The art of patience in a marriage

Corinthians says love is patient. But patience takes on many surprising forms in your real-life love.

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“Everything magically shows up on the table: a tea, a sandwich and a TV remote. And who is the good fairy? I am, of course,” says Julia. But her husband is no Romeo. More like Ronaldo, she jokes, as her husband Greg is a soccer fan.

Once a week Greg goes to the supermarket and does their grocery shopping. All of the other domestic issues are on Julia’s to-do list. “I am not a perfect housewife, but with two small children and full time work, even the bare minimum takes a lot. But Greg doesn’t see that. His mom raised three children and never complained. But me? I want to scream, even throw plates. (Of course I am the one cleaning it up … so what does it matter?)”

But that doesn’t mean Julia doesn’t try to be patient in her marriage. “Love is patient, so says my beloved letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, and so I am ashamed that I lack that patience. I don’t mean angelic patience,” she sadly smiles. “I would just like Greg to help me a bit more, but that’s not how he was raised. To this day his father doesn’t know which cabinet he can find tea in.”

But lack of patience is not necessarily something to be ashamed of. Unjust division of household chores, on the other hand, certainly is. In Julia’s case, there practically isn’t any division. Greg once a week becomes a brave shopper and bodybuilder who brings groceries home and is convinced that he has fulfilled his duty and is free till next Saturday. But when a wife also has a job outside of the home, her husband should not only help, but also take equal responsibility for housework.

Patience is teamwork, not martyrdom

You and your husband live in your home, but sometimes you probably behave as if you were in a hotel, and sometimes as though you are the cleaning staff for that hotel. Both can have bad results. It’s easy to feel as though your husband and kids are customers at the hotel restaurant, while you are the chef, the sous-chef, the server and the washer. Sometimes someone will bring forks and knives or a missing glass and you sigh with happiness at such a wonderful family dinner. But you are so tired that on some nights, all it takes for you to blow up is one disapproving look or a small comment about the burnt veggies. You never sat down today, are operating on little sleep, and criticism is the last thing you have the, well, patience for.

If Julia wants to be in a partnership, she should behave like a partner.”

This kind of patience dynamic can be the cause of great stress and interfere with family relations. Anyone who is feeling stretched too thin can be grumpy, but instead of falling into the “irritable wife” trope that pops up in so many comics and TV shows, you can do things to change the way your marriage tackles chores. You can integrate your husband into your home life, rather than silently (or not so silently) stewing. Try not to play the role of a martyr because too often, that role comes off as more of a tyrant than anything else. Because if you do everything alone, you also make lots of the household decisions alone.

And patience is the power behind the logistics of that partnered domestic life. If Julia wants to be in a partnership, she should behave like a partner. So instead of fuming after the fact, give him opportunities to engage. Let him propose something to cook for dinner, or figure out how to reorganize your overly cluttered entryway. It will help him feel like a part of the decision making team.

Even better? Give yourself a day off, and let him run the show once in a blue moon. Step out of the role of family manager, supervisor or sanitation department personnel. Everyone needs a short vacation from being mom every once in a while. A little rest and relaxation can do wonders for any family.

Patience is letting someone else drive

Every woman would like to have less responsibilities, but at the same time she has a hard time abdicating and creating a democracy at home. “Let me do it,” we say, and cheerfully take over, because we will do it faster and better. There is no time for education–the day is only 24 hours long. Or, maybe we could find the time, but we lack the patience.

Learn to let go. Symbolically move to the passenger seat, next to the driver. Give the man the place that used to be your territory.

But, be warned: Sometimes it happens that your man starts to help … and things get worse. The bathroom is sort of cleaned. He is pleased, thinking he even rearranged something in the medicine cabinet. But you see that the bathtub is not shiny. So you frown. But when that happens, your husband will feel like he failed, and no longer want to help.

Try to remember that not everything has to be done immediately and in the same way as always. Some therapists call this emotional freedom: accepting that things don’t always have to be done your way. They can be done worse or slower, but as long as they get done, why are you fretting? If you accept it, you’ll find less fatigue, less stress and a better relationship with your husband.

Patience is resisting the urge to reprimand

Too many spouses fall into the pattern of thinking patience should be delivered in the tone of a teacher reprimanding a weak student: “How many times do I have to tell you? You were supposed to change the tires to winter ones,” you might say. “If you had thought about it earlier, we wouldn’t have to freeze at the bus stop now. But football is more important to you than our health, I guess.” (It isn’t pretty, I know, we can all be snarky with our spouses sometimes.)

Do these comments encourage a husband to correct his behavior and to work together with you? Of course not. They are more likely to irritate or numb him. And they’ll keep you at your managerial post of the one who knows better, the one who foresees … and also the one who feels more and more lonely, angry and tired. Instead, try to phrase things without the scold in your voice. “I really need your help on this. Can you write it down or put a reminder in your phone to go tomorrow?” Don’t get me wrong, those words might not be easy to say, but being patient isn’t easy. It’s something we have to work at.

Patience is a reward for patience

St. Augustine in his Confessions wrote that patience is rewarded with patience. Because being patient is the ability to wait without experiencing unnecessary anger, showing discouragement or the desire to correct. You want him to do better next time – so don’t do it for him. Don’t criticize, correct, or show yourself as the better one.

Patience does not have to be a destructive act of sacrifice. It can build a better relationship where he is more patient with you, too. Patience isn’t the key to a perfect marriage, but it is one of the steps toward deeper love … and that’s crucial to any family, whether it’s full of forgotten, half-done household chores or not.

Zyta Rudzka
Zyta Rudzka
Zyta graduated from the Academy of Catholic Theology with a psychology degree. She was winner of the Gdynia Drama Prize for her drama, “Cold Buffet.” The television version of her play, “The Sugar Bra,” won a gold medal at the prestigious Worldfest Independent Film Festival in Houston. Her works have been translated into German, Russian, English, Croatian, Italian, Czech, French, and Japanese.

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