Recognition and Appreciation

Not a day after I published that post about how much better things between Mi.Vida and I were, he started getting exuding an aura of sulky exasperation. He was clearly overwhelmed and exhausted, and he was letting me know in these passive aggressive ways.

Except I don’t think he’s being passive aggressive when he acts like that. I think he really does feel exhausted and overwhelmed. I think he really does just need a couple of good nights of sleep. But if he’s still sulking and sighing after a day or two of emotional support from me, I usually starting feeling resentful. I start comparing my day–and more importantly my nights–to his and I start thinking, I do so much more than he does, and get so much less sleep than he does, why can’t he just suck it up?! 

I think this way of thinking is really dangerous. It’s not empathetic and it’s not supportive. It may be true that I do more, and sleep less, than he does, but I also think it’s true that he needs more sleep that I do, and is more negatively affected when he doesn’t get as much sleep as he needs.

In All Joy and No Fun Jennifer Senior cites researching explaining that 1/3 of people can handle sleep deprivation pretty well, 1/3 handle it less well, but can still function and 1/3 just totally lose their minds when they don’t get enough sleep. I have always suspected that I handled sleep deprivation a lot better than Mi.Vida but after hearing that I’m sure of it. I’m probably in the 1/3 that handles is best and Mi.Vida is in the 1/3 that handles it worst and I have to understand that he just NEEDS more sleep than I do, and adjust my judgment accordingly.

Because the thing is, there is judgement. I do judge him for what he can–or seemingly can’t–handle. I judge him when his (what seems to me a relatively simple) hour and half with Osita in the morning totally overwhelms him, and I compare it to the three hours I spend with both kids, putting one to bed while the other should be eating dinner, doing all the bathing, staying on top of all the laundry and cloth diapers, and just generally managing all the household responsibilities, all while keeping up with an 80% position in only 66% of the school day. If I can do all that, why can’t he manage what little is asked of him?

And I know that’s not fair and that I shouldn’t do it, but it’s hard to put that judgement away. I think it happens for two reasons. One is I feel bad that he feels bad. I want him to feel better. I want it to NOT be so overwhelming for him. I want managing and coping to be possible, and yet, so much of the time, it seems not to be. I worry that he’ll be perpetually unhappy, because these frustrating mornings and these exhausting weekends aren’t going away anytime soon. We need to learn how to manage our lives.

The second reason it bothers me is because I don’t feel I’m getting any recognition or appreciation for all I do. When he walks around sulking about how hard his life is, and how exhausted he is, he rarely acknowledges that I’m doing more, while also allowing him to sleep more. Sometimes he’ll throw out a curt, “And I know you do so much more than I do,” before he launches into a bitch fest, but it doesn’t feel like he REALLY knows that, or if he does that he actually appreciates it. I think if I really felt recognized and appreciated, I’d be able to handle the moments when he needs support.

And I feel I should acknowledge my own limitations. It’s true that sometimes I get overwhelmed and freak out and need to be picked back up, but I usually do it rather fast and spectacularly, and then get on with the rest of my week. He’s more of a slow burner, and after a couple of days he starts to drag me down with him. It’s hard to keep your distance from someone else’s emotional distress, especially when your lives are so intimately entangled. It’s hard to remain detached. I know that’s what I need to do, but I don’t know how to do it.

Do you feel recognized and acknowledged by your partner? Are you able to support him/her when the going gets rough?

4 responses

  1. Oh god yes, I could’ve written this except the sleep deprivation part—I am in the 1/3 that cannot handle it, I suspect my partner is in the top/middle. And I think we generally split things down the middle. But its the ATTITUDE part that is so so pervasive and crazy-making. The sighing, complaining, and general negativity get me down, its hard to stay positive with that attitude infecting the household. This was a huge issue for G & I and I think it contributed to our marriage issues a lot. Its getting better, but he still finds it REALLY hard to hang out with the kids, he loses his patience and snaps at the littlest things, and when I tell him to calm down its “well I’m not like you, I’m different”. No, that’s an excuse. I’m not inherently calm or patient (HA!), but I dig as deep as I can to find that for my family, and when that runs dry I dig deeper still. I know that having a positive attitude helps make ALL of our lives better, so I do what I can to keep that up. Yes I snap, but like you, its short-lived, and can often be cured by a walk with the dog or a long shower. Whereas for him, no matter how much free time I try to give him, its never enough.
    Sorry for the rant, but we’ve been having this “discussion” at our house lately!

  2. Our spouses are so similar. Always exhausted, always overwhelmed, often negative. You know that I don’t get much recognition from B… Even when the world tells him it’s my day to be recognized. Ha! So there you go on your first question. 😉

    I do think I’m supportive. But maybe I’m not. Don’t we all think we’re supportive? When B has a work trip in a great location (Colorado, Seattle), I tell him to spend an extra night or two to enjoy the area. This costs us money since work doesn’t cover any extra time, but I always suggest he do that. And he always does it… Then comes home…. Exhausted from his vacation. Drives me insane. I also encouraged him to work out every single morning with his brother, and he turned it into an hour workout a 2 hour coffee chat 3-5 days a week. I was supportive, yet he clearly took advantage of me in both situations. Being supportive of B and his needs turns into him becoming very selfish. But I keep on doing it because I’m… Supportive.

  3. I should write about our work credit system. In it we sit down together, figure out all the work that’s happening around the house every month, then figure out how long each thing takes and its value. We give things a higher value if it’s awful or nobody wants to do it, so the cat box is worth 3 times the time it takes to do because we both hate doing it (so it takes 15 minutes a week but is worth 45 minutes of work). Then we try to balance the hours of work between us based on how much non-house stuff we are doing (work or school) so if I have 10 hours of school a day and the spouse has 30 hours a week of work, I get fewer jobs around the house because I’m doing more non-house stuff. Then to divide it, we choose what we want or what each person has to do (I have to do drop off at daycare because of schedules so I get credit for it even though only I do it), and then draw for the rest of stuff. It makes it feel more even because we’ve agreed on the awfulness of various things and we each feel equally stuck with the jobs nobody wanted and in theory they all get done. But yes, it’s hard to balance when doing the same things aren’t equally tiring and patience isn’t valued equally. We just try to be deliberate in acknowledging that a 15 minute job may be more exhausting than a 30 minute job.

  4. First of all, I totally think men just don’t handle sleep deprivation as well as women. Biological, maybe? Hmm.

    Anyhow, I swear to God, B and I had this discussion last night about “feeling appreciated.” I had to realize that he too shoulders a lot that I take for granted and sometimes I am so stuck in my bubble that I don’t see all that he does. That being said…holy hell, I think he needs to appreciate me more! His job is freaking hard, but my job with the baby NEVER ends. I’ve come to realize the only place we really get validated is in a therapist’s office. Ha!

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