Good marriage, lousy wife?

Over the weekend I was chatting with a friend about an Origami shelving unit I had ordered for our laundry room. I am very excited about this purchase, because I have been wanting shelving in this area since we ripped out the original closet organizer unit to make room for our chest freezer. M and I had agreed we needed shelves, but after 3 years and no progress, I ordered a unit that will fit nicely and thought nothing more about it, until telling my friend about it.

Yesterday my gal pal asked me about the unit, whether it had arrived yet (nope, today hopefully), and what it was like, etc. She mentioned that her husband said that I was “emasculating” M by purchasing this unit after he had agreed we needed shelving and he would be building it into the space. By my not being patient and letting M do his job, I was undermining him and his role in our relationship. My friend’s DH further opined that I was being a lousy wife.

Seriously?

I actually laughed about this, because we have known this couple for 10+ years. In that time, my marriage dynamics have not changed dramatically, in that I have become some raving, domineering she-devil of a wife and M a cowering, p-whipped husband. But with that conversation fresh in my mind, I asked M if he was bothered by my ordering a shelving unit for the laundry room without consulting him first. Was his ego wounded that I was not waiting patiently for him to build my shelves as promised?

His response: no, he is not disturbed by my ordering shelving; he is accustomed to me making autonomous (and usually spot-on) decisions about our storage and design needs. We will eventually have shelves in there, but his heart and mind are focused in other areas, on other projects. I told him about my conversation with my friend, and he too laughed. He says it’s stated more from a place of envy, because the wife does not work outside the home and her husband frequently wishes she would return to the workforce so they can retire their mortgage sooner and increase their retirement funds (they are also empty nesters). It is a conflict within their relationship that does not seem any closer to resolution now than it has in the last 10 years.

But it got me thinking – is there such a thing as a good marriage where one spouse or the other is perceived as a weaker link?

I dismiss the idea, because my perspective is a marriage is only as strong as the two people involved believe it to be. If one sees the other as less than satisfactory for any reason, the relationship is weakened and subject to all sorts of breakdowns from internal and external forces. M and I love each other, we are a team, we have the other’s back. Where M is a big-picture dreamer, I am the nuts-and-bolts details girl who starts the plan and identifies and gathers the resources necessary for M to do the implementation. On the shelving, this is partly my failure; I have not said “M, I REALLY want shelving in the laundry room and we need to make it happen” and dragged him off to Home Depot with measurements and a clear idea of what kind, the size and number of shelves, and at least a vague idea about resources. M would then see I am serious about shelving and kick his own thoughts and ideas into gear and begin figuring out the logistics of the project.

But I am sort of lukewarm on the shelving project, not yet sure about how it will work or what I really want. Hence the temporary shelving unit. It will give me a chance to have more pantry storage near the kitchen (versus the office down the hall where we keep our pantry now) and think more clearly about what is needed on a permanent basis in the space. This could take another 3+ years and I am okay with it. M is fine, too, because between the concrete, the deck top, and running events coming up, his dance card is pretty full.

I guess it goes to show that outside perceptions about couples and relationships are murky at best. I routinely have close friends suggest or hint I should be resentful of being the breadwinner in our household, and if annoyed by the ongoing commentary I remind them that we are individuals, not clones. M enjoys being home, dealing with the domestic stuff, and when the concrete guys are jackhammering away at the existing concrete, I will be happily working at my quiet office. They bring up my part-time jobs, and I point out that I enjoy the work enormously and if anyone resents my 50+ hour work weeks M would be at the front of that line. Since I work the extra hours from home at various odd hours of the day and night, he accepts it as if it were a paid hobby, much like the volunteer time he spends on his running groups and other pursuits.

My friend was horrified this morning when I reported that M does not feel emasculated by my shelving purchase nor does he believe me to be a “lousy wife” because of it. “You TOLD him?” she texts. Of course I told him; she presented a perspective I was curious about, so I asked his thoughts. No harm, no foul, and we do not think less of you or your DH for your opinions about our laundry room storage solutions. At the end of it we had a good laugh and all is well. But you know darn well I’m going to make it a point to show off our new shelving solution next time we see them.

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