Sunday, June 05, 2005

Losing Control is not "OK"

On Friday, I was blog-hopping, and followed a link to some J-blog post, at a blog I'd never read before. Unfortunately I cannot now remember what blog it was or where I found the link - please help me out if you recognize the topic. Basically, I was thinking about it all weekend, because I found the reactions to the post a bit disturbing.

Basically, the author of the blog wrote a post sort of musing/complaining/ranting about his wife's, eh, tendency toward irrationality during the days before her period. The author recounted two conversations he's had with her while she had PMS, as examples, and indeed it seemed, from the dialogue as he wrote it, that his wife does in fact become, shall we say, difficult. Nothing he says matters, no reasoning can get her to calm down, suddenly everything he does is wrong, etc etc.

While reading the dialogue from these two arguments they had, I had two reactions: 1) This woman needs to eat some chocolate and take a deep breath and 2) her husband, the author, is handling it exactly the wrong way. PMS is an evil thing, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the words "You are only saying that because you have PMS" should never, but never, cross a man's lips. He keeps trying to reason with her when ANY woman can tell him that the best strategy for him is just to say "I'm going to work now. Love you. See you later." (To men whose wives tend to become weepy rather than angry, I recommend, again, against trying to reason. Instead say "Yes, life is awful. Here, have a tissue. And some chocolate.")

Many, many women left comments to that post. There were two themes to the comments. One was "You are handling this all wrong." The other was "Gee, you get off lucky, when I have PMS, I throw books at my husband." The atmosphere in the comments section was somewhat jovial, as if PMS is not only natural but also slightly amusing, and that this blogger is just going to have to take up a hobby in his garage so he'll have a place to escape to once a month.

Not one person, as far as I saw, said "some time during the month when your wife is her usual wonderful self, sit down with her and ask her to get help, because her PMS makes her say hurtful things to you and it's not good for your marriage." No one said "try to encourage your wife to talk to her doctor about this."

Now, I'm not married, but I can imagine that two people who live in close proximity to each other for many years get on each others nerves, big time. And I can imagine that every so often, people get really impatient and say rude things to each other because if-that-other-person's-bad-habits-pop-up-one-more-time-I'm-just-going-to-go-out-of-my-mind. People get angry; it's part of life and, I'm told, part of being married. I also know very well what it's like to be at the mercy of one's hormones, and can testify that sometimes, staying rational and keeping things in perspective is very, very hard. There have been times that I myself have realized, in the middle of weeping over some personal tragedy that I'm afraid will happen some time in the distant future, that "wait a second. What's today's date? Oh. I'll feel better next week. OK. That makes me feel a little better now. Where's that chocolate?"

But no matter how biological the impetus may be, "flying off the handle" or "biting your husband's head off" or telling him he "can't do anything right" or throwing books at him is not OK. If a neighbor was suddenly, out of nowhere, short with my husband and yelled "what is wrong with you?" at him, I'd conclude that this person is -- excuse my French-- la Bitch. If a stranger on the street threw books at my husband, I'd haul her hormonal ass into a police station faster than you can say "assault." When a man is irrational and insulting to his wife, we say he's a terrible husband. So when a woman acts that way, why should it suddenly be "excusable" or "understandable" just because it's "that time of month"? Why shouldn't a man be able to expect that his otherwise kind, intelligent, compassionate wife learn to say, at least most of the time, "You know what? I'm in a really bad mood. This is not a good time to talk to me. I don't want take it out on you. Best to steer clear. I'm really sorry"?

That's what I would want my husband to say when he's in a foul temper. "I'm starving, and you know I turn into a bear when I'm hungry. Let's have dinner and then we'll talk about your meeting with the school principal" or "Today was the work day from hell, and I need 20 minutes to myself to calm down." I know that if that happens, I'll probably think "he needs 20 minutes? When do I get my 20 minutes?" But I think I'd rather forfeit my 20 minutes than have my spouse "bite my head off," the same way that I'd rather insist on my 20 minutes than lose control over myself and take out my foul mood on people I care about.

I remember once walking home with my (male) boss, who had invited me for dinner with his family (I was working for NCSY). The whole way home, we were talking about a very difficult work issue that was causing him a huge amount of stress. He was very, very worried about it. When we were walking up to his house, he suddenly stopped, took a few deep breaths, whispered "Daddy mode, Daddy mode" to himself several times, and then went into the house, where three kids immediately started cheering "Daddy's home!" and he swung each of them around in turn, giving them kisses. That man is my hero.

I know that whenever I get married, I should expect that sometimes my husband will do or say "stupid" things or take out his frustrations on me, because no one is perfect all the time. I know that spouses often have to allow for each other to be unreasonable. But that doesn't make it "acceptable." And if it happened a lot, like every day for a week, once a month, I'd ask him to figure out some way of calming down or go with me to a marriage counselor. I don't deserve to be talked to with anything but respect, and neither, I would imagine, do most of the husbands of the women commenting on that blog post.

The fact that women have overwhelmingly difficult hormonal ups-and-downs-and-all-arounds should not be an excuse not to work on our middot, our personal qualities. It just means that we have to overcome some things that men generally do not understand at all. But just because a man is there doesn't give his wife the "right," because of her hormones, to spew insults at him, the same way that I have no "right," as a single person, to insult my friends just because I'm in a foul mood.

To that blogger my message is: learn to steer clear. To his wife: Maybe your physician will be able to help you, and maybe not, but you owe it to yourself and your family to make an appointment and at least try. Or get some Miriam Adahan books. Or something.

And to the woman who throws books at her husband when she has PMS: Your children will never forget the image of you doing that. After some therapy they might forgive you, but they will never forget.

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