridge last night when he was tired and that’s good. Yes, we talked about how if he doesn’t take the slimy cucumber out, it will make everything go bad more quickly, but I self-edited out my inclination to be outraged by the fact that he didn’t do it my way.

      • Amy March

        Hi, yes, I did put the empty box of popsicles back in the freezer, and no, I don’t know what that weird thing is in the produce drawer. Like, the very concept that I would empty my fridge of anything old every time I buy food? Completely foreign in a “wait is she being serious right now” way.

        • Lawyerette510

          Exactly! I also know that the flip side is all the things I do that puzzle him such as my hatred for pants, so I just take them off when I get home, but if they are dirty, why wouldn’t I just leave them there on the floor for an undetermined amount of time?

  • Eenie

    A quick fire extinguisher PSA:

    If you have a 5lb extinguisher, you only have about 15-20 seconds of discharge. A 2.5lb extinguisher empties in only 10 seconds! An empty extinguisher will still look like it’s spraying, but has no fire extinguishing power. If you ever get the option to “practice” putting out a fire at work, do it! My work has done hands on training every other year.

    Most people have ABC fire extinguishers in their home/kitchen. These will fight fires effectively that include combustible, flammable, and electric material. These WILL NOT WORK on a kitchen grease fire. A wet towel over the pan/stove is the best way to put this type of fire out. Or a class K fire extinguisher will work. Most restaurants have a suppression system installed that can be activated by a stop button if a grease fire gets out of hand.

    I teach this stuff at work, but in all reality it is most likely going to be put into action in the home.

    • Kara

      Kitchen grease fire — if it’s still in the pan (not moving to walls/cabinets), throw a lid or skillet on top. Worst case, you can also throw a sh*t ton of flour on it.

      • wrong wrong wrong

        OMFG DO NOT THROW FLOUR ON A FIRE. EVER. FLOUR EXPLODES.

        • Eenie

          Kara may have meant baking soda.

          • Kara

            Thanks Eenie. It was my mistake.

        • Kara

          My apologies. Baking soda is a safe option.

  • Leah

    This piece resonated for me – but not at all to do with the specifics of the incident. I think this isn’t really about who is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in their response to this particular event (and anyway, only getting one side
    of it, how are we to judge?) but more about something we can probably all relate to, which is a trigger for that feeling of ‘this isn’t how it’s done in MY family (of origin)’. It feels like the root of the writer’s turmoil really lies in the paragraph about her dad.
    As someone who grew up in a wonderful, close family environment, I’d always pictured the dynamics of
    my future family to look like those of the family I was used to. It turns out it doesn’t, and that realization hits me sometimes unexpectedly when my husband doesn’t act as I want/expect him to – and it’s powerful and difficult, even when the triggering event is actually no big deal.

    • afew

      I would have agreed with this while reading the incident, as well. I thought the same things about the section about her dad. I would also like to hear the husband’s side of the story and his take on how things went down.

  • Kara

    I would have to find the article/study, but I remember reading somewhere people that think about and plan what they would do in a dangerous / worst case scenario will actually do better if they encounter it in real life.

    Like having a fire plan, a tornado plan, or what happens if someone tries to mug me in the parking garage plan–you’re more likely to do well, because you know what steps to take. Its why so many businesses do risk analysis (to be proactive) and root cause analysis (to learn from mistakes).

    Maybe next time, the letter writer and her husband can tackle projects together, and talk about what can go wrong before starting.

  • Anon for this

    This essay. I am 5 months out from my wedding and I have a tendency to thing of the worst case scenario in situation, and suffer from anxiety, which means I spend lots of my time worrying about things that won’t ever happen.
    I spent my whole life thinking I’d marry someone in the construction industry, or at least inclined to be a diy, fix it yourself type. That’s what my dad was, that’s how my brother is, and it’s what I assumed I’d end up with. However, the man I am engaged to is an office worker. He is fantastic at what he does, and loves his job, however I have defaulted into the fixer of our house. Toilets broken- my problem. Sink is backed up? I know what to do.
    This essay resonated so deeply with me because of that fear that if I weren’t around, he just wouldn’t do things. One of his traits that I find very irritating is his inability to do things for himself. If someone else can do it, he just asks them, and takes no pride in learning, just goes for the easy way out. Its a very unattractive quality and its one that sprinkles little bits of doubt on my brain when I’m panicking about making this commitment.
    “The things my dad instinctively knew how to do. The things I watched him do. The things I trusted he would do. The things that reassured me that I was safe in our house. The things I do to make sure I am safe in my house”
    This quote especially. I love my fiance dearly but he has no common sense or instinct for these things and I struggle to reconcile the life I have with the one I thought I would end up with. Because I love him so dearly and the qualities that come with my dad, and brother, and even my fiance’s brother who is very much like my dad and brother also seem to come with a huge temper and explosive anger, which I decidedly could not handle in my life partner.

    • Amy March

      Hahaha I just have to lol at this. I have great house skills- I am fantastic at calling an expert to deal with a problem. Why is that considered the easy way out? I spent a lot of time learning how to do my office job and I’m really good at it and take pride in it. Other people have spent a lot of time learning how to fix toilets and electricity and build things. I’m cool with letting them do that, and wouldn’t be at all cool with a partner who thinks that means I don’t take pride in learning, go for the easy way out, and finds it an unattractive trait.

      • Eh

        I come from a family of people who have those skills (brother is a carpenter, step-brother and BIL are electricians, step-BIL is a plumber). Unfortunately we don’t live near my family. I feel better about having work done by professionals and that’s my go to. My FIL built their house (they did have professionals come and do some of the work) so my husband thinks that he (my husband) can fix things. Sometimes this does not go well. Sometimes he gets his dad’s help and it goes better. Sometimes I convince him that we need to call a professional. The first time I suggested that we call a professional his response was ‘you don’t think I can fix it?’ (as if I didn’t trust him or that I was taking away something from his manliness). I said, growing up my dad called professionals (even if they were family).

      • NotMarried!

        Yep! Specialization of Labor. I went to school for a long time to do my office job. I except that my clients defer to me on what I know. And by extension, I happily defer to the experts on all the areas of life where I am not knowledgeable.

      • A.

        I’m a big believer in the 80/20 rule (that 80% of your output comes from 20% of your effort) If there’s an easy way out for something I’m not inclined towards or interested in, I’ll definitely take it. I know that a lot of people believe that suffering through a challenge builds character and I don’t disagree necessarily, but I definitely don’t think that all choices must tend towards the challenging to be valid.

      • anon

        I think there’s a minimum level of handiness to be expected from someone when they’re living in a home as adults, though. At a minimum, the ability to gauge whether something is emergent or can wait for someone to come in a couple days, and the ability to turn off major services (thinking water and gas). But that’s a safety issue.

        • Laura C

          Yeah, I’d say this. When the toilet was flooding (thanks to BIL, not husband), I was the only one who thought to or knew to look for a shutoff valve. Without that, our whole apartment would have been flooded by the time we found the super, and I wish my husband was a little more aware of stuff like that. But I have no need whatsoever to then be the one to fix the toilet!

          • Anon for this

            Yes! I just want there to be a basic level of common sense, but because the people in his life, (mom, past girlfriends or just friends) have done so much for him he doesn’t have a willingness to learn these things. We had a leak in our bathroom a few weeks ago and I knew exactly where the shut off was (he owned the condo for years before I moved in) and turned the water off, and then cleaned up, called the plumber, and sorted everything while he was still panicking. I guess my strengths don’t have to be his strengths all the time but it really resonates with me the whole childcare issue. I think if we can work together on the willingness to learn aspect it will put my mind at ease a bit. Thank you everyone for your comments it’s given me some perspective!

          • another lady

            No offence, but it sounds like you did the same thing that past g/f’s and other women in his life have done… MAKE him actually do things around the house and with kids (friend’s kids, nieces/nephews, etc.) Make him go to the child care/infant care courses if/when you are pregnant. Also, Hubs admitted he didn’t know how to change a diaper – guess who is changing the diapers when we watch the nieces (with supervisions and help), ’cause I’m not doing that ALL THE TIME once the baby arrives, just ’cause he doesn’t ‘know how’!

          • Anon for this

            I don’t do everything for him, but there’s only so much I can “make” him do. An emergency flood is not a “teaching moment” it was just an example of a time where I had my wits about me but he didn’t have a clue, it was just a bit eye opening for me. I know when we do have kids I want him to be just as responsible for their care and wellbeing as me, and he’s all on board for that, as I said above writing it all out and having some perspective made me realize it isn’t a big of issue as I made it out to be in my head, and I just need to talk to him about how his attitude of giving up to easily affects the rest of the people in his life.

          • Amy March

            Can I just really encourage you to figure out a way to have this conversation without accusing him of having an “attitude of giving up too easily”? That’s such a negative way to think about this issue, and makes it into a “you aren’t good enough change for me” talk instead of a “let’s think about what raising kids as equal partners means to us, in the context of me being the only one who had the skills to deal with the toilet and wanting to make sure that we are both experts when it comes to taking care of our kids- do you also want that? do you have thoughts on how we get there?”

            And if the thought is really “you aren’t good enough be better” I think that’s more of an internal dialog about whether this relationship is working for you.

          • Anon for this

            Good advice! I never want to come across as saying he’s not good enough for me, but I also want to bring attention to the fact that because I’m naturally better at some things doesn’t mean I want to shoulder all the responsibility of it. Thank you Amy March!

          • Mo

            Your comments suggest that you think being handy around the house is an innate ability that everyone can have if they try hard enough — you have said you wish your partner had the “common sense” to know that there was a shutoff valve for leaking water (I am in my 30s and have never heard of this) and that you are “naturally better” at some things. Maybe the reason you are more handy is not because you have more common sense or natural skill but because you have been around handy people and learned from them? Is it fair to be mad at someone who does not have the same skills that you happen to have?

          • ART

            Yup, 30, did not know you could turn off the fresh water line to the toilet if it wouldn’t stop running. Pretty sure I had not ever, in my life, noticed that thing with the handle sticking out of the wall. Props to my extremely handy husband (whose family owned two houses and did all the work themselves his whole life) for not rubbing it in for me (whose family mostly rented or lived in a condo during my formative years, and just did not ever teach me these things). I do not rub it in for him that he doesn’t know how to do his taxes – which I have never DREAMED of paying someone to do for me or even, until I got stumped on the Affordable Care Act subsidy thing the year we got married, used tax preparation software. I just narrate my process to him every year and hope that some of it is interesting :)

            Oh, he also rewired my fridge once when the cord went bad (“guess I need a new fridge?”), and replaced a phone jack in our apartment when we moved in – I wouldn’t have even known to unscrew it from the wall to look at it!

      • AP

        Lol, yes. A family member says that people who don’t understand how cars work and how to fix them shouldn’t be allowed to drive. Seriously? If every driver were also a career mechanic, there would be no other careers. Also, mechanics would have no customers.

      • NB

        Yes, this. But I think this also comes down to how you are willing to spend the resources that you have. When the plumbing backed up and we had 2 inches of dirty water in our kitchen? PLEASE TAKE MY MONEY NEW PLUMBER FRIEND.

        But, we were also in a position at the time where we had money, rather than time or skills, to throw at that problem. Other house maintenance tasks (or just keep-on-keepin’-on tasks)? Not always the case.

        I get to learn to fix stuff around the house if I want to, or if the prospect of paying for it is more upsetting to me than the prospect of doing it myself. I also get to pay experts to fix whatever I screw up in that DIY effort—an added privilege. But, as we are expecting our second kid in a few weeks, and life gets more and more expensive, I am increasingly grateful that we have that option. Sometimes, it feels like a luxury.

      • Anon for this

        I don’t need him to be a expert contractor, but at the bare minimum he needs to be willing to figure out how to use a hammer and turn off water in a flood. I have started assigning tasks (hanging pictures for example) which I just detest, and he’s learned to do it just fine. If i don’t do that though, I end up doing it all, which fosters resentment. If I have to tell him every time he needs to figure something out, I feel more like a parent than a partner. Not sure where that leaves me…

    • Helen

      These were feelings I let myself start having in the later years of my previous marriage. In retrospect, my ex husband was entirely capable and proactive, but I didn’t work hard to see that. Instead I let the respect die, and actually started removing his autonomy a wee bit. He ‘couldn’t cook”, so did all that. He was ‘useless at organising things’, so I took over. Why was he spending money on getting the car cleaned when he ‘should’ be doing it himself?

      Every time he made a decision I disagreed with I’d roll my eyes and chalk it up to a personality failing. I’m not taking all the blame here – it was a shitty dynamic we developed together.

      And that tone of disdain and disrespect is the strongest indicator of a future relationship break down. It’s something I’m careful of in my marriage now (and she’s better at standing up for herself). I take care to notice and admire the things she’s very competent at. I try to tell her (in a calm moment) about the times where I’m feeling unfairly burdened, while being open to the very real possibility that my perception might not match up to reality.

      It’s easier, I guess, because we’re both women, so there are no gendered jobs expectations. Could this be part of the issue for you? You unconsciously think men ‘should’ be doing these things, maybe? Maybe he’s really aware that he’s the odd one out in your family – the only non-manly-man – and would prefer not to look incompetent? Maybe he thinks you’re amazing and watching you fix toilets makes him super proud. Maybe his unconscious expectation is that the people who are most competent should do the work. All I’m saying is “common sense” only exists if you’re operating from the same position (which almost never happens).

      • Anon for this

        That makes a lot of sense, especially the gendered job expectations comments. I have a set of expectations that men should be capable of a certain list of things, but when I think too hard on that I really push back against the idea of women getting that same list of expectations. I don’t cook, and I create clutter wherever I go, which my fiancee cleans up, I don’t do dishes, he makes the bed every day and I’m the worst person in the world when I’m sick and he is the best caretaker. I also feel a little self conscious I think because my family is the best at getting passive aggressive digs about his lack of hands on skills that I let bother me too much. This post (and subsequent comments and advice) was very timely for me!

        • joanna b.n.

          I mean, I hear where you’re coming from, but cooking, cleaning, and care taking are also “hands on skills.” :)

        • Amy March

          Wait really? If you don’t cook, don’t do dishes, don’t clean up your clutter, and don’t make your own bed I really seriously encourage you not to bring up his failings. Like, please don’t? It sounds like you are complementing each other really nicely! And things are actually going pretty well for the most part which is fantastic!

          Why does he need to hang pictures if he contributes in other ways? Who cares if he only likes to cook from videos if he is an excellent cook, and the only cook in your home? I understand your feeling that you don’t want to be the only capable one, but it sounds like you actually aren’t. Until you figure out how much of this is just wanting to prove that you’re marrying a manly man to your family, I think it’s a mistake to drive a wedge into your relationship over this.

          • Anon for this

            I agree Amy March, and most of these feelings stay right in my head normally and I chalk them up to anxiety and caring too much what other people think. Sometimes my anxiety takes a tiny little thought and digs and digs and digs until its the biggest deal ever and writing it out and having other people respond has been very cathartic and overall helpful. I know I’ve got a great partner who pulls his weight, its just the example in the story kind of touched on some feelings I’ve also experienced. While neither of us is perfect, I do think there are some things to address as I’ve stated, mainly the “I can’t do it so why even try” attitude and giving up when things are hard as there are lots of things in life are hard and he can’t just give up because that’s what he’s always done.

    • Lawyerette510

      I cannot encourage you enough to work through these feelings of disrespect and devaluing that you currently have for your fiance because he doesn’t have the same skills as the men in your family and to do it before the wedding. Also, talk about your fear about him not doing things and any concerns you have about equitable division of the work you’ll need to share as a couple (both intellectual and physical). You are not wrong from having these feelings, but it’s a slippery slope to some really damaging dynamics later on. Also, you don’t have to work through these things alone, these are the exact things couples counseling/ premarital counseling are for– to talk about the things that are concerning to you and look at what both of you are bringing to the table in values for things such as the importance of learning new skills v. allowing someone who already has the skills to do something or the importance of individual ability v. the importance of the ability to get someone else to do it.

      • Anon for this

        I think what needs to be done is for me to sit down and explain that I need him to take a little more ownership of things instead of having the “just have someone else do it” attitude when its something that we can absolutely do ourselves- he has a tendency to give up when things get too hard instead of working through them (he won’t cook a recipe if its written down and not in video form and he’s an excellent cook, its just “too much work” to read) and it has led to a habit of not even trying. I have the fear of being the only capable person in the relationship not because it’s true but because he isn’t participating in our lives on that level. But the comments posted on this article have given me some ideas on how to approach this without turning it into a bigger issue than it is and that maybe my general anxiety and overthinking has turned it into.

    • laddibugg

      One little thing to remember is that things were simpler back in our dad’s time, and easier to take care of yourself. My own dad reminds of that, especially with cars–it was much easier to work on your own, but now with everything computerized it’s much harder.

  • Eh

    A few weeks ago my husband was cooking while I was in another room and our baby was in her highchair at the other end of the kitchen from the stove (she likes to watch us from her highchair). He had the pan too hot and the oil started to smoke so bad it was making it’s way to the room I was in (two rooms away) and our daughter was coughing. Husband’s solution: turn down element and turn on exhaust fan. When I noticed the smoke I ran to move our daughter, then opened the front door and the back door, and I told him to open the kitchen window. Luckily there was no fire in this case. We talked about his reaction after. The kitchen was so full of smoke that when I walked in after opening the doors I had a hard time breathing. I pointed out that he should have removed our baby from the room that was full of smoke.

    So fast forward to today. Our washing machine broke on the weekend and the part arrived today. I’m at work hoping he doesn’t try to fix it while I’m not home (he’s at home with our daughter). I have an image of him stuck under the washing machine stuck in my head. I mentioned to him when we ordered the part that we would fix it together so I don’t want to text him and say that I don’t want him fixing it when I’m not home (since he might think I don’t trust him – lol which might be true in this case).

    • Eenie

      I hear ya.

      Husband kept locking himself out of the house and then breaking the handle off the door with an ax to get inside. My solution was to stop locking the door (it’s the inner door between the attached garage and the house, we both agree it doesn’t need to be kept locked). He couldn’t break the habit. I taped the lock in the unlocked position. We have yet to have an issue, and he thanked me for it.
      Whenever I doubt if I should do something because it makes it look like I don’t trust him, 9/10 he would have preferred I just said something. So I default to saying something instead of not saying something. Or just going ahead and put together his shirt, shoes, and socks near the door that he needs to take with him to try on his suit after work. He does the same for me, and put up with my inability to lock all of the four doors on house the first month I lived there – it was always one, and I swear I checked to make sure I locked it! And the few times he’s been upset, my go to response is “What actions did you take to communicate that you had this under control and didn’t need help or a reminder?” The answer is always nothing.

      That’s what’s worked for us. It’s not perfect, but at the end of the day both of us are just trying to get sh*t done and appreciate how much work it takes to live life. We luckily work really well together in emergencies. He’s very much ahead on the “be prepared” side of things, and I’m very good at keeping calm and making quick decisive decisions in the moment.

      • Eh

        I totally get being compliments for each other. The second week after I returned to work I forgot my backpack (breakfast, lunch, pump parts) at home three times (he had to pack up our daughter and drive it to me). He packs my backpack while I feed our baby in the morning so week three he started putting it right at the front door (if I don’t pick it up I will trip). And everything (so far) always works out.

        My friend is married to his cousin, and I have heard about the mishaps my BIL and FIL have had while fixing things (my FIL broke a rib while doing plumbing work) so it runs in the family. The thing is, usually when I make a comment about waiting until I am there (or getting someone else to help) he will give me a look like “you think I’m that stupid”. But if I don’t say something he’ll usually do it. He (like his cousin, brother, father) is well intentioned (“I’ll surprise my wife by fixing this for her” without necessarily thinking it through) but it doesn’t always work out.

        Before he moved in I was very worried about if I could trust him with stuff around our apartment (e.g., cleaning, buying groceries, cooking, paying bills). He moved in after I hurt my back and I couldn’t do things for myself (ok, I did still pay the bills). That really helped our relationship.

        • Eenie

          Awww <3 It's the little things that mean so much sometimes!

      • Amy March

        I just love that his solution involved breaking the handle off with an ax.

        • Eenie

          Rick Grimes style.

      • Trust is difficult. My husband has a habit of yelling at me (or using a harsh tone) whenever I’ve physically injured myself in some minor way. I think that must be how his family treated injuries as a child, whereas I come from a childhood where parents kiss away your boo-boos and best friends run to get you ice and cheer you up with jokes… the result is that I don’t want to turn to him for comfort, because I won’t get the kind of comfort I’m looking for.

        • ART

          I can relate! For so long if I said “ow, I closed my finger in a drawer!” (but replace “ow” with expletive) my husband would always kind of jokingly say, “well what did you do THAT for?” I’m sure he thought it had a sympathetic tone, but I tend to get really overwhelmed with pain like that, I get angry and my crying potential goes up 1000%, so I didn’t interpret it very sympathetically. I would get really upset, and finally I just said you have to cut that out, it makes it worse for me. He stopped, and I was really grateful because I hated the instinct to bite his head off when he thought he was lightening the mood, but I didn’t know how to handle it any better.

          Recently I started working on my reactions to small injuries like that, realizing that being blinded by rage and tears for the 5 to 20 seconds a bump to the funny bone hurts is not how I want to live, and not what I want to demonstrate to future children, so I’ve actually managed to start just going silent and counting or doing some other thought process to pass the time and telling myself “this is going to go away really quickly, la la la.” It’s slow, but I’m clumsier than I realized so I’m getting some good practice in.

          Anyway, tl;dr…I’ve found that communication and re-examination of my own assumptions about what is normal have probably been the two most successful tools in these first couple years of marriage. Neither is very easy.

  • Abe

    That paragraph about her dad also struck me. It’s so easy to idealize our parents (maybe especially dads!), when in reality they are humans who also made mistakes, did not always handle situations perfectly, or even always keep us 100% safe.

    To me, it feels unfair to hold a partner to the same standards (in this case, of protectiveness and security) that you felt from your parents. Not only do people react to stress differently, but as adults and equals, you will be privy to your partner’s mistakes in a way that we (hopefully) don’t see as children. It doesn’t mean that they won’t learn over time or rise to the occasion as a parent.

    If this was just an isolated situation, and not a pattern of careless behavior, I hope she’s able to forgive her husband for not handling the scare as she expected. Always a good idea to chat about fire safety and emergency plans, and how to react under stress. Who knows – maybe he had good reason to stay calm, or the panicking caused even greater confusion that could be avoided in the future.

    • Colleen

      The bit about her dad got me, too, for the reasons you mention – comparing your partner to your parent just seems like a recipe for disaster in so many ways – but also because it left me with the feeling that the LW is viewing her husband through a pretty narrow gender scope. If a sister or female friend had acted this way, would the LW be comparing that person to her father? To me, it reads as “men should keep us safe and men should be able to handle stressful situations.”

      I understand the concern about child safety and definitely think some emergency planning conversations would be helpful but I also think the LW might need to get comfortable with being the person of action in her family because it sounds like her husband might not have that particular set of coping skills.

      • Hannah

        Thank you for this comment. My own idealization of my father – and the security I always felt as a child in his presence – has posed some challenges for me in my same-sex relationship. There have been times when I’ve felt quite vulnerable without a big strong man around. My partner (who has fewer such hang-ups) and I have had to figure out how to do our own home repairs, feel safe at night, travel in unfamiliar places, and so on.

        But you know what? Those were pretty good lessons to learn, anyway, and maybe I wouldn’t have bothered if I’d been with the provider-and-protector type of man that I expected to end up with.

        I appreciate your point that it’s good to recognize how your dynamic as a couple will probably be different from what you saw in your parents’ relationship. And that, actually, that recognition can be a great engine for personal growth.

        • Colleen

          One of my favorite conversations I’ve had as an adult with my father was when I pointed out to him that most of the stereotypical “grown-up manly” items in my marriage are mine, not my husband’s. I believe my exact words were “All the power tools in this house belong to me; all the comic books belong to Ed.”

          This was shocking to my dad and even a little bit for me as I’d always dated very alpha-male” guys. Interestingly, all of those relationships imploded, while my marriage is rocking my world. Turns out, I’m quite the alpha-female and I don’t need my husband to help me use a circular saw. I need him to help me do different things – fight fairly, stay calm, admit mistakes. Those are the places I’m a mess and he’s got it under control.

          • Hannah

            Very nicely said. It’s all about finding the right person to balance you out.

  • anon for this

    I could be your husband in this situation. I suffer from residual childhood Inattentive ADD, as well as executive dysfunction. I work very, very hard to build habits, but even things like remembering to brush my teeth twice a day takes effort. I accidentally left my hair straightener plugged in and on for 2 days once–I never told my husband that this happened because his reaction would be similar to yours. While he knows that there are minor things I struggle with that should be easy for most people, I can tell he gets frustrated when I miss things or don’t do the “right” thing, for good reasons, such as safety or basic cleanliness. It’s a big part of why I’m going to counseling before we have children, even.

    But I wanted to say that if my husband reasonably lectured me for doing the wrong things in a crisis, I probably wouldn’t look up from my phone either. Not because I didn’t care, but because my shame would be so deep that I would HATE myself and be trying not to burst into tears and therefore take away the power of the rightful things he’s trying to communicate. However, I’m getting better at communicating these feelings to my husband AND I’m actively working on ensuring I can be the best partner and person I can be, even in despite of my challenges. Your husband does need to have ownership of events like this, in some way, even if not immediately, for it to work.

    [For the record, I’d say about 95-99% of the time, I’m a completely functional member of society, though I do have to think about things a bit more. But the other 5-1% sucks.]

    • NotMarried!

      “there are minor things I struggle with that should be easy for most people” – YES.

      I likewise am completely functioning most of the time, but when i’m not, boy am I not.

      Like Husband, I once set a fire on my kitchen stove. And I froze. Luckily I was hosting a family dinner at the time and my mother took over and dealt with it. That said, I can imagine how he feels. I doubt he chose to stand and do nothing, but was perhaps unable to figure out how to move forward.

      Less life-threatening, I recently had an incident at Panera where my order was messed up twice in a row that had me in tears. Over a freaking sandwich. I mean, I am a functional human and know how ridiculous that sounds, but in the moment, I just could not deal. I had a weird out-of-body feeling too of knowing good and well I was WAY overreacting … and yet was powerless to get myself under control.

      TL/DR: I feel for husband – and he likely knows how lucky he is to have a partner who helps make up for his weaknesses. I know I am.

      • Mary

        Hey, I just wanted to leave a really quick note on your comment as the experience you describe with your sandwich order (emotional overreaction, feeling out of control, etc) sounds exactly like symptoms of severe pms/pmdd. I absolutely don’t want to attempt an internet diagnosis, but this condition (like many women’s conditions) over goes overlooked. If things like this happen to you fairly often, it’s definitely worth keeping a diary to track them. If you see a monthly pattern occurring, then the underlying cause is very likely hormonal. Obviously please totally ignore this comment though if you want, or if this sounds totally not at all what’s going on!

      • Anne

        Okay, the sandwich thing sounds way too familiar to me, yet it never occured to me that that may be an ADHD symptom. But, yeah, thinking about it, it makes sense. Kind of fits into the “mood swings” category. Anyway, this is something my boyfriend and I have a lot of trouble with, because he has no way of understanding why simple things like that upset me the way they do. So thank you for getting this thought into my head. Might be helpful in explaining to him what is happening.

    • Also Anon

      “But I wanted to say that if my husband reasonably lectured me for doing the wrong things in a crisis, I probably wouldn’t look up from my phone either. Not because I didn’t care, but because my shame would be so deep that I would HATE myself and be trying not to burst into tears and therefore take away the power of the rightful things he’s trying to communicate.”

      OMG, yes, yes, yes! I don’t even have any kind of diagnosed reason behind it (although I have had a therapist suggest I might have ADD, which had NEVER occurred to me but based on a lot of stuff I do, or don’t do, it kind of makes sense), but I can be a total fucking space cadet, and I DO NOT think fast on my feet in crisis situations. And my boyfriend does, and he often freaks out at me that I’m not reacting quickly or appropriately enough, and then I just cry and hate myself and it sucks. I really wish he could understand that we both have our strengths and weaknesses, and that freaking out about it in the moment DOES NOT help me react any better or more quickly and in fact just makes it worse. If he said he questioned my ability to be a parent because of it, I would be really hurt. I mean, we complement each other! We’re a team! We don’t both have to be good at everything!

  • Totch

    In my relationship, I’m more like this husband. Not to this extreme, but I do tend to be more lax on safety than the fiance. I don’t think our door needs to be locked when we’re home, and admittedly sometimes that results in me forgetting to lock it at night. I prefer having the blinds open for natural light, he doesn’t like people being able to see into our home and hates if I leave them open while we’re at work. I’m fine leaving a bag in the front of the car when parked in our safe neighborhood, he walks back to the car on hearing that and moves it to the trunk. He saves all paper records meticulously and takes them into work every few weeks to shred, I mayyyybe rip up letters with personal info before tossing them?

    I often get annoyed when I feel like ease or convenience are being sacrificed due to an overabundance of caution. But then I read this, and think about the way he says “I just worry about you” when I’m not as aware of my surroundings as I should be and trip over something. He’s worried about me and about the worst case scenario and what it says about me that I don’t automatically lock the door when I walk in (and don’t mind that I don’t). Yeah, I get it. I’ll lock the damn door.

    • Eenie

      I feel you on the locked door struggles and blinds! If you want more situational awareness, I read the book The Gift of Fear, and it really helped me understand why he does the stuff he does. He is constantly on alert, but if I’m walking around with him, I’ll admit I don’t pay as much attention to things as I would if I was alone. He doesn’t ever see me when I’m alone and the precautions I take, so he worries as well. The book really helped and I found it fascinating!

      • Totch

        This rings so true, and I’ll check the book out. This is highlighted for us when traveling, because I plan the macro (flights, hotels months before), and he plans the micro (mapping out our drive from A to B days before). It’s a great division of labor, but I’m less engaged with our surroundings when he’s the one with the map. This isn’t because I can’t keep track of where we are, but because he chose to and I feel safe with that.

        Sometimes the attitude he takes with planning and traveling… let’s just say it feels like he forgets that before he came around I was a woman traveling the world alone safely and successfully. That can be frustrating, but so can having a girlfriend that doesn’t remember which train you need?

        • Eenie

          Yes, this struggle! If I’m not actively driving or told I need to navigate, I zone out completely. The book mostly focuses on personal safety, but I’ve been able to apply some of the concepts to general awareness as well. Trigger warning for rape – he interviews several victims who escaped really bad situations.

    • NB

      Ha! This is me, too. It is helpful to be reminded that his concerns are coming from a place of love and concern, because…yah. I get a little twitchy about the damn blinds.

      • Totch

        Twitchy is right!

        Monday morning I woke up and opened our blinds about half a foot, because I just repotted a plant and I’m trying to give its very confused root ball extra sun while it acclimates to our dark apartment (a strategy I’d explained to fiance in advance). Not sixty seconds later, he walked over and closed them. Not in a passive aggressive way, just because he fundamentally doesn’t understand the utility of sunlight.

        ETA: I guess what I mean to say is that there are ways I should be safer, but also times where I need him to believe that giving my plant some sun isn’t gonna cause someone to break in through our locked window.

        • Saxyrunner

          Oh my gosh…

        • NB

          HAHAHAHHAHA.

          We actually had this exact exchange this morning. Except I was keeping the blinds open over the kitchen sink, because why have a kitchen window, if you can’t wash the dishes in natural light?

          It’s so subconsciously ingrained that when I grumbled at him he literally did a double take, like he had just realized that he’d closed them.

          Old habits die hard? We have the same exchange with light switches, though this is more utility bill and less safety oriented. (Me: turn them on, get lost in my surroundings, wander away. Him: Turn them off. Me: Wander in, immediately turn them back on again. Him: Accidentally turn them off while I am actually in the room.)

  • AP

    Truthfully, I can relate to the husband in this scenario. My husband and I have gotten into plenty of fights about his jumping in to do things for me before I’ve had a chance to work through the solutions for myself. He’s a quick problem-solver for anything to do with his hands, because he was raised in a family that was constantly renovating houses, doing diy repair work, etc. My family, on the other hand, rented the same house for my entire childhood. We called a landlord or a repair person to come fix things. When husband and I renovated our house together, his first instinct was to just take over when I didn’t immediately know which tool to grab or the best way to help. For the first few projects, I let him. It was just easier. But after a while, two things happened: 1) I got more emotionally invested in the renovation and wanted to take ownership of more projects, so I started doing my own research and insisting he back off and let me try. 2) We both realized that if he kept taking tools out of my hands, I would never learn. Both things had to happen for us to become more equal partners in the renovation.

    What helps us is the fact that he works offshore for significant periods of time, and when he’s gone, I have to be able to figure out how to deal when something breaks or an emergency happens. I get that the situation in this essay was time-sensitive, but I have a hard time believing that if the author hadn’t been there, her husband would have just stood there and watched the kitchen burn down. It’s entirely possible that the husband didn’t move because he was trying to stay out of the author’s way, not because he didn’t care that the kitchen was full of smoke. I think this is a case where the couple just needs to talk it out.

  • Abby

    I live with/date someone who USED to freak out when something went wrong that was reasonably my fault (or at least appeared to be). He would panic and ask ridiculous questions – “WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?” when I already knew I had made a mistake. Once he started freaking out, I shut down completely. I had no interest in fixing the situation or defending how I was about too. (As an intelligent, analytical person, I generally think first and then react.)

    Your husbands reactions mirrored my own hurt pride when things like this happened. I’d be willing to bet he’s feeling a whole lot more than “O well let me look at my phone while she yells”. I know everyone fights differently but I personally cannot take yelling and that is something that we had to overcome in our relationship. My SO came from a family of yell-ers and in no way feels disrespected by someone raising their voice.

    It’s HARD to trust someone as is, don’t spin worries in your mind that maybe could be potentially be addressed by talking to your husband. Good luck <3

  • AML

    Yeahhh… Boyfriend has a lot of great qualities, but I definitely freaked out about this the other day. He made breakfast and then left a greasy pan over an open flame. I noticed it some time later and turned it off without saying anything this time because clearly my freakouts haven’t made an impression thus far. I’d say he forgets to turn off the range 20% of the time he uses it. He also doesn’t handle emergencies with our cats well.

  • Nameless Wonders

    The issue at hand is not “what to do in case of fire” but “what about all these possible things that I consider serious and [partner] doesn’t?” That IS what couples’ counseling is for. If you’re not having effective conversations about concerns and possibilities, it can be helpful to bring in a third party to mediate.

    The OP didn’t take a moment to understand the partner’s response. Maybe he was freaked out? Maybe your flurry of action overwhelmed him? I certainly would not have thought to do all that she did. This is a really great opportunity to have a discussion, but only when the OP is calm down and the partner is open to it. And then there’s using the “I” statements. “I was really scared when the fire started. I imagined you just standing there if our dog/future child was present during a fire. I feel really worried about how we will handle serious situations like this going forward. I would like to talk about some potential disaster plans that we can agree on.” Then you give him a chance to respond in the same way.

    I am trying to rid myself of the awful behavior of mothering my husband. It’s not like I make his appointments for him, but I will check in about them incessantly. A shared calendar is helping shut me up. Next step is medical stuff. I can only control how I respond, not how he acts.

  • Jessica

    Honestly, I’m not sure that this piece was ready to be published. It seems like the author was processing her emotions about an event that scared her a lot, but she focuses so much on the specific details that the general conclusion (maybe I don’t trust my partner enough to have kids with him) seems like a huge leap. And I can’t really tell if she’s asking for advice or not. It clearly has provoked some conversation, but I think that’s partly because the commentators are taking the initiative to apply the specific incident to broader themes. I would have soooo many questions about the context of this incident within their relationship if I were to address the LW directly haha.

    So I’ll just say that people bring different strengths and weaknesses to marriage. A lot of times, a character trait that’s a weakness in one situation can be a strength in another. (For example, maybe her partner will be the one to keep their [hypothetical future] child calm and relaxed after an injury.) Other times, someone actually flat-out messed up, as people who aren’t 100% perfect are wont to do…and when it’s been me doing the messing-up, I have been grateful that my husband doesn’t allow it to affect his overall trust in me and love for me. That doesn’t mean that the mistake doesn’t have an impact — we might end up switching who is “in charge” of something, or come up with strategies to avoid making the same mistake — but in the end, we can’t let those mistakes derail our relationship.

    • purekate

      “…and when it’s been me doing the messing-up, I have been grateful that my husband doesn’t allow it to affect his overall trust in me and love for me.”

      SO much this. Without any indication that this is a pattern of behavior, she is seemingly panicking over one incident. Has she never accidentally swerved into another lane of traffic while driving? Never left the iron on after using it? Someone else panicking when you make a minor mistake does NOT help the situation. And your spouse is supposed to be the person who gives you the benefit of the doubt, not the person who lets one moment define your entire relationship.

      Also, if you’re concerned about a fire, take steps to put it out FIRST. Then worry about opening windows and getting smoke out of the house.

    • joanna b.n.

      I actually appreciated an account from “in the trenches” of a moment, which as you say leaves out context or fully processed thoughts. It was a nice reminder of my own moments like this, which also have passed and been processed… but it was a real moment, nonetheless, even if it faded as time passed and they worked through it. And I dig that the author shared a real moment.

      • Amy March

        Agreed! I found it really interesting.

      • Jess

        Same, I don’t always need the ending, the “It all worked out,” the “Reader, I married him”

        This was a glimpse at an emotion we all go through at some point (Is this really the person I want to be with?!), and the realness was good to see.

      • Cellistec

        Yes, because not every “WTF” experience ends with a lesson learned and a hearty laugh. Sometimes they’re just left…raw.

      • Jessica

        Hmm…I agree that it was interesting for us to read and was the starting point for some good conversation. But the piece seems to have been written very quickly (note the reference to going to bed that night) and I wasn’t sure that the author was prepared to receive feedback (including criticism of her own actions) on what might have just been her way of processing things. I guess her emotions are her own responsibility, but I hope an editor checked in with her before publishing.

  • Gray

    I am not sure that the author’s actions in this case were actually a better reaction to the fire than her husband’s.

    It sounds like the author opened several windows and doors in various rooms, creating a cross-current of fresh oxygen which could have actually made the fire worse. When he went to take an action – closing the blind, for example – she screamed at him to stop doing that action. Then she gets mad at him for not doing anything. She ran around in a panic, yelling instructions at him and doing a lot of stuff. Finally after all those things she took the blanket outside which seems to have solved the problem. How bad was this fire, really? The “kitchen was on fire” or a blanket was on fire? The husband “did nothing” or the husband just didn’t do what the writer thought was best? There’s a lot of catastrophizing in here, too, talk of her dying in her sleep or her husband killing her dog or child through negligence. Whoa!! The facts of what actually happened do not seem to line up with the seriousness of how the author perceives them.

    From the husband’s perspective, I see that in response to a concerning-but-not-yet-catastrophic fire, the wife went into panic mode and immediately started doing several actions, some of which may have made the problem worse, while screaming at me whenever I try to do something. Afterwards she’s mad at me for not doing enough or not doing the right thing and no longer trusts me. That would really raise questions in my mind about how much she respects me and her ability to handle stress without lashing out at me.

    • emilyg25

      Yes, this sentence jumped out to me: “What if this happened with our child in the house and he failed to act as I would?”

      Someone doesn’t always have to respond to something in the same way you would. And two people will typically respond at least a little differently. There’s not enough info in this story and I don’t want to second-guess the writer’s experience, but I do want to emphasize that different doesn’t necessarily mean bad.

    • anon

      This was my reaction too. I’m interested in hearing the husband’s side of this story—author, have you asked him? My thought was “Why not take the blanket outside and put it out?” I could see reasons for this and I’m very unclear on what happened.

      I work as a firefighter. It’s in our training never to run, yell, or insult each other during a call. I believe the author was scared of what was happening and I encourage this person to talk with their partner about their perspectives of this incident and how they both want to respond in an emergency. I understand the feelings of security and safety that came up and this might be a good opportunity to have conversations around those.

  • Mags

    This piece sounds like the writer wants to rant about her husband messing up more than anything deeper. Problem is, we all mess up. Dealing with another person’s mess-ups is part of marriage. I would argue that it is one of the things that makes marriage the most difficult.

    Something similar happened with my husband; he was simmering stock, forgot to turn off the stove top when he went to bed and several hours later I wake up wondering why I’m smelling grilled foods. Then I realize the entire house is filled with smoke and there is charred pan/vegetables/bones on the stove. I went into crisis mode, woke up my husband, then my toddler (very, very thankful that he was okay), turned off the stove, opened all windows, and got the dog and ran outside. I spent a substantial amount of time that night and in the following days thinking of all of the worse scenarios: bedroom doors hadn’t been shut, I hadn’t woken up, I hadn’t decided to leave the bedroom and see what was going on, etc. But I never chewed out my husband or complained about this experience to others (this comment and mentioning it to our landlord who was going to notice are the only times I’ve talked about it except with my husband) — because I know that I do stupid things too. Everyone does. We’re human. And the next time I do something stupid I don’t want my husband to decide I’m an unfit partner/mother/etc, based on one mistake.

    I urge the author to do some self-reflection. Has she ever made a mistake? (My guess is yes and hopefully she can realize it.) How does she feel when she makes mistakes? My guess is that, as soon as she realizes the mistake, she feels awful and also very embarrassed. Does a person lecturing her help this? Does it change the way she behaves next time? She mentions wanting children and as a parent of two I have to say that she needs to do this self-reflection before adding another human to her family. Parenting is stressful, everyone makes some mistakes, and there are often things that one parent does which seem unforgivably wrong to the other parent (that other parent often thinks it’s no big deal, similar to how the husband reacted in this situation — which I have to say makes me wonder whether the smoke emergency that she describes was actually as dire as she made it out to be). If you can’t get through a small household emergency without doubting your choice in partner, I can’t imagine you will get through a year of parenting a small, fragile person with your marriage intact.

  • NB

    This: “The grown-up things. The things my dad instinctively knew how to do. The things I watched him do. The things I trusted he would do. The things that reassured me that I was safe in our house. The things I do to make sure I am safe in my house. The things I need him to be able to do to know that I will be safe in our house. That our dog is safe. That someday a child will be safe.”

    I hear this. I struggled in our first few years of marriage with frustration and anxiety on just this point, and occasionally still do. So many of us have these heroic memories of our families of origin: parents who could fix anything, kept us safe, tended our hurts and picked us up when we fell. There is a corner of my brain in which my parents and their peers will always be the “real” grownups—I’m just here posing as one until a spot opens back up at the kid table. Still, in the five years since our wedding, my husband and I have bought a house full of projects, adopted two crazy dogs, started new jobs, welcomed a baby into our lives, and learned how to parent a toddler. In a matter of weeks, will welcome a new baby and begin the process of learning how to be the parents of two children under two (please send coffee). It has been, to dramatically understate it, a bit of a learning process, and a humbling one.

    But, one of the tricky things about holding either yourself or your partner to the standard of our parents is that we were often not around, or were too young to understand, when they had the kind of screwups we now have to work through in our baby families. Our parents had the liberty to be afraid, and incompetent, and learning, just like we do—and we missed it, more often than not. I wasn’t around my parents’ first married Christmas together, to see my dad stay out all night carousing on Christmas Eve. I have no memory of the time my parents left my dad’s dissertation and the dog in the back of a truck, which subsequently caught fire, leaving them to scramble on the side of the highway and to rescue baby, dissertation, and dog. This is a blessing and a curse: on the one hand, it is hard to forgive myself for the mistakes I make as I try to figure out this homeowner/dog-parent/baby-parent/spouse thing. My daughter is 19 months old: there have been many, many times where I was not the parent I wanted to be to her, but I think I am getting slowly better at mastering this new role. With any luck, my daughter will remember me as a kind, competent, and loving mother (and not the women who wept openly into her glass of wine because FISHER PRICE IS A BETTER PARENT THAN I AM).

    My dad is an amazing handyman—the kind who remodels his own kitchen, tiles his own bathrooms, builds beautiful pieces of furniture. He has a deep familiarity with his powertools, and trained me from a young age to parrot old New Yankee Workshop maxims (“There is no more important safety rule…than to wear these: Safety glasses!”). But! One sort of banal truth that had somehow missed me 5 years ago was that all of those skills that my dad had? He had to learn them somehow. He has 30 years of learning on my husband, and although he almost certainly once bought botched a caulking job or set fire to a dinner, that learning experience is in his distant past. He may botch new projects now (and I am sure that my mom could happily report on them), but he has so many years of Figuring Out under his belt that we are all less inclined to notice. My husband and I, just starting out, are in our intense, trial-by-fire phase: with the house, the dogs, the babies, the works.

    After 5 years, my spouse and I are neither particularly old nor particularly wise, and so I offer this note by way of comfort and not gold-plated Advice to Live By. Like everyone else in this stage of life, we are figuring out how to do this as we go along. And, as we go along, we get incrementally better at it—both because we are learning skills ourselves, and because we are learning the best way to use the tools we do have to tackle things as a partnership. And as a result of that, I have less anxiety and more trust. I don’t think that is because of anything in particular that I’ve done. Building trust takes faith, patience, and most especially: time. It’s a scary thing to start out on a new life together, and each time that you place a vulnerability in someone else’s hands (whether it’s your heart, or money, or a pet, or a kid, or something else), it feels scary all over again. When we marry, we say “I trust my heart with you,” but we don’t always consider whether we also trust that you will feed the dogs, and pay the utility bill on time, and not drive around town with an empty tank of gas. For some people, trusting in those things just happens. For others, it’s going to take some proving up. That is ok.

    Adulting, in all its forms, is hard. No one will give you a card that says: Yep! You have perfected the art of Taking Care of Shit! Level up! And, when you’re adulting with someone else, it is extra tricky: your learning curve is not theirs, your skill set is not theirs, and the process of figuring out how to make all those skills and weaknesses come together into a coherent functioning whole is…sticky. It’s easy to remember the adults of our childhood as competent, superhuman paragons of The Right Way To Do It (particularly when they are still around to demonstrate the evidence), but they acquired those skills and perspective through many years of figuring it out and occasionally screwing it up, just like we will. Watching that learning process in a partner is uncomfortable—but it could also be the beginning of a beautiful origin story for the new family you are building.

    Hang in there. This piece was brave, and I know that this is hard.

    • Jess

      THIS: Our parents had the liberty to be afraid, and incompetent, and learning, just like we do—and we missed it, more often than not.

      Our parents were not always the adults we remember, often even while we were around. We just see it through a different filter. We feel safe with our parents because they made us feel safe, not because they automatically knew everything. It just seemed like they did.

      You articulated so many of my thoughts regarding that piece of the author’s concerns.

  • up_at_Dawn

    I am one of those who have hung around after cancelling their weddings (and actually ending that relationship)

    My ex, although he had many wonderful qualities. Also had OCD and executive dysfunction related to his Tourettes syndrome. His mother warned me many, many times of what living with him would mean. After we were engaged she took me aside and wanted to tell me that I had to be very very sure. Because if I couldn’t deal with him, he wasn’t going to be able to change.

    I can identify with worrying whether someone will be able to be there for you in a crisis. Or even pay the bills on time. Or go to the bank. Or remember to get groceries. The fear (and realization) that the person you love is someone that you cannot depend on– it’s a bit too fresh for me.

  • joanna b.n.

    Ha, so, a year or two into our (now six year) marriage, I had basically the SAME freakout, except it was while canoeing together, when he was steering and we went through a rough section of the river – and HE made what (I thought was) a bad call that almost led to us crashing into some logs and tipping over into the current (and in my mind, drowning, of course). Which led me to yell at him and prompted a much deeper set of worries about trust and realizing that in fact, by choosing to spend my life with this man, sharing a house/stove, car/canoe, and dependents, there is the off chance that he will one day make a choice that involves killing one of us or both (morbid, but stay with me). And ultimately, I decided that if I had to take that possible but unlikely chance of dying because of his mistakes/choices, in exchange for being with this otherwise incredibly wonderful, thoughtful, fun, perfect-for-me-in-many-ways person…. then I was prepared to do so. Because while I’m all for preparedness, and teaching each other important skills that one has and one lacks, the reality is you have to just let go on some things to allow your partner to live and be an independent human. And, you know, that is one way to take seriously what marriage is all about.

    • Totch

      Morbid story, you’re right, but a good (still morbid) payoff at the end!

  • Alexandra

    I think in the beginning of a marriage, there are so many unknowns about your partner. Small incidents take on more meaning than they should. Well, unless you already lived with the person for years beforehand, I guess.

    I’m much more inclined to do housework than my husband, and for the first year of marriage I felt pretty resentful of that, extrapolating that I was going to be doing all his dishes, laundry, and cleaning for the rest of my life.

    Then I started noticing all the stuff he does that I’m not good at: keeping track of the calendar and appointments, taking care of the cars, planning for vacations, hosting friends for dinner, making arrangements for parties, taking our son to the doctor, doing taxes…my husband probably does more to take care of our family than I do. Our personalities are different; I’m good at routine, habitual stuff that I can do on autopilot, like daily chores. He is awesome at things that pop up at different times.

    A book that really helped me that first year was Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages by Shaunti Feldhahn. The whole premise of the book boils down to the fact that people in happy marriages ALWAYS ASSUME THE BEST about their partner’s intentions. Under all ambiguous circumstances (like the one in this post), they assume the partner is acting in good faith and truly cares about them. This sometimes takes work, and in some cases (abusive situations etc.) it isn’t good advice, but in a normal marriage, giving the partner the benefit of the doubt at all times is such a lubricant to trust and love.

  • Kayjayoh

    Mods, is there, perhaps, an anon comment or two still in the moderation queue for this one?

  • Kathy

    Trusting is a leap and that is hard, but oh so necessary for a relationship. Trust means respect. And if you don’t respect your partner it will slowly erode everything else you have. A lot of insightful and helpful comments have already been made: people each have different strengths and skill sets; people react and take action on different timelines; there is no one “right” way; comparing a partner to a family of origin or a preconceived notion is destructive; we are all human and all make mistakes in our lifelong journey of learning, etc.

    I would add two things as food for thought: 1.) John Gottman’s research showing that in healthy and long lasting relationships, a partner notes five positive thoughts for every one negative thought about their beloved; and 2.) this article: http://time.com/women-are-sexist-too/ .

    May we all be blessed with wisdom that allows to love unconditionally.