Thursday, July 24, 2008

It's Mostly his Stuff

On her excellent blog, "Rebellious Thought of a Woman", Laura recently wrote about the ways in which her husband took over the physical space of their home, crowding her into one small area without regard for her needs: When a House is not a Home

Coincidentally, I had just created a draft for an entry along similar lines. I had not heard of this "taking over" the house, as a feature of abusive relationships, but perhaps it is. Consideration for the other in common areas and allocation of common and private space, may mirror the dynamics of the relationship. I lobbied valiently for an equal say in the use of our house, but I finally dropped my appeals to the wisdom and benefits of joint decision making and focused on maintaining the minimum necessary toe hold for myself.

In some common areas of the house, I keep some "defensive clutter". I call it defensive clutter because it serves as a placeholder to block him from occupying 100% of the area. For example, most of the dining table is covered with his papers. I won't cede the entire table because I want to sit there to eat. I keep two piles of books on the table. When I want to eat, I move the books. When I finish, I replace them. If I were to put the books in a bookcase, he would overrun my little area.

In some areas of the house, I long ago relinquished any claim. My husband is a pack-rat and his stuff goes wherever he wants it to go. Often, he dumps it in the first room through the door - the living room. And it stays there. Even though I asked, coaxed, and bargained, the mess remained and proliferated. I could either clean it up myself or live with it. I chose the latter. I took out the few things I had in there out so they wouldn't be lost in the chaos and learned to avert my eyes from the disturbing mess upon entering the house.

From time to time, Bob inexplicably becomes suddenly upset by the presence of clutter that has been there for months. He gets frantic, as if clearing the clutter were now a matter of life and death. When he gets the impulse to deal with a longstanding problem, he expects me to be instantly available to jump in and help him, despite months of ignoring my repeated requests.

This time, it was the condition of the living room that he was suddenly obsessed with. He assumed, that it was our stuff clogging the room. Or more accurately, since there is no "our" in this so-called marriage, that it was a 50/50 combination of his stuff and my stuff.

In the old days, I would have helped him. I have helped him go through mountains of his stuff. This time I told him that I had other priorities, but if he found anything of mine in there, let me know and I would put it away.

A few hours later, he had things pretty well put away. Some of it was my stuff after all - a lipstick and an earring.

As with the living room clutter, Bob is fond of saying that that the problems in our relationship are 50/50, both overall and in any given incident. He says he will own his 50% of an argument, (like calling me a bitch), if I'll my 50% (not doing what he told me to do). So silly.

My point of view is that in a healthy relationships, each person owns 100% of their own stuff. In a particular incident, there are often joint contributions, but sometimes it really is one person's stuff. There have been incidents when it has been my stuff only, and I don't have a problem with acknowledging it. But that concept is totally foreign to Bob. He thinks the mess is always at least half mine.

It takes two to make a relationship work. It only takes one, to make it not work. One person cannot create a relationship of mutuality with a win/win orientation. If it is not a shared orientation, the person acting as if it were win-win, will lose.

Our marriage is like the living room. It's a mess. It's not half my stuff and half his stuff. It's mostly his stuff. And I can't clean it up for him.


Laura said...

Thanks for the compliment and pointer to my blog.

It's so hard to deal with this kind of madness: trying to tiptoe around his idiosyncracies (putting it nicely) in order to try to maintain some kind of normalcy. It's all absurd, trying to deal with a man for whom everything must be a testament to his ego.

I wonder if controlling men are all packrats? My ex told me that I could get rid of clothes and things we no longer use over his dead body. What? Do they have to control things and people? If they don't have things around them does that mean that they don't have power or control, for how can you control an empty table?


jennie said...

Your blog is really great Laura. I always enjoy reading it.

Interesting question about pack-rats and control. I've heard of controllers who are extreme neat freaks too. That type insists that other members of the household must, for example, fold towels the "right" way, i.e. their way, or be abused.

Avi said...

I have definitely experienced this. I always felt the pain of being "dematerialized" in our "home". Hmmm, maybe that's why my office is such a mess, I do after all need to keep my stuff somewhere.

It took me until just a few days ago to think of this "dematerialized" as perhaps one more way in which my "wife" has been controlling me.

Anonymous said...
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jennie said...

Most men don't realize how important it is to women that they help with the housework. Have you heard the term "choreplay"?

Maybe you will have opportunities now to show that you really pitch in when it comes to dealing with the mundane details of taking care of the kids.

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