The Space Between Keeping Secrets and Telling All
This year Howard and I will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary. Of course by celebrate I mean that we’ll probably remember to tell each other that we’re glad about it, but only probably. Sometimes we forget the anniversary because we’re too busy getting on with being married. Whenever Howard and I are asked for advice on being married, we share something we learned early. Don’t keep secrets. Anything you’re afraid to tell your spouse must be discussed as soon as you can arrange a quiet and uninterrupted time. Short term surprises are fine, long term secrets will fester and poison everything else. Lately I’ve found a corollary to that advise. Don’t tell everything. This advise seems to contradict the first advice, but it doesn’t.
A few months ago we opened the pre-orders on Sharp End of the Stick. The particular blend of stresses involved in the pre-order process always trigger fun blends of anxiety in both of us. I was trying to maintain a very zen approach to the whole thing, not checking on numbers. Howard was watching numbers, doing calculations, and making contingency plans. He was really stressed, so he came to me and spilled all of his fears in detail. At bedtime. I then fretted all night. The next couple of days Howard felt much better and went about his normal things, while I checked numbers, did math, and made contingency plans based on worst case scenarios. Then I came to Howard and spilled all of my anxiety and fear in detail. At bedtime. Then Howard had a turn to fret all night. I think we repeated that cycle one more time before recognizing that we were playing a horrible game of anxiety-and-depression hot potato. Fortunately pre-orders only throw us off balance for awhile. We managed to extend the experience by throwing each other off balance, but things got better. Sometimes the telling of something does more harm than help.
Yesterday was not an emotionally good day for me. I don’t really know why, because nothing is actually wrong. In fact, I can point to a dozen things which are going really well. Yet I was feeling like it was all futile and doomed to failure. This was true no matter what you substituted for “it” in the sentence. My writing was pointless. The finances were constantly returning to ebb points. The kids needed stuff which they would just need again later. The laundry. I really wanted to corner Howard and explain all of this in detail. Surely as Husband it was his job to listen and make it all better. Except that I knew some of the things in my head would definitely punch Howard’s anxiety and/or depression buttons. A round of anxiety hot potato was guaranteed to make the entire week miserable. I needed to not tell him, yet I needed to not keep secrets.
I found Howard and gave him an extremely sketchy outline of how I was feeling. It was enough to let him know “hey, I’m struggling today and need extra hugs.” He supplied the hugs and the support, then we went our separate ways. Howard headed off to draw comics, because completed work reduces our stress levels. I watched kids, assembled bundles, and stared at the huge pile of ripe apricots that I had no desire to make into jam. More important, I assigned my oldest kids to watch their young cousins, then I got out of the house for an hour.
By evening my mood was better and Howard had not been distracted from his important creative work. The concept is applicable in other situations as well. Some things have to be talked through in completely honest detail. Other things don’t need to be said.
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