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Why I don’t bad-mouth my husband in public

Get yourself into any group of long-married moms and get the wine flowing and at a certain point, it always inevitably begins: the complaints.

“My husband never cleans.” “My husband can’t dress the kids.” It goes on. The lists of complaints is huge. And from what I hear from men, the same conversations go on about the women, only their complaints tend to be sexual in nature. As in: “My wife never wants sex.” I can’t count the number of married men who complain to me — and other men — about their sex lives dropping off. It’s so ubiquitous, it’s become a cliché of marriage.

“The old ball and chain,” is a saying for a reason. Well, enough.

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Here’s the thing: It is one thing to have real issues in your marriage. In that case, you talk to a therapist. You talk to your best friend. You talk to people who know and care about you and can offer sound advice. It is an entirely other thing to just complain constantly. He doesn’t do the dishes. He doesn’t dress the kids right. He feeds them french fries instead of kale chips. If you really have so little faith in your husband’s abilities, why did you marry him?

The men complaining are no better. If your wife is such a nag and such a harpy and such a horrible person who never wants to get down and dirty, maybe the problem isn’t her. Maybe it’s you and your refusal to communicate? I am not diminishing these issues. They are real. But sometimes it seems like people gather in these groups to complain about their marriages without ever addressing the issues with the people who can actually fix them. They complain without ever looking within. Is it possible I am overreacting to this issue? Is it possible he or she is just doing his or her best?

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It’s like once we’ve been married a few years, we forget that early love and desire to protect one another and we spread our unhappiness all over the place. As a woman who rarely complains about her husband this way, it can feel alienating. A few years ago I went to Ethiopia for work and more than two of my not-so-close friends asked me where the kids would be staying. “My husband wouldn’t even know how to make a lunch,” one stay-at-home mom told me, laughing. Except my husband does know how to make a lunch. True, it might not be what I’d pack, but he knows how.

He also knows how to comfort after a bad dream, apply a Band-Aid, help with homework, and make a balanced meal. OK, so my kids often wear mismatched clothing and don’t bathe quite as much as I’d like, but so what? I have nothing to complain about. And so I don’t.

The truth is, staying silent in these kinds of conversations, while alienating, is ultimately better for my marriage. Whether I actually have a better husband who does more or whether I just feel like I do, I am not sure. But I am sure that refusing to engage in these things makes me feel grateful for what I have.

No marriage is perfect and mine is no exception. I certainly fight with my husband and he makes me crazy and I spew to close friends about it and they help me. But I will never be that wife in the crowd of women I barely know one-upping the others with tales of my husband’s ineptitude. It’s a bad look. And it’s bad for marriage.

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