The Places Where We Are Nothing

I’m not a very judgmental person. Really, I’m not.

I typically understand that everyone has something going on in life that is causing a deep emotion—whether good or bad—within them that will occasionally render them rude, inconsiderate, oblivious, or all of the above, among other things. So when someone cuts in front of me, goes through the express lane with $300 worth of groceries, or otherwise commits one of life’s standard offenses, I shrug it off. (Not always, but usually.) This is true whether the person is friend, stranger, or relative. The only person who doesn’t make this list is my husband.

I am grateful—dare I say proud—that I don’t get upset easily and tend in general to be a patient and understanding person. My family of origin is made up of yellers and quick tempers. It took a while to shake that off, but I did it. These days it takes a lot to push my buttons, and once pushed, my anger isn’t even that bad. Unless my husband is the button pusher.

Let me be clear: this is not because my husband is one of those sitcom-type men who can’t figure out how to work the toaster. My husband is wonderful. He works, he parents, he plays, and he is the best writer I know. He is far more accepting of my faults than I am of his, and he loves me unconditionally.

So the fact that I am harder on him than any other person is something I’ve thought about a lot. And, obviously, have tried to change. I don’t like that I notice and dwell on every common offense committed. That I can’t turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to dirty socks or a snippy comment on a tough day. That I can’t say, like I do for perfect strangers, “it’s okay, I understand you’re under stress right now.” That I am unable to extend easy forgiveness to the love of my life.

I think I’ve finally figured out why this is: I do not recognize, other than intellectually, that we are not the same person. Now, I don’t mean we have an unhealthy co-dependent relationship. Far from it. What I mean is that I assign to him the unhealthy, perfectionist expectations that I place on myself that so many women fall victim to. If I cut someone off on the freeway, I might spend the next hour internally yelling at myself for being so thoughtless. If I say something inconsiderate, I might dwell on it for a week. I berate myself for every thing I should have done better or differently, that “should have” been perfect but wasn’t.

And because we are married, because “husband and wife become one,” I extend unhealthy and unrealistic expectations to my husband that I would never extend to anyone else, other than myself. Realizing the root of the problem won’t make me try any harder to correct it—I already try as hard as I can to “fix” this part of me. This is, of course, a Catch-22. I will feel like an imperfect failure if I can’t change my perfectionist mindset, yet I shouldn’t expect perfection because no one is perfect.

I’ve never believed that intentions are what matter: actions and results are what matter. But there does come a point where we reach the end of our own abilities. Today in church the pastor said that within all of us are places where we know ourselves to be nothing except for the grace of God. I wonder if this is one of my places. I hope not. I want to feel, deeply and sincerely, that the softened (not lowered) expectations I have of others should also apply to my husband and me.

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3 thoughts on “The Places Where We Are Nothing

  1. Pingback: Poor, Pitiful Me | jamie calloway-hanauer

  2. Thanks, Janna. I think this is, at the very least, in my top 5 list of things I work on daily and try to change. I tend to look at it from the viewpoint of, “how can I be less critical of my spouse,” but perhaps you’re right that I need to look at more from the viewpoint of “how can I be less critical of myself?” Which will then transfer to my husband. I really enjoy your blog by the way (http://jannacrist.com/). That suit piece had me nodding vigorously as I thought of the $XXXX worth of suits hanging in my closet….

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  3. Really good topic. I think a lot of people hold their spouse to a higher standard, to the same one we hold for ourselves. I think there is a law (not in the books) that says we cannot be nicer, kinder, more gentle to others than we are to ourselves. Love for ourselves always, always is equal to the love we are able to give. As soon as we try to be nicer to someone else, we will find their faults, become passive-aggressive, snipe, be irritated at the little things and on and on.

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