If you’re like most couples, you spent a lot of time together over the holidays. Togetherness has been a consistent trend for the past 10 months, but it really seemed to accelerate right at the end of the year. Don’t you think? The Christmas Eve to post-New Year’s break was a seemingly endless string of days holding two questions: What day of the week is it? And, is it too early to start drinking? The answers of course being: who cares and absolutely not.
With all this time together, perhaps you and your dear spouse encountered a few moments of eye-rolling or general irritation. I can vouch for that in my own marriage as we debated multiple plans and somehow did both more and less than we intended.
My husband and I like to think we are (basically) experts in recognizing the conditions where "marital irritation" is most likely to occur. Mostly in our own relationship, but we’ve seen our fair share in others as well.
One time, while watching a couple in a heated debate at our local climbing zone, we coined a satirical infomercial for a product called Maritol. It went something like this: “Is your spouse bothering you? Sure, they all are! Try applying a dose of Maritol to relieve all of your marital irritation. Also available in a lower dosage for those still dating, called Datitol.” Since that time, “Maritol” has become code for “look out, there’s about to be fireworks!”
It doesn’t take a medical degree to diagnose marital irritation. One can self-diagnose, peer-diagnose and even diagnose strangers under the right conditions. We currently have the labs working on an extra-strength pill and accompanying ointment for extreme cases of MI (the approved acronym for marital irritation). Unfortunately, the patent and FDA approval process is long. So in the meantime, here are a few suggestions if you’re experiencing any symptoms of annoyance, frustration or irritation toward your spouse.
Start by assuming positive intent. If that doesn’t work, try sarcasm. In the heat of the moment, the smallest things can turn a flicker of frustration into an oilfield flare. When that happens, try to take a deep breath. Imagine the other person probably had good intentions, even if the outcome is not desirable (like getting your pull-behind-trailer stuck in a drive-thru liquor store...hypothetically speaking). If you just can’t bring yourself to see their good intentions, try bringing a dose of good ol’ self-deprecating humor. We have found it is always better to direct sarcasm at yourself instead of your partner. Try something like, “I bet this happens ALL the time. It’s a wonder they don’t have a sign saying, ‘No 25-foot trailers in the ice-covered-drive-thru,” or “Honey, do you remember where we packed the Maritol? I can’t find it anywhere.”
Blankets are great. Blanket statements are not. I strongly discourage using catch phrases like, “Don’t worry, everything will be OK,” or, “I just need you to trust me.” Nothing breeds doubt faster than a partner with undue or insincere confidence. Instead, say something genuine and a little bit surprising, like: “I’m trying not to resent you, it’s just not going very well,” or, “What’s your score on the anger versus contempt scale? I’m sitting at a 7 and a 9.” If you prefer a more proactive approach, you can also examine the situation for something useful to do: Make a warm meal, find the beer cooler, build a fire, etc. Then say something like, “Look, I got you a random act of kindness.”
Turn off autocorrect. Sometimes your spouse might have a different way of approaching and solving a problem than you would. For example, the time they successfully tied down all the bikes to the camper using a single piece of rope because they couldn’t get the finicky tie-downs to work. Or the time they managed to get the entire family packed and ready for a camping trip without you (even if they did only bring bacon, martini glasses and s'mores). In these moments of dismay we can be tempted to give an autocorrect response like, “That’s not how you…” or, “I thought I told you…” Don’t do it. It’s a sure way to end up with high levels of MI. Instead, say something like, “Wow, what a creative solution,” or “Thanks honey, s’mores for dinner sounds lovely.”
See, it’s not so hard after all! With the holiday break behind you, it might just be time to start thinking about a weekend getaway or a spring break adventure with the spouse you love so much. Just be sure you have plenty of Maritol in the camper.
The concepts in this article are the fodder for the podcast “Maritol, Adventure Therapy for Marital Irritation,” co-hosted by Mandy and her husband, Brian. You can find it on their website www.granolaandgasoline.com or on Apple podcasts.