When my husband lost his job, I began searching for that stupid silver lining. “Everything happens for a reason,” they say. And with our savings account dwindling, I was desperate to gain something from the loss — perhaps a better job, more money, a lesson. But I never could have predicted what we would learn together about our marriage.
After almost 10 years, my husband and I had a strong marriage. We rarely fought, enjoyed drinks and conversations together, and looked forward to some travel with the kids. But as a mother who works from home, that job loss also meant much more time together. Little things began to annoy us. The grievance pile stacked higher and higher. But as the polite, nonfighters we were, we barely uttered a word about our internal objections.
See, I come from a loud, in-your-face Greek family. We don’t know how to bite our tongues. Growing up, my brothers and I remained unfazed by our parents’ squabbles. And today, my parents still let it all hang out after 47 years of marriage. There are no secrets stuffed within their chests ready to blow up. Arguing about leaving the mustard out and lowering the volume of the TV is natural for them. But not for my husband and me.
No, we preferred to quietly cradle each other’s ego so that it never shattered. Somehow, we came to the point where we prided ourselves in saying, “Oh, we rarely fight!” I never would have dreamed that being nonconfrontational could turn bitter.
One evening after my husband lost his job, we sat around our kitchen table with our two small children eating the chicken divan I cooked. The gooey broccoli and chicken smothered in cheese woke up our taste buds. “For some reason, this tastes even better to me tonight,” I said about my own cooking.
“It does,” my husband agreed.
When I noticed there wouldn’t be many leftovers, I said, “I think I’m going to make it again soon, just so we can heat it up for lunch.”
“Yes. Like to-morrow,” my husband exaggerated. “You could make this again to-morrow.”
A few days passed and we began to get on each other’s nerves. Laundry wasn’t put into the dryer, no one emptied the dishwasher, crumbs accumulated on the floor. We were both at fault, but it became clear that our communication was foggy — at best.
And it wasn’t just over household chores.
It became clear that the uncertainty was getting to us — especially to my husband. Since losing his job, my husband’s ego was severely bruised and there was nothing I could do to ease that. The invisible paycheck didn’t help either. Yes, I tried freelancing more to pay the mortgage, but it wasn’t like his old salary. And honestly, I think my making money made him feel worse.
Yes, we were smart. “Save for at least six months of unemployment,” my dad always said. But once you earn that money, you don’t want to dip into it. Yet, we had to. And after a couple months of that, the strain of our depleting wallets and the unknown crept its way into our marriage.
After picking up another plastic cup and slamming it into the sink, I said, “OK, we need to hash it out here. We are ticking each other off. We need to tell each other — everything.”
“I agree,” my husband said. “Why do you always leave the cupboards open after grabbing a glass?”
“You’re right,” I said. “I suck at that.”
His chest immediately deflated a bit — like letting a little air out of a balloon that was about to pop. So, I gave it a try, too. “You can switch the laundry, too, you know.”
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll try to remember.”
I felt like I wounded him a bit, but I knew we needed to start this communication thing off right. I would jump over the hurdle of awkwardness because I knew our marriage needed this dose of honesty. Our egos could bend a little without breaking entirely.
That evening I started making dinner — chicken divan. He had just gotten done bathing the kids and walked down the hallway into our kitchen. He saw me mixing the cut-up chicken, broccoli, cheese, and spices in a big glass bowl. “Chicken divan tonight, huh?”
“Yup!” I responded. “Thanks for giving the kids their baths.”
“No problem,” he said.
My husband turned around and began walking down the hallway again, until his feet rooted into the hardwood floors. Finally, he turned around and marched back toward me in the kitchen. He put his hands on his hips, “OK, I’m just going to say it.”
“Say what?” I asked.
“I just don’t like chicken divan. I never have, I never will, and, oh, does this feel so good to finally say it!” He flung his hands up in the air like he was freeing doves into the sky.
Laughter ricocheted off all of the kitchen appliances.
“Why in the hell didn’t you ever tell me this?” I asked laughing.
“I didn’t want to hurt your feelings!”
“Oh, that’s ridiculous! And you always said how much you loved it. Cook it to-morrow, you said! Please cook it to-morrow.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” he said. But I just don’t like it.”
After joking about the sitcom playing out in our kitchen, I said, “Well, it’s what’s for dinner. So, tough. And tonight, we need to talk about more than just chicken divan.”
After the kids went to bed, my husband poured some wine and we chatted about more than the laundry, dishes, and the crumbs on the floor. “I know this is not what your feminist mind wants to hear, but I just feel like I need to be the one to provide. I’m the man,” he finally admitted. There it was — another chicken divan confession. “But I used to be the breadwinner before, remember?” I asked.
“Yes, but it’s not the same now. I have been the one to make the money. And I feel like hell because I’m not doing that right now.”
“I believe in you,” I said.
The wine helped my husband and I confess more that night, and our marriage has been better for it. I have yet to find that silver lining, and my husband has yet to find a job. But, we have discovered that being honest with each other is vital in a marriage — in any relationship for that matter. Yes, we fight a little more now — resembling my fiery Greek parents. I’ve learned that they were on to something with their frankness. But, our communication has been better. I admit, sometimes it’s a little hard to rebound from the honesty, but instead of cradling our egos, we’re much more open. And although I miss eating chicken divan, it’s only a small sacrifice to pay for my marriage.
(Editor's note: Angela Anagnost Repke is a writer living in Michigan with her two children, working on a memoir. You can follow her on Facebook here.)