'Honey, You're Driving Me Crazy!'
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The one problem with marriage is that a man and a woman have to live together. This is without question the worst idea anyone ever came up with. I mean, who are we kidding?
It’s like putting a deer into the tiger’s cage at the zoo and hoping the two of them can get along. I don’t think so. There’s going to be trouble. Bad trouble. And it won’t take long.
The only thing more difficult than living with a member of the opposite sex is ... Actually, there is nothing more difficult.
I had a dream that a group of the world’s greatest scientists, the most brilliant minds of our generation, came together at a retreat in the Swiss Alps (important retreats are always held in the Swiss Alps) to answer this important question: “What is the quickest and most effective way to drive a person insane?” The learned men and women went into a conference room and emerged five minutes later with a one-word answer: “Marriage.”
We don’t need a group of distinguished scientists to tell us what we already know, do we? If you’re married, you know what I’m talking about. Is there anything more frustrating, nerve-wracking, and just plain exasperating than living with the opposite sex?
Dating is fantastic. Courtship is bliss. Engagement is super. The first few years of being husband and wife are usually great. But three to ten years into the marriage, some unpleasant revelations about your partner come to light. Dramatic gender differences, incredibly annoying habits, and grating personality weaknesses rise up and take a toll on your relationship.
Let me illustrate by describing the marriage I know best: mine.
The Clarke Marriage
Sandy and I had been married for ten years. Our infatuation was long gone. Her weaknesses were painfully apparent. So were mine.
We had three small children—all girls. Or, rather, they had us. Mood shifts, tantrums, emotional scenes, sibling rivalry, hysterical laughter, insipid children’s television shows with the worst acting ever filmed, and total chaos filled our home.
It was in the midst of these difficult circumstances that my beautiful blond wife began a campaign to drive me over the edge of sanity. Her ingenious diabolical plan was to use a bar of soap to make me go absolutely batty.
The Sliver of Soap
For the first ten years of our marriage, Sandy and I had no problems with our shared use of the bathroom shower. She showered in the evening, and I showered in the morning. Her shampoo was on the top shelf of the shower organizer; mine was on the middle shelf. She was in charge of buying her shampoo, and I bought my own.
Most important, we shared equally the replacing of the essential ingredient of every successful shower experience: the bar of soap. Sandy always kept a good supply of soap in the hall closet, a mere ten steps from our shower stall. It was an unspoken agreement that we took turns putting a fresh bar of soap in the shower whenever it was needed. The soap bar rested in the place of honor on the bottom shelf of the shower organizer.
As I’m sure you know, there’s really nothing worse in a shower than a sliver of soap. When a bar of soap reaches a certain level of sliverness, it will not produce any lather, no matter how hard you rub it. Instead, it splits into two or more pieces, and when you try to rub the pieces in your hands, they fall to the shower floor. Once the fragments hit the floor, the centripetal force of the water hurries them toward the drain.
Of course, you quickly bend over and frantically try to collect the pieces before they slide out of reach and become irretrievably lodged in the drainpipe. You fail, and thus are forced to touch the slimy, hairy, incredibly nasty drain in order to clear it of the sliver pieces. Your hands are now infected with drain residue and eleven kinds of bacteria, but you can’t wash them because you don’t have any soap!
Sandy and I easily avoided this nightmare scenario with a highly effective procedure. Whenever the bar got down to a sliver, whoever happened to be showering at the time would walk to the hall closet and get a new bar. Of course, you only notice that the soap is a sliver after you’re already in the shower and soaking wet. That’s frustrating. Probably worth a minor level of exasperation.
This sliver of soap replacement system (SOSRS) worked beautifully for ten solid years. And then one day it screeched to a sudden and horrible stop. I will never forget the morning I stepped into the shower, got wet, and was faced with the dreaded sliver. I was shocked and appalled. I had taken a shower the previous morning and knew for a fact that I had used up the final suds of the bar. I had put the sliver back, knowing that Sandy would replace it with a fresh bar that evening. I had lucked out, and she would have to go through the seven steps of bar replacement.
But she hadn’t replaced the bar! My whole showering world was turned upside down in an instant. Being a gracious and loving husband, I decided to give Sandy the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she was stressed. Caught up in the demands of caring for the three children. Yeah, that was it. I told myself this was just a one-time, out-of-the-ordinary occurrence.
So I replaced the bar and didn’t say a word. I expected her to say something appreciative like, “Thanks for putting in that new bar of soap, Dave. I blew it, and I’m sorry. You are a kind and thoughtful husband. Will you forgive me?” Instead, she said nothing. I was slightly concerned about her lack of response, but I let it go.
Then it happened again. And again. And again. Sandy had stopped replacing the sliver! She never said a word. She just unilaterally decided that she was through replacing the sliver. It was unfair. It was selfish. It was just plain wrong. And even though I tried—really tried—to be the bigger person and take it in stride, her refusal to replace the sliver began to seriously bug me.
I mean, who did she think she was? The Queen of England? Was I her sliver replacement boy? How dare she leave me with the sliver every single time and act like nothing was wrong! She apparently didn’t know who she was dealing with. I decided to fight back. Two could play at this game.
I decided to wait her out. As the new bar got smaller and smaller, I held the line. It got to be a sliver, and I knew she was expecting me to replace it. Dream on, baby! I was not going to do it. Not this boy. Not this time. The sliver got down to a nub. Down to two tiny pieces. Down to almost microscopic dimensions. And still Sandy did not replace it!
I held out for a week. I abandoned the extremely tiny sliver and used shampoo to wash. I used hand soap from the sink. I even used a new bar for a few days that I kept hidden in my underwear drawer. In utter desperation, I took the dramatic step of putting a new bar in its unopened package right beside the sliver. I had her now. All she had to do was throw out the sliver, open the new package, and take out the bar. But she wouldn’t do it! What was the matter with her? Was she trying to send me to the mental hospital?
I finally confronted Sandy. It was mano a mano time. I walked up to her with the unbelievably small sliver of soap in my palm and asked, “What do you have to say for yourself?” Sandy, faking a confused look, replied, “What are you talking about?” Oh, she was good. Very good. I had to give her that.
I told her the whole story of the sliver replacement system and how she’d ruined it. She accused me of being crazy. Well, maybe I was, but she was the one who had driven me crazy! And then Sandy did what women often do when caught in a mistake. She went into a litany of all the jobs she did around the house. Her main point was that with all that she did for me and the kids, the very least I could do was replace the soap in the shower. Defeated, I had no response and had to skulk away.
I’m happy to report that we got past this unfortunate episode and can laugh about it now. It really wasn’t a big deal. It was classic post-infatuation behavior, though, and it did push us farther apart at the time. By the way, guess who still replaces the sliver of soap every time? That’s right. Me.
The Battle of the Petty
Marriage is filled with frustrated reactions to the growing list of your spouse’s strange, nettlesome behaviors. How could you have married someone who turned out to be such a pest and a nuisance? Check out this brief catalog of personality and lifestyle differences. I think you’ll recognize yourselves in some of these.
One spouse is always hot. One is always cold. Complaining about the temperature and sneaking to the thermostat becomes commonplace.
Night Owl and Morning Glory
Morning Glory wakes up singing at 5:00 a.m. without an alarm but is brain-dead by 9:00 p.m. Night Owl comes alive at 9:00 p.m. and is ready to party but has to be hit with a cattle prod to get up in the morning.
Mr. Crude and Mrs. Manners
Mr. Crude belches and passes gas on a regular basis. He sees this as “being a man.” It’s also being a man not to feel too badly about it and to rarely say “Excuse me” after the offensive behavior. Mrs. Manners is horrified and offended by his complete lack of taste.
Pack Rat and Garage Saler
The Pack Rat keeps everything, including every school paper thechildrenbring home. The Pack Rat hogs every square inch of storage room to hoard the treasure trove of trivialities and minutia. The Garage Saler wants to sell everything and feels buried alive in a mountain of useless stuff.
The Slob and the Neatnik
One spouse is a rumpled, crumpled, and disorganized mess maker who never puts anything away and sees no reason to clean when the place is just going to get dirty again. The Neatnik wants to live in a museum of order and cleanliness and sees messiness as evidence of a weak, disturbed mind.
Ratty Clothes Man
This husband parades around in twenty-year-old, threadbare T-shirts, college sweatshirts, and gym shorts from his high school days. His old clothes are filled with holes and hideous stains, but he considers them old friends. He’s horribly out of fashion, but he’s comfortable.
The Closet Hog
The wife fills her closet, his closet, and parts of other closets with her amazing quantity and variety of clothes and her incredible assortment of shoes, purses, belts, hats, and pieces of jewelry. She continues to buy more closet-hogging items, even though there’s no room left and she can’t possibly wear all the things she already has. On the bright side, she keeps the economy going.
The Incredible Phone-Talking Woman
She talks on the telephone just about every free waking minute. She has an impressive array of family and friends, and she must keep in daily contact with all of them. No topic of conversation is unimportant. The husband hears the same stories repeated over and over as he struggles to keep his brain from exploding.
Never on Time
One spouse is chronically late for everything. Church. Social events. School activities. Doctor appointments. Work. Airline flights. He or she is usually married to someone who wants to be fifteen minutes early for everything. They make a tough combination.
I’m Going to Die—Again
This partner thinks that every illness or pain is a symptom of a final, fatal disease. Pain in the chest means catastrophic heart problems. Pain in the back means the kidneys are failing. Pain in the rear (he or she has become a pain in the rear to the spouse) means rectal cancer. And so on.
I could go on and on. There are sunny optimists married to gloom-and-doom pessimists. Bedroom television watchers who have to have the set on to go to sleep. Physical fitness enthusiasts who pressure the spouse to work out and consume fruit drinks. Vegetarians. Lip-smacking, slurping soup eaters. Snorers. Bed hogs. Toss and turners. Putterers. And you could probably add a few of your own.
It's Going to Get Worse Before It Gets Better
Every married couple must put up with at least a few annoying habits and differences, and some can even be amusing. The ability to laugh at ourselves helps to lessen the tension. What’s not funny is that some of these differences push us farther apart. As our differences become more and more obvious, our marriages take more hits more often, even if we’re not yet entirely aware of it.
Just about every married couple experiences a breakdown in intimacy, where fewer and fewer needs are met in the relationship, and our emotional, spiritual, and physical connections are diminished. It doesn’t happen right away, but it happens. It’s a natural and inevitable result of living with a member of the opposite sex.
But there is hope. Following my Marriage Makeover plan will reverse the decline of intimacy and get your relationship back on track.
1. Talk about your spouse’s annoying habits that drive you crazy. Be specific. Don’t be mean; just be honest. Try to have a lighthearted, humorous attitude about these habits.
2. Which Battle of the Petty scenarios have been true in your marriage?
3. Are you still significantly upset and bothered by your partner’s annoying habit or habits? If so, commit out loud that you will work to release your irritation. Also, make this same commitment in prayer with your spouse.
Excerpted fromThe Total Marriage Makeover by David Clarke, PhD, July 2006. Used by permission of Barbour Publishing. All rights reserved. Note: This excerpt was edited for length.
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