Complaining and Marriage

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My beloved husband of 30 years pointed out this week that I was complaining. A lot. Bitching. Moaning. Criticizing. Yes, he is right, and no, it isn’t pretty. Oh, I have my reasons: We have both been battling a stomach bug. Thanksgiving was wonderful but now there is the reality of getting the house back in order, finishing year-end paperwork for the business, and the mountain of laundry from myriad house guests. There’s more: In the last 2 months we moved to a new house, and someone tried to file a fraudulent tax return with our information, complicating said move. There has been a fender bender, dead car batteries, and two major plumbing problems, complete with one shady restoration company. The stove and heater both went blooey the same week. You, know. Life.

“It is not the mountain ahead that wears you out but the grain of sand in your shoe,” said Robert Service. So none of this is terrible, none of this is life threatening, just endlessly irritating, like pebbles in a hiking boot. I try to count my blessings every day, but here is the thing: For almost all of my adult life I have gotten through rough patches by turning to food. It has soothed me, buoyed me, numbed me, mellowed me, stuffed down uncomfortable feelings for me, and entertained me…. No wonder it has been so very hard to change my relationship with it.

A friend of mine used to work in an inpatient eating disorder unit and he told me that new therapists always made the same rookie mistake: They wanted to diagnose almost every new patient with Borderline Personality Disorder. This rather damning diagnosis is what people’s crazy looks like when you quite dramatically take away access to their drug of choice and then lay heavy-duty therapy on them. There is simply no place to hide from uncomfortable feelings. Old ways of coping (binging, starving, purging) are not available, so yeah, everyone is nuts for a while.

I have had the luxury of taking this thing slow. As the year is coming to an end I have lost about a pound a week. This pace has given me time to learn how to deal with feelings without diving headfirst into a bag of Hershey’s kisses or a giant (giant!!) plate of creamy pasta. I said when I started this blog that I was determined to explore how life really could be better in my 50s and beyond. Learning to face feelings without stuffing has led me to journal, walk, talk to friends, blog, and exercise. When I am at my best, it is so much easier to ride out uncomfortable feelings without turning to food. This has, indeed, made my life so very much better.

But when I am overly tired, sick and overwhelmed I tend to complain. To be honest, I still complained a lot over those feelings even when I was stuffing my face. I think it will be very hard to stay on this path if I don’t tackle what makes me so uncomfortable in the first place.

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So when my husband told me that he couldn’t understand why I was complaining so much, and that quite frankly, he was tired of it, I just listened. I took a deep breathe and said, “You are right (this is what a guy wants to hear almost as much as: Race you to the bedroom!). I will work on it.” Because one of the lovely things about a 30-year marriage is that your partner holds up a mirror for you, shows you all of your beauty, and all that is not so beautiful. You see more clearly because he or she is willing to hold up the looking-glass and say: See? See How You Are? After all this time, no one knows me better, no one has my back more than he. I am trying to pay attention and to remember that that kind of feedback is a gift.

There is something else, though. I whine and complain a lot instead of saying no. Instead of setting boundaries. I agree to something I really don’t want to do, then feel complain-y and put-upon. No one has made me do this, and no one has the power to stop this but me. Change to contemplate for the new year: What do I need to let go of? Will I complain less, eat less, if I say, “No” more often? Trust me, I will be writing more about this new possibility.

 

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