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Why Do I Treat a Roommate Better than My Husband?

June 21, 2018 | by Emuna Braverman

A week of rooming with my friend highlighted the discrepancy and showed me a roadmap for improvement.

The occasions I've had a roommate other than my husband over the last 35 years have been few and far between – some Shabbatons for women, a few women-only conferences in New York and two missions to Israel to be exact.

During my recent experience, I was struck by an idea that should have occurred to me years ago. I noticed how solicitous I was of my roommate's needs, how careful I was not to disturb her (and lay awake in the dark not moving or read my book sitting on the floor of the bathroom where the only light was), how I tiptoed around quietly, being ever so careful not to wake her. I noticed how patient I was when I was ready to go to breakfast before her, how calmly I waited for her to finish her preparations. I noticed that I stayed up to talk when she was in the mood even if I was falling asleep. I noticed that I usually gave her first dibs on the bathroom. And vice versa. She was as considerate (if not more so) of me as I tried to be of her.

In fact, we were so careful not to step on each other's toes that it wasn't until we were packing up to leave that we discovered that the box of cookies that had been sitting unopened on dresser all week (Why isn't she offering me any? we both wondered but were too polite to say) didn't belong to either of us!

I realized that I should be applying all these principles of consideration and thoughtfulness to my relationship with my more permanent roommate, with my husband.

Whether I'm traveling with him or even sometimes at home, I hate being up alone in the middle of the night. I try to make small noises that "might" wake him up (oops!) and I'm even (slightly) resentful when that doesn't work. If I need to read I turn on the light by my bed (yes, it's on its dimmest switch) and if he wants to talk, I frequently explain that I'm just too tired and retreat into my novel.

This week of rooming with my friend highlighted the discrepancy in my behaviors and showed me a roadmap for improvement.

It begins, like so much else, with putting his needs before mine. I could find other places to read in my home if I'm up in the night, places a lot more comfortable than the bathroom floor (!) but I want to stay in my cozy bed so I switch on that light. It's not fair to him.

He needs his sleep (in fact, according to Jewish tradition it's considered stealing to rob someone of this opportunity). Even if I'm a little anxious, stomping around the room in order to wake him up because I would like some company is not the full-credit response. Neither is it thoughtful, considerate, sensitive or even just plain nice.

If we're going somewhere and my husband has just one more thing to do before we leave, I tend to roll my eyes, adolescent-style, in exasperation. With my roommate, I just smiled good-naturedly – "No problem" – and sat down to read a book. Why can't I behave the same way at home?

Part of the answer is that I had no expectation of my recent roommate and, conversely, I have many of my husband. I was away from home and more relaxed, less pressured. I wasn't working on any deadlines and had no cooking or laundry awaiting me.

But I believe the main issue is that we think of home as a place to be comfortable versus being on our best behavior.

This is a mistake. Why should others get the best of me and my husband get only what's left? I need to flip it, to reverse my way of thinking.

I don't mean that I need to show future roommates the worst of me (!) but I do need to save my best for my life partner.

It was a great trip and I had a great roomie. Our mutually thoughtful behaviors made it work. Now I have to treat my husband at least the same way. I think I'll begin by buying my husband a sleep mask. My roommate said it really worked. And then ear plugs...

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