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?