It’s the day before the big in-law dinner. I love my in-laws, that’s not the issue. The problem is that they keep a much tidier house – or at least more dusted – house than we do. So whenever we invite them over, it means a day of intense cleaning.
I don’t mind that the cleaning needs to be done. I would do it more often if I could. But my fibromyalgia almost always flares up when I do dusting and such. Vacuuming is an absolute no-no!! My right shoulder will seize up after just 5 minutes of vacuuming (or mopping, anything that has that one-handed back and forth motion). That will lead to pain in my neck and a severe headache in no time flat. So it’s off limits.
Gratefully, my husband recognizes and understands my limitations in this regard. So whenever the cleaning needs to be done, he’ll do it and get upset with me if I try to help too much. In fact, he’s been dusting and vacuuming all morning. He does a pretty good job. Not as good as I would if I could do it myself, but I’ve learned over the years to never criticize what someone is willing to do for me if I can’t do it myself. When you do that, two things happen!
First, there is usually an argument of some sort. That’s no good for anyone with fibromyalgia. Stress is one of the biggest causes of mega-flare-ups. Anger keeps stress hormones way too high. Second, the person who gets criticized is not likely to volunteer again too soon, if at all. People like to be appreciated when they try to help, not told they did it wrong.
So, unless it’s really important, I try to just let him clean and stay out of his way. It’s easier said than done. Not because I want to criticize, but because I want to help. Not pitching in is like not doing yard work. It’s frustrating to me because I could do it, but I would end up paying a bigger price than it would be worth. So I’ve learned to accept help – a difficult lesson for a stubborn, independent woman.
There are also those few things that I’m not sure he’ll think of. He’s terrific and not like the stereotypical male who makes blondes look intelligent (no offense, blondies). He knows how to cook, clean, do laundry, all the things you look for in a man. Heck, if he hadn’t done them in his first marriage, he’d have been hungry a lot, living in a house full of dirty dishes and wearing dirty laundry. At least I can keep up with cooking, dishes and laundry!!
My ex-husband was no go-getter when it came to getting things done – in the house or in the yard! As I’ve noted before, I think he has some degree of Asperger’s Syndrome, like my son. But in those days, you just thought someone was quiet and a bit eccentric. One of the A/S qualities he had in large quantity was procrastination. A close second was lack of initiative. When you put the two together, you get a wife who has to plan everything in their mutual lives, make sure there’s food in the house and on the table, clean house and anything else that needs doing.
In the beginning, you don’t realize what’s going on. You know you have conversations with your husband – you don’t realize that you have to initiate every single one. It took two hour drive during which I decided to not speak unless spoken to as a test for me to realize that one. You know that your husband helps out around the house a bit – you just don’t realize that it’s only when you specifically request it. You know that you go places – you don’t realize that it’s only when you suggest someplace to go – and probably make all the arrangements.
After we had children, a few other things came to light. He was great with the kids when they were babies and toddlers: changed diapers, carried children, read bedtime stories and put kids to bed. Anything that was an obvious need or an everyday routine was fine. But as they grew and life became less predictable, his ability to suppress his frustrations at that diminished.
Living with my ex-husband was like having a third child, except that this one could talk (if spoken to) and reason (if pushed to). So you can imagine, after 14 years of marriage (with children aged 4 & 7), how the frustration level was for any wife. When you add my fibromyalgia, which didn’t have a name and identity at that time, to the mix, you get a really unhappy woman.
We did try counseling. I believe in commitment. He said I “nagged” him about things. Really? Like what? Yard work or taking out the trash, he said. Oh yeah, I remember. I had to push to get him to mow the lawn before the grass was 6 inches tall. And trash? We aren’t talking about taking the trash out of the trashcan in the kitchen and putting it in the cellar until the end of the week. We’re talking about taking the trash bags out of the cellar and taking them to the dump/transfer station once a week. With children, we would generate 3-4 large bags a week. I would take them to the cellar when it needed to be done. His job was to go to the dump with them. Sometimes 2 weeks would go by before they’d go … or 3 … or 6-8 once in a while!!! That’s when I would throw a fit. The cellar smelled awful. Who knew what was breeding in the pile of bags?! But that was nagging.
One day we sat at the counselor’s and I asked him, point blank, if he was willing to work (a negative word to many A/S folks) to make changes (an even more negative word for A/S folks) to improve the marriage. For once, he answered directly – NO. It’s tough for A/S folks to give you negative answers, too; they’d rather say nothing than lie or tell you something they know you won’t like. I was so relieved. Not sad. Not grieving. Relieved! Now I could get on with life without feeling like I was swimming along dragging a barge.
That’s not to say that life with an ex-husband who had A/S was a lot easier. There were many times I didn’t get child support. He wasn’t really good at budgeting. I had done that, too, in our married years. Being a single parent with two kids and no support wasn’t easy – but it was the right choice for me.
When I think about it now, I wonder why I married him in the first place. He was smart but that’s not enough. I think it was because at that time, I didn’t think I find anyone else to love me. How wrong I was. But I’ve learned over the years that I was the “better half” in that relationship. I helped him grow a little and I grew a lot. I grew so far past him that I realized he didn’t really love me – he needed me to take care of him. And I didn’t love him, really, either – though you couldn’t have told me that when I was 18 or 19.
Now I have the best husband you can imagine. He takes the initiative. He loves me and I trust that love will never go away. He plans and then executes those plans.
And he cleans house. I am so grateful. So I try to put away my stress at small things and my guilt for not helping more than I should with fibromyalgia. I use the energy and abilities I do have to show him how much I love him, instead. I believe you should do what you can and not wallow in guilt over things for which you have no control. It uses too much energy and with fibromyalgia, wasting energy is not a helpful thing.
The cleaning is just about done and so am I. Now to run a couple of errands with “the good husband.”