Being Nice To My Wife Is Not A "Survival Mechanism"

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

My wife is long used to being disappointed in me. I think most marriages are, if the people are honest.
Not the big disappointments. If you’re disappointed in your spouse’s fidelity, or their trustworthiness, or their support, then usually that marriage is gonna collapse like a deflating hot air balloon.  Those are worth getting really mad about.  But any normal co-existence is studded with little disappointments like:
“Did you remember to pick up the rubbing alcohol on the way home?” “…shit.”
“You watched that show? But I told you I wanted to see it with you!” “…shit.”
“You went to my favorite take-out fried chicken joint in the world, and didn’t bring any back for me?” “…shit.”
And yesterday, I almost – almost – committed that crime.  I went to Hot Chicken Takeover, which is quite literally the best fried chicken I’ve ever had, a place so good that there’s a 200-person line at 10:00 on a Sunday morning and the chicken is usually gone by noon.  I stood in that line with a friend, ate my chicken, and then realized in horror that I’d forgotten to get takeout for Gini.
So I went back and got some more.  Then posted this status:


And the interesting thing was the number of friends responding across the social media platforms with something like, “That doesn’t seem like love. That seems like a survival instinct, so she doesn’t kill you.”  And I’m uncomfortable and then baffled by that.
I’m uncomfortable because – even though I do it sometimes – that whole “My God, my wife will kill me” joke plays into a stereotype that normalizes male abuse and trivializes women’s power.  Basically, it’s a gag that springs from the whole idea that women are so powerless that they can’t really hurt a guy, and so it’s okay to discuss disproportionate fatal rage that springs from a lack of take-out chicken.
(Don’t believe me? Switch the genders. It’s a little more uncomfortable to joke that it might be a “survival instinct” for a wife to not forget to bring home the chicken to her male husband.)
And given that it’s hard to say just how prevalent female-on-male domestic abuse is, simply because so many men are ashamed to be “unmanly”, and because that “the wife will kill me joke” can wind up being toxic, I’m a little tentative to just nod and smile with it.  (Even if said jokes are often made by both feminists and whatever we’re calling anti-feminists this week.)
Yet even aside from my social concerns, I have personal concerns about how dangerous that line of thought is.
The proper survival technique to survive disproportionate rage is to lie.  It would have been nothing to say, “Aww, by the time we got to the front of the line, they’d sold out.”  I wouldn’t have gotten in hot water, and Gini wouldn’t spend the day fuming what a fucking idiot, how could you do that to me, and I’d still have a belly full of delicious chicken.  If your partner is really going to fly off the rails for trivial things, then they don’t encourage honesty: they encourage subterfuge.
But Gini wouldn’t have been mad.  She’s reasonable.  She understands mistakes will happen, particularly when I’m running on four hours’ sleep after a long convention, facing a two-hour drive home.  If I’d come back without any Hot Chicken Takeover, she would sigh, and be sad, and get over it.
And in our relationship – and, again, I think most sane ones – it hurts me a lot more when I see my wife sadly accepting than when she’s yelling.  Yelling gets me defensive; seeing her sad thinks Oh, fuck, my life’s goal here is to make her happy, and I just did… not… that… thing.
(I get very nonverbal when I realize I’ve fucked up.)
And if I had forgotten, there could be two outcomes:
The next time I’m at Hot Chicken Takeover, I’d remember Gini screaming at me for an hour when I got home without the chicken.  And everyone, bafflingly, seems to think that fury and shame is a great incentive – as witness Donald Trump’s candidacy – but really what happens for me is that I see Hot Chicken Takeover and I feel that defensive anger welling up inside me again, and my fear has a battle with my resentment, and I think, She yelled at me, I don’t wanna reward that bitch with chicken.
And maybe I get her the chicken, if fear wins.  Or maybe I skip getting chicken entirely because now my chicken’s now tainted with the unpleasant reek of verbal abuse.  Or maybe – just maybe – I go get one over on Gini by getting my chicken, and lying about it, and feeling like I’ve secretly gotten my victory in here.
But the outcome that happens here is that when I get to Hot Chicken Takeover, I think, my wife was so understanding of what happened last time.  She looked so sad.  And it’s a pretty shitty way of rewarding her for being so nice by forgetting again.  And now, in getting the Hot Chicken Takeover – and I swear I wasn’t paid for this advertisement – I become not a convict being forced to provide services, but a fucking hero in a redemption story.
By bringing her the Hot Chicken Takeover, I become a better person, and my wife becomes more loved, and that is so more win-win than any bullshit “survival mode” framing.
And yeah, there are oblivious people who don’t ever think about their partner’s needs and need to be shamed and yelled at and banged around before they’ll listen to you.  But I tend to think that someone who needs major overhaul work before they can remember the little things like chicken is gonna be even harder to teach when it comes to major things like fidelity and trustworthiness and support, and the question is – as it always is when seeking long-term relationships – “Do you want to spend years of your life trying to teach someone who’s not fundamentally compatible with you to be compatible, or would it be better to spend years of your life looking for someone who you don’t have to scream at so they remember your preferences?”
In any case, no.  It’s not a survival mechanism.  Gini would forgive me a tray of fried chicken, as she’s forgiven so much in life before.
The real survival mechanism is realizing that her acceptance of my flaws means I should do better. And I do. And she does. For there are days she forgets my fried chicken, and I hug her and tell her that’s all right.
The end result? We have a lot of fried chicken, and a lot more love.
 

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