This is part two of this piece.
After months of feeling angry with her husband for not sharing the load of housework during lockdown, she finally took a new approach: using love and self-change, instead of anger and blame.
She realised she was facing two different problems. The first was the physical burden of increased housework. Conditioned after years of male privilege to just sit back and expect someone else to do all the cooking, cleaning and chores, her typical Indian husband hadn’t so far made any attempt to do his bit in the absence of domestic helpers, and it had all fallen on her to pick up the pieces. She also had a full-time career of her own, and so the increased burden drained her, and she was physically exhausted.
The second problem was the emotional burden of decreased self-care and lack of love. Since she was arguing with her husband all the time, love and romance had flown out the window, and bedtime was more about sullen remonstrations rather than the affectionate cuddles and playful flirtations that had nourished her in the past.
She developed a four-part strategy to address both issues.
Positive reinforcement: Looking back at the parenting techniques she had used over the years for her kids, she decided to use positive reinforcement with her husband as well. When he did do a chore, however rare it was, she congratulated him as she would a little child, even rewarding him with hugs and kisses. Initially, this felt strange and regressive to her, but that’s when the second step of her strategy came into play.
React with love not anger: Since she had committed to self-change, she began to observe her feelings and the sensations in her body. Each time she felt annoyed with her husband, she programmed herself to ‘turn off the anger switch’ and ‘turn on the love switch’ in her head. As a result, her responses towards him mellowed down, their conversations became more constructive instead of heated, and his responses towards her changed from avoidance to engagement.
Ask and ye shall receive: One of the things she’d learnt about husbands was that they didn’t pick up verbal hints or body language cues (except for sex) and needed to be told in clear terms what was expected of them. And if they had successfully solved relationship issues in the past, it was due to clear communication. Why was she sulking now, instead? What did she really want?
She happened to watch a documentary in which older couples talked about their long marriages. She noticed how much they cared for one another, asking the other to speak first, treating the other as the most important person in the world. “I miss this,” she mourned. “I miss being the centre of his world, his queen.”
So she decided to train him to be caring. Every time she felt the need for love, she told him, “Ask me how I am feeling,” or, “Ask me what I want to eat today,” or, “Ask me how my day was.” He dutifully did so, and both of them realised how even a small, simple gesture could effectively satisfy one’s human need for love and care.
Mind your own work: One of her greatest flaws, she realised, was her tendency to take on others’ work. If her husband didn’t do his share of the dishes and cooking, or was late, she’d do it herself out of frustration. But now she completely stopped doing so. Better late than never, she decided, and stopped minding his business for him. It worked. He showed up.
And that’s how their home was a calmer and more loving space for the rest of the lockdown.
Lead representative photo: Ketut Subiyanto / Pexels. First published in eShe’s August 2020 issue