NYR 19-10: “Have A Morning Routine.” Part 2: Out With The Old.

My Morning Routine has come a long way in the past twenty years. Which is saying a lot; after all, it took a lot of work to put this getup together every morning:

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It might be helpful to go back and review a brief history of David’s Morning Routines:

  • Elementary school. I have a vague memory of my dad helping me develop morning habits involving a list with boxes to check and some sort of reward system. Stickers, toys… even money perhaps? I’m hazy on the details but I do remember 1) that it worked, and 2) that I had an alarm clock with two settings, one which I called “the beezer” which was the most terrible sound imaginable, and another which turned on the radio to Magic 96.1 which was more fun but not as effective. Breakfast: Apple Cinnamon Cheerios.
  • Middle School. Somewhere along the way the wheels fell off. Way off. There was never, ever enough sleep. Personal hygiene suffered as I focused all of my efforts toward staying in bed as long as possible. At one point I remember my dad waking me up and telling me to shower. I went to the bathroom, turned on the shower, wet my hair under the faucet so that it looked like I showered, put on my clothes, and went back to bed… setting a twenty minute alarm and waking up with a strong odor, wrinkly clothes and formidable bed-head. Nothing a little Old Spice a big glob of L.A. Looks hair gel couldn’t fix. Girlfriends were inexplicably in short supply. Breakfast: Kellogg’s Low Fat Granola With Raisins. I devoured this stuff for years and as I’m typing this I can still taste it. I remember spending many a morning mindlessly reading the back of the box while I ate.
  • High School. Hygiene improved, but sleep took a backseat in favor of AOL Instant Messenger and a killer lineup on [adult swim] including Space Ghost, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and Family Guy (a show which, were it not for [adult swim], you might never have even heard of). I slept through an astonishing number of my classes (including this incident) and in retrospect it’s weird how normal I thought this was. Breakfast: Still eating the Granola, still reading the box. Actually here’s a picture of it – apparently these are selling on Amazon for over $50 and I’m not entirely sure what’s going on:
  • College. Free to pick my own schedule, I rarely attended classes before 11 a.m. This didn’t result in getting more sleep, but staying out later. Drinking the night before became the new norm, and the line between hungover and perpetual tiredness began to blur. Classes got harder and I started to normalize my schedule a bit to compensate. BreakfastQuaker Apples and Cinnamon Oatmeal, V8 Juice, and Lipton Powdered Green Tea shaken up in a Deer Park bottle. Very weird… not exactly sure how this nutritional profile fell together. Went through several roommates who all complained about empty V8 cans lying around the house. I ended up marrying the last roommate.
  • Young Adult. Habits normalized further in order to navigate 9-5 jobs and not fall asleep at various desks. I began to dabble with meditation and working out in the mornings, although not on the weekends as Friday and Saturday nights are still spent staying out late. But that was OK, because on Saturday and Sunday I could sleep in as long as I wanted because I hadn’t stumbled into the next phase…
  • Dad. Drinking spiked, and then plummeted when I realize that “recovery time” was now unreliable at best and nonexistent at worst. I began setting alarms earlier, and babies still interrupted them. Working out became a privilege that I actually looked forward to whenever I could make it happen. Paradoxically, the stage of my life where my time has been the most limited ended up being my most productive phase yet, both personally and professionally. I don’t know how to explain it, other than the fact that nothing makes you want to get your shit together quite like having a kid. Sleep becomes more precious than gold, even more precious than the middle school days. Breakfast: 16/8 intermittent fasting – water and the blackest of coffee, nothing more.

As you can see, my road to developing an effective Morning Routine hasn’t been a smooth one. It’s had ups and downs and is still very much a work in progress. And my current routine still doesn’t happen every day – for example, this morning’s “morning routine” consisted of waking up at 5 a.m. and scrambling to get the family to LaGuardia to catch an early morning flight.

The idea here isn’t to develop a rigid system where I feel like I’ve failed if I don’t do everything consistently. It’s to develop a default setting where I wake up most mornings with intention, and with a little bit of time to work on myself each day. That word “intention” is important. It can be easy to look at the data I’ve tracked so far and assume this is a series about getting up earlier. It’s not – as far as I’m concerned an effective Morning Routine can start at 4 a.m. or 11 a.m. but it has to start with intention. That’s why overcoming the snooze button is so important.

Because my alarm clock is more than just a suggestion – it’s a promise to myself. And I’ve come to find that the key to personal growth of any kind is keeping those promises.

NYR 19-10: “Have a Morning Routine.” Part 1 – Q&A.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been writing this blog for as long as it takes to make a baby. That’s crazy!

I’ve gotten a few questions from readers over the past nine months. I try to answer all of them, and I’ve always thought it would be fun to go back through and do a Q&A post. So recently I scrolled through my emails, texts, and direct messages and started gathering questions to see if any of the answers I gave might be useful to the rest of my readers. And that’s when I stumbled upon a question that, somehow, slipped through the cracks. I completely missed it and never responded.

Well here at New Year’s Revolutionary we take our reader questions very seriously, and so I’m going to answer it now in New Year’s Revolutionary’s first ever reader Q&A post!

*Ahem*

This question came from my good friend Holland (in New York City, y’all!) on December 3, 2018:

(Dear David): How do you find the time to blog so hard???

That’s a great question Holland (and sorry for the delay in getting back to you). I’ve been blogging pretty hard the past few months, and finding the time isn’t always easy.

First, let’s talk about how much time of a time commitment the blog actually is. I spend a lot of time on content development, but it’s hard to say how much exactly – it varies wildly and is sort of happening all the time (ex. going to the gym, reading books, developing work habits, learning new things). As I mentioned in my very first post, one nice thing about blogging about Personal Development is that, ideally, “developing content” is really just trying to develop yourself and being honest about it.

For the writing portion, the first draft takes about an hour. If I don’t completely hate it the next day, then editing might take another thirty minutes. If I do hate it and feel like it needs a complete rewrite, it’s usually faster the second time because I’ve learned a good bit from the first pass and have a better idea of where I think it should go.

Overall, I’d say the writing takes about two to three hours a week. Which doesn’t sound like much, but those hours can be pretty elusive. In particular, it can be hard to find chunks of time larger than an hour, and if I try to write in smaller increments I lose efficiency.

Finding the time is hard! Work, chores, kids, all big time commitments. The kids in particular are kind of a wild card – sometimes they can be very forgiving and take long naps (like right now), but other times they are up and about during all hours of the day and night demanding my attention (like when I wrote this other post).

I wish I could tell you that I have a perfect, consistent process, but that’s just not the case. I write on planes, in bed, on the bus, on the balcony late at night, at our kitchen table early in the morning. I write whenever I can.

So how do I find the time? One thing that’s helped: developing a Morning Routine which allows for thirty minutes to an hour to myself every day. This time isn’t dedicated to writing specifically (although I definitely get a lot of my writing done in the morning). It’s better thought of as a pressure-release valve for my personal development goals in general. Sometimes the time goes towards working out, sometimes it’s reading, sometimes it’s meditating, but the point is it’s me time. And on the mornings where I pull it off, I find that it gets my head right for the rest of the day.

Which isn’t every morning. This is definitely a work in progress; however, when I first took a step back and evaluated the way I spend my time in the morning, I discovered one particular piece of low-hanging fruit that needed to change: I had to get control over the snooze button.

This year, my Morning Routine NYR is pretty simple:

“In 2019, I will measure and track the time I spend snoozing.”

More specifically, I will track 1) the time my alarm goes off, and 2) the time I actually get out of bed, and try to do this for 80% of the days of the year (292 days). You can see my progress here.

Bad news: I’m almost out of gimmies (I’ll have to record my snooze time pretty much every morning for the rest of the year to reach my goal). Good news is I’ve got some pretty helpful data. As I’m writing this post…

  • I’ve recorded my snooze time 209 days in 2019.
  • My average alarm time is 5:30 a.m.
  • My average awake time is 5:42 a.m.
  • My average time spent snoozing is 11 minutes and 39 seconds.
  • Based on a prior year sample, that’s an improvement of ten minutes per day from 2018, which translates to about 60 hours over the course of a year.

That’s about an hour a week, which is enough time to write that first draft.

Or read a chapter or two of a book. Or plan my week. Or just enjoy a cup of coffee by myself. There are many more opportunities to make time for yourself that we’ll get into later this month, but if you’re looking to make a change and currently hitting the snooze button, that’s a good place to start.

Thanks for the questions – keep them coming!

NYR 19-09: “Be A Better Spouse.” Part 4 – Cleaning the Car.

Last week’s post was fun to write, but I’m having trouble making a smooth transition from writing a heartfelt love letter to my wife to talking about… wait what were we talking about again? Oh right. Cleaning the car. Well, let’s get on with it.

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Why did I pick cleaning the car as my NYR? Well as we talked about in Part 3, my wife’s Love Language is “Acts of Service.” So I figured doing something for Liz is where I’m going to get the best return on investment for my efforts.

And I thought of other things I could do, mostly involving taking care of annoying household tasks. Dishes, laundry, trash came to mind. But all three of these are tasks we generally share. When I tried to turn these tasks into NYR’s and come up with some sort of metric to measure progress (ex. number of nights where, prior to going to bed, all dishes are put away) I would run into weird situations where my wife would be starting to do the dishes and I would tell her to stop because that’s my NYR. I think it’s helpful to work out who does what around the house for certain tasks (Ex. I take out trash, Liz vacuums), but for tasks that we’re already sharing pretty well it seemed unnecessary to just take it on myself.

No, what I needed was to take on a task that nobody was doing. And that’s where the car comes in. Liz doesn’t clean the car, I don’t clean the car, nobody cleans the car.

I mean eventually somebody cleans the car. My father-in-law sometimes cleans the car. Every once in a while we pay a high-school kid at Autobell to clean the car. And if someone outside of our immediate family is going to be riding in the car then one of us will step up if things are really, really bad. But for the most part the car just remains unclean.

And to be fair, we live in a condo and have two little girls. It’s a long walk from where we park our car to our front door, and so we have this situation:

  • We can’t clean the car while the girls are in it (I’ve tried, it was a disaster)
  •  We can’t leave the girls in the car unattended (because the world will get them)
  • We can’t leave the girls in the condo unattended (because they will destroy the condo and themselves)
  • We can’t make even marginal progress bringing stuff in from the car while transporting the girls (because transporting the girls into the condo takes a herculean effort involving every available hand, arm, elbow, neck and sometimes leg/foot)

So that’s our situation. It’s a river crossing puzzle with no solution. Here’s a picture of me trying to get my girls from the car to the condo while keeping them safe and also cleaning the car:

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The only way the car can get cleaned is if Liz and I are quietly enjoying an evening together after putting the girls to bed, and one of us says to the other, “You know, the car hasn’t been cleaned in a while – I’m going to go do that.”

That’s love.

And that’s what I’ve been doing and it’s going pretty well. It turns out that, if I keep up with a bi-weekly cadence, cleaning the car is actually not a big deal. It took over an hour the first time I did it, now it takes less than ten. If you clean on a regular basis, cleaning takes less time (imagine that).

In fact, it’s going so well that I’ve started the test phase for a new resolution – going on more dates. You can see our progress in the second tab of the same spreadsheet. Because believe it or not… the leaves are falling. September is almost over, and although the tagline for this blog is “Do Better This Year,” we’re heading into the fourth quarter of 2019 and it’s time to start planning to do better next year as well.

And speaking of planning… I haven’t decided which NYR to write about next and would love your feedback. Two choices: “Establish A Morning Routine” or “Be More Mindful.” I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below, email me at contact@newyearsrevolutionary.com, or respond to my Instagram poll.

I hope she knows.

I’m sitting on a plane about to take off for a conference in Florida. I’ve been traveling a lot lately, but at least this time I’m staying on the East Coast. My wife and I celebrated our 6th anniversary yesterday. We did so in style, staying at a nice hotel on Friday followed by an over-the-top spa day which include an 80-minute couples massage. 80 minutes! That’s like a movie!

I’m not a nervous flyer by any means, but I do usually say a quick prayer before takeoff. I keep it simple; just give thanks, and ask for a safe flight. Why not show a little gratitude every once in a while? After all, I certainly have a lot to be grateful for. I’m grateful that the odds of this flight crashing are less than 1 in 11 million. I had to research that – I made sure to turn my laptop away from the lady sitting next to me before Googling “odds of plane crashing.” I’m grateful for the beautiful weather, and the fact that aside from a few sniffles my family is happy and healthy right now.

And I’m especially grateful that, despite the cramped seating, my back and my shoulders feel amazing after spending 80 minutes beneath the strong, capable hands of my masseur, Brian.

But mostly, I’m grateful for her:

 

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I hope she knows.

I hope she knows that the reason I set the alarm so early in the morning is because if I didn’t I’d never get anything done. Because if her alarm goes off she’ll hit the snooze button, roll over and put her arm around me. Then my alarm will go off, I’ll hit the snooze button and put my arm around her. And then her alarm goes off again and the cycle continues for 9-minute intervals until one of our kids starts crying. And so I set my alarm early, because I know that none of my morning plans stand a chance against the prospect of holding her for a few more minutes.

I hope she knows that a few years ago, when she was crying about how she didn’t think she was going to be a good mom, the reason I didn’t cry with her wasn’t because I didn’t care. It was because I knew that if she treated our children half as well as she treated me our lives would be perfect so there was nothing to worry about. Turns out I was right on that one, not that I’m keeping score…

I hope she knows that a few years earlier, when we were sitting on the couch at St. Peters and she laughed at something on The Bachelor, only to turn and see me watching her instead of the screen… it was because I do that all the time. I love watching her laugh. I want to memorize what it looks like so I can take it with me wherever I go. I hope she knows that her laughter means everything to me. That I try to make her laugh when I don’t know what else to do. That she should always laugh – at the world, at our problems, at this clumsy boy who loves her so much.

I hope she knows that a few years earlier, when had that big fight early in our marriage, it was because it was always easier for me to start a fight than admit I was scared. Scared of failing her, of losing her. Scared that my tolerance for pain, doubt and chaos wouldn’t measure up during the bad times. Scared that I’d let those same feelings spoil the good times too, anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop. Because it can’t be this good, right? I don’t deserve it.

And I hope she knows that a few minutes ago, when I said “I love you” before putting my phone into airplane mode, I didn’t just say it out of habit. I said it because I wanted to make sure it was the last thing she ever heard me say. And I wanted her to know that my thoughts in that moment were thoughts of gratitude, and that, like my prayers, they were simple:

I had her.

I had everything.

I hope she knows.

 

NYR 19-09: “Be A Better Spouse.” Part 3 – Books On Spousing.

“Dan: And there’s no books on how to raise kids.
Darlene: Yes there are. There are literally thousands.” – Roseanne

Why do I read so many damn books? I suppose there are a number of reasons, not all of them great.

For starters, I’ll be the first to admit that “number of books I’ve read” is a vanity metric that’s deeply ingrained in me. I blame the public school system. Olde Providence Elementary encouraged summer reading by having us track the books we read (title, number of pages etc.) At the beginning of the school year we were awarded trophies based on our results. These weren’t your typical “everybody gets a prize” trophies which were common at the time (probably still are). You had to earn these, by reading the books and tracking the data.

It’s no wonder that, decades later, I’m writing a blog now and publishing all my data in spreadsheets.

So other than to stroke my own ego, why read? I like to think the main reason is to acquire knowledge so I can learn and grow. There’s also an entertainment component; after all, if reading weren’t fun I wouldn’t do it consistently. But I also read to procrastinate, as a means of avoiding my responsibilities for a while and engaging in a task I can pass off as being “productive.” Learning through books is great, but there’s no substitute for learning through experience. On several occasions I’ve been reading a book on personal development and suddenly imagined the author sitting across from me with a disappointed look on their face saying, “stop reading and go do it!”

Well if reading is a vice, I’d argue it’s one of the more innocuous ones, and count myself as one of the worst perpetrators, for better or for worse.

Like the Roseanne quote says, there are thousands of books on parenting. The same goes for relationships. But for some reason I haven’t read too many of those. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because picking up a book on relationships is admitting that I don’t have all the answers, that I (and my relationship) may need help. That’s a bad reason, but it’s a reason. And it’s a common one – I imagine it’s the same reason why most people decide to never go to therapy, and why the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

But I think a bigger reason I’ve avoided these books is because I’ve always viewed personal development and relationship development as two different things. In my mind, personal development efforts put you in complete control of the situation. I can work on myself without having to worry about any external factors, which is an appealing quality.

Relationship development, on the other hand, is a two-way street. What’s the point in picking up a book on relationships if I’m the only one reading it? And even if my wife and I read it together, what if she interprets it differently? How can I make sure that we’re (literally) on the same page?

I think the reason why I can’t find the answer to these questions is that my original logic is flawed.

“No man is an island.” Personal development and relationship development are inextricably linked. You cannot fully grow as an individual without investigating the way you engage with others. And the best place to start with developing your relationships is investigating yourself.

So go ahead, pickup a book on relationships if you haven’t already. Why the hell not? I finally read one last year, and it was pretty good:

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. From Wikipedia:

According to Chapman, the five ways to express and experience love that Chapman calls “love languages” are:

  • receiving gifts,
  • quality time,
  • words of affirmation,
  • acts of service (devotion),
  • and physical touch.

Examples are given from his counseling practice, as well as questions to help determine one’s own love languages.

After reading the book, Liz and I tried to guess each other’s Love Languages. She was actually able to name all five of mine in order (not surprising). I didn’t do quite as well with her, but I did get her number one.

Liz’s primary love language is “acts of service.” My love language is “words of affirmation.”

If you buy into it (which I have), this can be pretty helpful – instead of spending precious energy and resources trying to express love in a way that the other person isn’t picking up on, you can make a conscious effort to tailor your communication to the other person’s language. Instead of buying each other gifts (low on both our lists) we can focus on the dynamic that works for both of us.

In our case: I do stuff for her, she tells me how awesome I am. Everyone wins! And that’s actually how I came up with this year’s NYR for Be A Better Spouse:

In 2019, I will clean Liz’s car 26 times. Click here to see my progress.

Now if you’ll excuse me… I need to go clean the car (it’s been almost a month).

NYR 19-09: “Be A Better Spouse.” Part 2 – Angry Cleaning.

In last week’s post, things were… messy, to say the least.

My wife and I were in a tough situation. We were both mad, both tired, the place was a mess and it was 9:30 (way past our bedtime these days!) She’d asked me for help cleaning the playroom, and I basically told her that she got herself into this mess, and she can get herself out of it. She responded with deafening silence, and went back to putting the toys away.

I had options. For example, I could have pressed her further for a response:

“I mean, do you think this is somehow my fault?”

I also could have apologized:

“I’m sorry, that was dumb. Here let me help.”

Neither of these options would have been very genuine, at the time.

If I pressed her further, it might look like I’m trying to engage in meaningful dialogue. But it’s more likely that I’m just setting a trap for her, trying to get her to say something that proves my point. I’m already building arguments and counterarguments in my mind, playing out a hypothetical showdown and preparing myself to win.

The second option would likely have been an insincere apology (which most people, including my wife, can see right through) which would have only made matters worse. Even if she bought it, I would eventually become resentful because my original complaint (poorly worded, I admit) reflected my honest perspective, which would have gone unaddressed.

So I didn’t apologize and I didn’t try to talk about it. What did I do?

I started doing the dishes.

Because when I saw her starting to put the toys away I knew… it was happening. I just needed to do my part. We were Angry Cleaning. We were going to be ok.

Angry Cleaning: The Answer To Most Marital Conflict/Maybe All Conflict On Earth.

That night, Liz and I probably spent two hours getting our condo spotless. She got the playroom looking like this:

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As opposed to this:

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Not easy considering there was a lot of work to do. We still hadn’t unpacked from our trip to West Virginia. We had dirty laundry, dishes, trash… all the usual suspects. Nevertheless, we got after it, all of it, together.

Well, sort-of together. We certainly didn’t say much to each other during the process. Mostly we stayed out of each other’s way. But the next morning, we woke up to a spotless home. We made coffee, sat on the balcony, and apologized.

And that’s all Angry Cleaning is. It’s literally just cleaning while angry. But the devil’s in the details, and so if you’re interested in exploring this strategy on your own here are some important guidelines:

Angry Cleaning Isn’t Something You Do. It’s Something You Let Happen. If you’re in a fight, you can’t just unilaterally say “you know what, let’s just angry clean.” Because while the issue at hand might not seem important right now to you, it could be important to the other person, and to suggest doing something different just to avoid talking about it could make things worse. No, Angry Cleaning is something you see happening… and just go with it. I knew it was happening by the way Liz reacted to my comment. Trust me, if it starts happening, you’ll both know.

Angry Cleaning Should Be A Sacrifice, Directly Serving The Common Good.

When I was drafting this, Liz brought up a good point: some people like cleaning. She and I don’t. And so when one of us picks up a dish, we’re saying “I’d rather not do this, but it needs to get done and I’m going to channel my anger towards something productive that will help the family.”

So it should be a sacrifice, but it doesn’t have to be cleaning. You can Angry Pay Bills, Angry Grocery Shop, etc. I would caution against Angry Working (as in, popping open your laptop and doing work for your job). Yes, doing work ultimately serves the family by bringing in money, which is super important.  But when emotions are high I think it’s better to work on something that more directly serves the common good. From the outside looking in, “doing work” can just look like a dark, bottomless pit that you could hypothetically spend all of your time on, and so shirking a family responsibility (engaging in dialogue) to further a work responsibility (answering emails) might not be as helpful.

Angry Cleaning Isn’t The Silent Treatment.

I say this as someone who has used the silent treatment more times than I care to admit. Over the years, I started to recognize that when Liz and I got into fights, eventually I would say something really dumb. Eventually I learned that, instead of trying to win an argument, I would just say nothing at all. This was a clunky, disrespectful, and pouty solution.

Angry Cleaning is different – just because we’re not talking about the issue at hand doesn’t mean we’re being disrespectful. We still respond to questions, most of which are directly related to the Angry Cleaning (“is this sweater clean or dirty?”) We talk just enough to keep the wheels turning until the task is complete.

Sometimes We Go To Bed Angry At Each Other

 I’m sorry, but the old adage “Never go to bed angry at each other” is something I can’t practically apply to my marriage. I did some math, and my wife and I probably go to bed mad at each other about 5-7% of the time.

Maybe I’m just using a different definition of “angry” than the folks who genuinely apply this rule. Maybe they’ll concede that they might go to bed “annoyed” at their spouse, but that “anger” runs deeper and is more directly related to their spouse’s character than their actions. So I will say that, when it comes to conflicts with my wife, before going to bed I try to remember that I’m not mad at who she is, I’m mad at what she did.

But the point is just because something’s important, doesn’t mean it needs to be addressed right now. The idea of staying up all night and compromising sleep to solve a conflict that night just doesn’t sound practical to me. Sleep is a precious commodity, and I’d much rather face this problem in the cold, clear light of the morning in a clean condo. Which brings me to my final point…

You Have To Talk About It, And That Usually Starts With An Apology

Studies have shown that, when it comes to managing stress, the way your brain reacts to solving a problem is very similar to the way it reacts to planning to solve the problem in the future. The brain doesn’t care too much about the details of the plan, but it feels a lot better knowing that there’s a plan in place. And the only reason why Angry Cleaning works is because Liz and I both know that we’re going to talk about it in the morning.

And we have to talk about it. We have to talk about it because, while on the surface it may be a dumb fight about who is going to put away the presents, underneath that fight are deeper issues. Issues like respect, sharing responsibility, traditional gender roles, consumerism, approaches to parenting, personal finances… the list goes on. We don’t necessarily get into all of those topics – but there’s usually one or two that crop up at the root of the problem.

And the conversation usually starts with an apology. It doesn’t matter who goes first. In almost every situation, the other person immediately apologizes in response.

And it has to be a good apology, something that explains (not excuses) why you did what you did, not just as a result of external circumstances but as a result of who you are and where you are at this point in your journey through life.

  • I’m sorry. I just don’t see why we have to have all this stuff, and I don’t feel like it should be my responsibility to put it away if I’m against buying it in the first place. Not great.
  • I’m sorry. Last night I was just tired and feeling overwhelmed. I appreciate what you do and will try to keep my emotions in check next time. Better.
  • I’m sorry. Having all of this stuff gives me anxiety. It’s easier for me to blame you than to admit that I haven’t helped you with any of this. I just feel like when it comes to buying things for the kids I have no idea what I’m doing, which is actually how I feel about parenting in general. I need your help. Best!

Getting angry happens. To quote one of my daughter’s favorite Sandra Boynton books, Happy Hippo, Angry Duck:

…a difficult mood it not here to stay. Everyone’s moods will change day to day.

If you can have the awareness to recognize when you’re angry, the discipline to disengage and redirect toward something useful, and the trust to know that you’ll eventually circle back to the problem and work through it together, Angry Cleaning can be an effective strategy for conflict resolution, which can lead to less anger in the future.

NYR 19-09: “Be A Better Spouse.” Part 1 – The Present Situation.

“Will you help me?”

My wife’s voice called from the playroom. I turned the corner and saw her hunched over on the ground, surrounded by toys.

She sighed. It was the week after Christmas.

“What do you need?” I asked.

“I just need some help deciding where these things should go.”

“You don’t want my help for that.”

“Why not?” she asked, reaching for another toy.

“Because if I were deciding, half of this stuff would go in the garbage.”

Her hand stopped, but she didn’t look up. My words hung in the air for a few seconds. Then she picked up the toy in silence.

It was on.

I knew I had started something, but I didn’t care. Why should I have to help figure out where all these toys are gonna go? I’m always the one saying we should be getting rid of stuff, and this is why. Our condo is bursting at the seams with junk we don’t need and I didn’t buy any of it but I’m the one who has to put it away and I’m sick of it and it’s not my fault. She’s the one who bought all this stuff, she can figure out where to put it. It’s her fault, right?

Perhaps.

Let’s do a little thought experiment. If we were a business instead of a marriage, what would our respective roles be? For the most part, I think we share roles pretty evenly. We’re both revenue generating, and I like to think that we both have equal spots in the C-Suite where we put our heads together and try to establish a joint vision for our family’s future. And there are definitely some areas where I take on a bigger role (Accounting), and others where she does more of the heavy lifting (Logistics).

But there’s one department that I don’t touch, an area that Liz handles all on her own: 

Procurement.

My wife doesn’t just buy the presents. She buys everything.

Paper towels, clothes, medicine, toys, vacations, basically anything that breaks… the list goes on. Aside from picking up take-out and the occasional grocery run I basically don’t spend any money. I probably haven’t bought a shirt for myself in over five years.

And nowhere does this separation of duties become more apparent than when it’s time to buy gifts for special occasions.

Last Christmas Liz bought gifts for me, and gifts for the girls. But she also bought gifts for the girls from me, and gifts for me from the girls, gifts from the girls to each other, gifts for herself from the girls… basically every combination you can think of. This applies to extended family as well, her side and mine. When I’m at my worst, she even has to buy gifts for herself, from me.

So why does she do it?

Well, Dave Chappelle certainly has his theory, and I mean… that might be part of it. But it’s a small part. There’s a much bigger reason why Liz does all the shopping, and it’s actually not funny at all. My wife does all of the shopping because she knows that if she doesn’t, it won’t get done.

If I look at it carefully, very often what I pass off as being “thrifty” or “minimalist” is actually just being lazy, cheap and not wanting to make decisions. She probably enjoys the shopping and planning for special occasions to some degree, but she probably wants some help, too. In fact I know she does because she’s asked me for help directly. And I don’t give it to her, and it seems to be getting worse each year.

Special occasions have become a game of chicken, and she inevitably folds and does all the work because she knows that if she doesn’t then my daughter’s birthday is going to look like this:

That’s not a great way for a business to operate. Or a family, for that matter.

I don’t know why I’m like this. Maybe it’s a scarcity mentality that causes me to avoid spending money in any form. Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism in response to my own self-doubt… I’m not going to put effort into planning things for other people, because who would ever want to put effort into planning something for me? That excuse is particularly ludicrous considering my wife has planned amazing birthdays for me on several occasions.

Regardless of how we got to this point, here we are and we have a problem. My wife asked a simple question, a basic and essential question to ask of someone you love:

“Will you help me?”

And I started a fight. She made Christmas happen with zero help from me, and now I’m complaining about the results. But none of that matters now. Because it’s 9:30 and there’s work tomorrow and she’s mad and I’m mad and my heart is racing and I’m starting to think about other things she does that make me mad but are completely unrelated to the present situation and the pressure is building and as I’m writing this down it sounds so stupid but when you’re there and in the moment it’s hard.

So what do we do?

That’s a big question – next week I’ll give you the best answer we’ve come up with so far.