I love to rearrange furniture. Whenever I get into a funk or feel stuck, I find that moving things around gives me a fresh perspective and a new outlook. I feel new energy flowing into the space and I am ready to move ahead with life. When my home is refreshed, I feel refreshed too.
My husband has mostly tolerated this tendency with good humor. He prefers things to stay the same. Nothing would ever move out of its place once it landed there if it were up to him. But he loves me, and wants me to be happy. He may roll his eyes when I get the look in my eye that says “It’s time” but he has learned to just stay out of my way and let me have my head.
When my husband left for work earlier this week, I was in one of those moods. Like everyone else, I am dealing with the social isolation and the grim news the best I can, but sometimes that means sitting paralyzed in my chair without moving for hours. I decided that it was time for a change.
I got busy moving everything around in the living room so that my chair would face the window. I wanted to see the trees, and the sky, and the sunshine from my place of refuge — this big comfy chair. I picked up clutter and put it away, dusted and vacuumed, removed a couple of things, brought in a couple more. I opened the windows and let the fresh air in. I played some happy music.
The whole operation only took an hour or so, but my mood was greatly improved afterward and I rewarded myself with a cup of tea and a good book in my chair facing the window. I was feeling calm and settled.
When my husband opened the door, the feeling was anything but mutual. He. Blew. A. Gasket. I was speechless. This sweet, gentle man was FURIOUS with me for moving the furniture around. He kept saying, “No! No! No!”
What the hell?
I got up from my chair and immediately started moving things back the way they were. I was disappointed and I was mad, but at least everything was clean and clutter-free. I was still reeling from his response when I sat down and took a breath. I asked myself what could have possibly caused such an overblown response.
He is still working every day in the midst of this pandemic. He is feeling anxious and stressed like I am. Maybe more so. And when he walks through the door he needs home to be predictable. Normal. The same way it was when he left it. Comforting.
What I was not considering when I was pushing things around is that for someone who needs things to be predictable, stressful times like a pandemic can heighten that need. When everything is so unpredictable, he needs one thing he can count on. While a new arrangement feels nurturing to me, it doesn’t feel that way to him. He needs to know that when he opens his front door he is going to recognize the place.
Seeing this made me feel a little less angry at him, but I was still not happy with his reaction. He objected as I was moving things back the way they were, but there was no way I was leaving it like it was.
The next morning, we were still tiptoeing around each other, but at least we were speaking. Then, before he left for work, he went into the living room and started moving things back the way I had them. I objected, feeling sure this was not going to end well, but he insisted. He said he would get used to it. Then he kissed me and left for work.
When he came home that afternoon, I was sitting in my chair in a spot of sunlight that was streaming in through the window. He went into the kitchen and fixed a drink, then joined me.
“I can see why you would want your chair by the window. It’s nice. I’m so sorry I acted so badly yesterday and ruined our whole evening. It was stupid. And unnecessary.”
And with that, all is well with the world.
The moral of this story is, we are all struggling right now. None of us are immune from the stress of living with a pandemic. We have never done this before, and we don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, much less next month or next year. It can make us reactive and touchy. It can cause us to do and say things, and behave in ways, that are out of character for us.
It’s really important for us to give each other a lot of latitude now. We need to see beyond the actions and words to the fear and anxiety beneath them. We need to be gentle with each other and be willing to forgive more freely. We are all doing the best we can do.
Show up for yourself and meet your needs, but don’t forget to be sensitive to the needs of others. We need to be having candid conversations with our partners about what they need from us, and what we need from them. This is a great opportunity to strengthen our relationships if we are willing to do the work. The pandemic has stolen a lot from us. Let’s don’t let it wreck our relationships, too.