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Playing the Martyr

January 29, 2017 | by Emuna Braverman

I’ve been violating every marriage and parenting principle I know.

I know better. I know that our husbands (and our children!) are not mind readers. I know that if I want something done I need to ask for it very clearly. I know that if I want a particular present I need to be very specific (emailing the link always helps). I know that I can’t take anything for granted and that, after expressing my needs, I should be appreciative when they are met.

Not only do I know these things but I have developed a whole series of classes on marriage, confidently telling new and not-so-new brides the importance of this insight.

Then why did I find myself yelling at my husband the other morning? “Why is it always me?” I complained. “Doesn’t anyone else notice that the dryer is full, the dishes need to be washed, the floor swept, the table scrubbed, the beds made?” I ranted. And I wasn’t finished. “It’s not fair,” I moaned like a two year-old, “I have to do everything around here. It’s unpleasant to wake up in the morning to all these chores…”

And, in fact, it is. But my tantrum didn’t help. Well, actually it did – briefly. My husband promptly made the bed (who knew so much creativity could be brought to bear in such a mundane activity?!) and emptied the dishwasher (yes, I’m lucky I have one) – that day. He’s been regularly tossing the clothes in the dryer, only to have me scream that those items were meant to be hung up! And he’s been trying to help. But of course I’m not satisfied – because it’s never enough. And I’m not appreciative – because why shouldn’t he do his share?

Okay, I exaggerate – but only slightly. I’m ashamed of my behavior. I’ve been acting like a spoiled brat. I’ve been violating every marriage and parenting principle I know. And I’ve been justifying it out of some misguided sense of self-righteousness.

But the truth is that if I decide to play the martyr, I only have myself to blame (contrary to popular belief it is not in the Jewish female DNA!). I’ve allowed myself to fall into a trap of self-pity and self-destructive behavior. This is not about my husband or children; this is about me.

I actually have a very helpful husband – but since his vision of household needs and imperatives doesn’t always coincide with mine, I need to give him direction if I want something done. That is not a lot to ask. Honestly, how could I expect him to know otherwise? Or care?

I frequently note that, while I like the towels in the bathroom to be neatly straightened after use, it is irrelevant to him. It’s like I’m speaking a different language. I recognize that and I never struggle with him over it. Why are these other issues different?

The truth is that they are not. Part of the issue is my own compulsion to get things done the moment I get up or on my schedule. If I were more patient, I could get more help. I might just have to wait for it. This is a classic situation (right ladies?). And so I have to choose – do it myself on my time – and grumble or have someone else do it later on their time – and grumble!

Actually I have to choose the non-grumbling alternative. And I have to change my morning perspective. Every day Jews wake up and thank the Almighty for returning our souls to us, for the chance for a fresh start and the opportunity to face the new day’s challenges. I can keep my focus there or on the dishes and the laundry. I can be grumpy or cheerful, feel taken advantage of or focus on all the good in my life, play the martyr or be grateful for my home and family.

I do know better. And it’s time to act like it.

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