Stop the Screams| August 31, 2021
My husband was human (and male) all week, so why was I only being mean on Fridays?
"Should I just get used to you yelling at me every Friday?”
I looked at my husband of several months, opened my mouth to reply, but quickly shut it. I had no defense. He was totally right. I spent my Fridays heaping criticism on him.
When did I switch from newlywed angel to devil in the kitchen?
From the moment I got engaged, I was euphoric. No matter how many times I pinched myself, I couldn’t believe I was really engaged — and to the best guy in the entire world. For months after the wedding I was still pinching myself (and chasdei Hashem, in many ways, I still am, more than two decades later) and heaping praise on my knight in shining armor.
Still, at some point it became obvious to me that I’d married a human, a male one, who didn’t read my mind. He bought the wrong things at the grocery store (I put spaghetti squash on the list; he bought pasta and zucchini — true story). He ate the can of corn I’d planned to use to make a corn salad for Shabbos (uh, maybe because no one had made anything for lunch). He offered help when I didn’t need any and didn’t offer it when I did.
But my husband was human (and male) all week, so why was I only being mean on Fridays?
I got married when I was 25. I had plenty of experience making supper, grocery shopping, doing laundry, and washing dishes. It wasn’t very challenging to switch from doing it for one person to doing it for two.
I’d made Shabbos for groups of friends dozens of times, but I’d never done it every week. And definitely never done it while pregnant and working full-time.
Husband + pressure + cranky wife = the perfect storm.
The worst part was that I didn’t even notice what I was doing.
“No, you don’t have to get used to it. I’m sorry. I’ll stop,” I answered.
And I did. Just like that.
When I asked about it a few weeks later, my husband admitted his surprise. He’d expected me to make an effort, to see improvement. He hadn’t expected a cold-turkey, complete and total cessation.
I’ve tried to figure out exactly what happened, so I could do it again.
The most glaring fact that worked to my benefit was my total obliviousness to what I had been doing. It’s pretty bad not to notice being mean and nasty, but it accomplishes one major thing — it bypasses all the usual rationalizations and excuses. I couldn’t justify being mean.
That taught me something: If I feel the need to justify why I’m doing something (of course I have to shout at my son; how else will he know his behavior is completely unacceptable?), it probably means I shouldn’t be doing it.
Had my husband gotten angry or yelled back, it likely would’ve triggered a defensive response. But my poor husband was so baffled by his usually serene, loving wife turned battle-ax he didn’t know how to respond. Having never triggered my defense mechanism, I was left, well, defenseless.
Usually I’m not so lucky. If I scream, people often scream back. If I’m mean, they react.
Stripped of any justifications, I had to take my behavior at face value. I was horrified for two reasons: One, by how clearly wrong it was and two, it was so not me! The strength of those two feelings ensured my near-instant turnaround.
Nowadays, when ridding myself of a flaw, I try to up the volume on those feelings. I combat my justifications for my bad behavior by telling myself how clearly wrong and damaging it is. (When I scream like a banshee he learns: He should also scream to express himself. I must be a horrible kid if Mommy screams like that. This isn’t a safe place.)
I also try to visualize who I want to be. (I’m a mother who teaches instead of terrorizes. I react to misbehavior calmly, so I can use reason. I help my children feel safe.)
Since that newlywed foible, there have been plenty of things I’ve wanted to improve. I’m not sure I ever changed anything with the snap of my fingers like that, but it’s given me a model to follow.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 758)
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