My husband and I had a discussion last night about a few important decisions we have to make. At one point I suggested something, he disagreed and in frustration, I promptly burst into tears. He responded with,
“Darling, you can’t cry every time I disagree with you.”
To which I tearfully replied, “Of course I can, where have you been for the last 10 years?”
In times of marital conflict, I can be uncontrollably emotional. This is a hereditary affliction that has plagued my grandmother, my mother and probably my oldest son, Secundo (he is showing early signs of being a weeper). Its symptoms include a rapid reddening of the nose, difficulty in swallowing and then speaking, quickly followed by tears, a loss of coherence and then dignity (in that order).
My husband jokes that he has done the conjugal equivalent of controlled crying on me. In the early stages of our marriage, exhausted and confused by my tears and inability to settle myself, he swaddled me tightly (metaphorically speaking, although sometimes I would like to wear a onesie and be wrapped in flannel) and left me in a darkened room. Sitting quietly outside the door, he initially agonised over my enraged crying. Wracked by self-doubt and self-recrimination, he wondered whether Ferber and Ford were in fact sadists. Eventually he became immune to my tears and I learned that I could not get what I wanted by crying. Not even a shush-pat from him.
However, the self-settling training has not actually controlled the crying. I still need an outlet for all that emotion and whilst my husband is required to bear the brunt of it under contract and statute, my girlfriends are governed by that great time-honoured pact between women that allows and enables us to tell each other anything and everything about our relationships.
Since returning to Australia I have been reminded of this. Catching up with old friends, our conversations are seamlessly picked up at the same place they were left, unaffected and uninterrupted by the continents and years that have passed between us.
There is a common theme to these conversations – we spend a lot of our time talking about our partners: what they should have done but didn’t; what they said they would do but didn’t; what they should have known they were supposed to do but didn’t…
This makes me wonder about my husband and his friends. When they meet for “football and a few”, is the few actually a similarly cathartic complaining session involving a few theatrical renderings of my latest trangressions? Do they talk about their frustrations over our many failings, perceived and real? Or, do they (actually) notice our many failings and fail to find them annoying enough to discuss? Do they simply not need to discuss? Or when my husband says to his friend Jon, “Can you believe that referee? It was so obvious Lampard got it over the line. Video replaying at the international level is the only answer. England was robbed.”, is this code for, “Can you believe my wife? It is so obvious I was going to do the dishes/put the car keys back in the [her] right spot/move my piles of incompleted and unfiled admin from the dining table. Why won’t she just let me finish this game of Wii football?”
Amongst my girlfriends, the venting can be petty and petulant. It can be vicious but it is absolutely necessary. At the end of it, two transformations take place in my mind:
(1) The catharsis returns peace and perspective. A cloud is allowed to rain itself out (cue Jimmy Nash) and what is left is clarity about the many wonderful things husband did on the same day he played Wii football for hours and ignored the admin he promised he would do. And the misplaced car keys return to being just misplaced car keys, not the manifestation of a deeper more sinister problem.
(2) The genetically inevitable emotional outburst shared with girlfriends who empathise enables me to get most of the tears out of my system, crying out my grievance in unhelpful and often irrational language; so that by the time I talk through my grievance with my husband I can be honest, respectful, tactful, and only a little tearful.
Now that is controlled crying.