I heard on the radio the other day that our brain actually sends us reward signals when we blame someone. I normally think of reward signals being related to primitive survival instincts – so how would being right and feeling indignant about it help our survival?
Letting me be right certainly helps my husband’s survival and I have to be honest, after hearing that on the radio, I definitely can relate to feeling better if I have someone to blame for my circumstances. Even if something annoying happens, like my sleeve getting caught on a door handle, I’m looking for someone to blame; and I can get pretty creative about how something great or small can be my husband’s fault. But the other night it finally clicked to me what my major problem with him is, and its ridiculous. Let me give you some background.
Now I don’t think this problem is unique to us, we had a second baby, we all had less sleep, I was at home wishing I could go to work and have a lunch break and go to the toilet unchaperoned; he was going to work envious that I’m at home all day not having to follow company protocol and make money for shareholders. I’m not going to expand on this first year of my second daughter’s life, partly because it really doesn’t need reliving and mainly because it is such a hazy fog there are not many specific memories in there.
The trouble with getting rewarded by your brain for apportioning blame to others, is that when a newborn baby is the cause of your distress, or your first baby who is now older and wakes the newborn baby – then who can you blame? The children? ‘You were born and now I’m tired so it’s all your fault.’ Not only would such comments screw them up but the older one especially would probably be smart enough to tell me why it’s not her fault. So who is it easy to blame? The only other adult in the house, in this case, my husband.
We have made huge changes since then, quit jobs, sold a house, moved countries, started a business – all for the better. BUT, if small things get annoying I still try to find a way to blame him. Take the weekend, we woke up and decided to do a day trip ‘I might go to the gym,’ I said, ‘Just go later, let’s just get up and go,’ he replied. 3 hours later we were finally ready to leave the house. I was packing some snacks and water bottles while he was watching something on the iPad, silently fuming I was saying to myself ‘Don’t be angry, don’t be angry, he’s probably just looking something up about the trip’ (he wasn’t). Finally, nearly everyone was ready, I put a top on our youngest and he said ‘Don’t you think it’s a bit hot for that?’ That small comment was enough to spark the simpering flames of my anger into a full-blown rage. The fact that I would have had plenty of time to go the gym and get back, the fact that I was getting everything ready while everyone else was pissing about, the fact that he could have got her dressed instead of looking at Sasquatch videos on the iPad, the fact that he was absolutely right the top would be far too hot but it was the only thing clean that matched and that is why I’d chosen it. So of course I lost my shit threw the top at him and proceeded to spit flames at him. He chose an unmatching but more suitable t-shirt and we were on our way.
I felt stupid about the outburst because it really outweighed the size of the issue, but I definitely feel a kind of release when I can choose a target to blame for my personal irritation. And sometimes I would rather get that out, be a dick, and then apologise or laugh at myself, than pretend I’m not angered by the drip, drip, drip effect that those small irritations have on me.
Something I have been doing recently when I get into bed at night, is thinking about my day and being grateful. I’m grateful for where we live, for the food we got to eat, for time at the beach, for beautiful moments with each of my kids, that we are all healthy. But often I would lay there and realise I hadn’t actually spent any time with my husband that day, especially if I had tried to go to bed early so we had no evening together and the children had monopolised all of our waking (and sleeping) hours. The simple thing of thinking about my day had made me realise where I needed to focus a bit more time and attention in order to make my life feel more fulfilled. Time with the man who was at one time my partner in crime for all things fun and crazy.
The combination of this thinking about my day with gratitude, and the losing my rag about the baby’s top incident, and the radio show I’d heard about blame; made me think to myself ‘What do I actually blame him for?’ What should he have been doing when I was getting the snacks ready, should he have been getting them ready instead, then what would I be doing – dad things? watching YouTube? but that’s not really me. And for some reason this thought just clicked for me: I BLAME HIM FOR NOT BEING ME. How ridiculous is that. All this time I have been thinking he should be doing things my way, how I do them, do the things I do – ideally before I’ve done them. But where would that leave me? I do the things I’m good at, I think ahead, I plan things, I give the kids my view of the world with the answers to their questions, I’m silly when it suits me, I’m bossy when it suits me, I like their clothes to match – I’m their Mum. Do they need two of me? No. Do I want to live with two of me? Hell no. So if I can just stop myself from blaming him that he isn’t me, and appreciate all the him things he brings to the party, his interests, his talents, his passions, his view of the world when the kids ask him questions, his practical approach to clothing, his Dadness; then the final piece in my gratitude puzzle may have just slotted in.
And if you’re interested we went to see a waterfall, but there was no water – and it wasn’t even my husband’s fault.