Lessons about marriage from an early morning hunt for clean socks.
I wasn’t a happy man Monday morning.
It was one of my usual mornings to go to the gym, but I had a problem: I couldn’t find any socks. I looked in my dresser drawer. None. I rummaged through some of yesterday’s dirty laundry in the hopes that I could recycle an old pair. No luck. Finally I managed to find a fresh pair after digging through one or two baskets of clean clothes that hadn’t been put away yet.
During the ordeal (which really only lasted a few minutes), I found myself getting frustrated, even angry. I just wanted to be able to get to the gym and do my workout, and precious minutes were ticking by while I ransacked the house looking for a simple pair of socks.
And who was I angry with? My sleeping wife. I wasn’t angry because she was asleep while I was looking for socks. I was upset because if she had just done a better job of keeping up with the laundry over the weekend, there would be clean socks in my drawer and I wouldn’t have to waste time hunting for them.
In other words, I was selfishly thinking that I shouldn’t have to deal with this problem because my wife should have done a better job taking care of things.
Should and shouldn’t. Whenever we find these words cropping up in our internal monologue, they serve as clues that we’re dealing with (probably unhealthy) expectations. “She should have done this. I shouldn’t have to put up with that.” Expectations are often rooted in pride or an inflated sense of our own importance and are a quick route to disappointment, frustration, and anger. Unmet expectations can be a huge cause of friction in any relationship, but perhaps especially in marriage.
Getting back to yesterday morning. When I realized what I was unconsciously thinking, my anger deflated pretty quickly. The previous day had been Sunday. We had been to two church services (morning and evening), and the afternoon in between had been short. We have four kids ages six and under, so there’s no shortage of responsibilities to claim our attention.
In other words, who was I to get upset that my wife hadn’t been able to manage all of that and make sure I had clean socks in my drawer? In getting angry—albeit briefly—I had revealed the arrogance of my heart by thinking that I shouldn’t have to deal with something because my wife should have done more. God, in His grace, revealed this wrong thinking to me and I was able to move on in a better frame of mind instead of holding onto the anger and frustration.
(By the way, lest anyone reading this scold me for thinking the laundry is my wife’s job, I do try to help with it. And I didn’t spend my Sunday afternoon in front of the TV while my wife cooked dinner, did the dishes, and took care of the kids. We were both fruitfully occupied most of the afternoon—just not taking care of the laundry!)
My point in sharing all of this is threefold.
First, we all need to be aware of our expectations and manage them carefully. Expectations are tricky things, and as I noted earlier, they can cause enormous friction in our relationships. Beware of those words should and shouldn’t. I should get to do this. He shouldn’t have done that. I shouldn’t have to put up with this. She should have treated me differently. Even if your expectations are essentially reasonable (unlike mine yesterday morning), you can’t control what others do. Fuming about unmet expectations and allowing them to ruin our day is neither profitable for us nor helpful for our relationships. We should either forgive it, or find a constructive way to communicate about it. (And if a relationship is in serious trouble, outside help may be in order.)
Second, we would all do well to pay more attention to our internal monologue.1 We all talk to ourselves every day. Sometimes we tell ourselves the truth, but too often we don’t. My internal monologue yesterday morning, rooted in pride, was telling me that I shouldn’t have to deal with this problem. That was a lie, and the sooner we can catch ourselves in these lies and correct them with the truth, the better off we’ll be. Pay attention to what you’re telling yourself, and start replacing lies with truth!
Lastly, a word to other husbands out there. Let’s face it: most of us wouldn’t want to trade places with our wives and deal with everything they do on a daily basis (especially if you have young children!). Even if you’re a great guy and provide ample help with household tasks, chances are pretty good that your wife takes care of more things on a given day than you imagine. So let’s give them grace and not get ourselves worked up about the small stuff.
Including missing gym socks.
1For more on this topic, see Learning to Tell Myself the Truth by William Backus. In his chapter on anger, he shares more extensively about expectations and paying attention to words such as should, ought, etc.