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Diary of an Łber-wife
My first lesson of marriage: Set reasonable expectations

Andrew and I have been married for six months now, and so far, so good. Iím a little concerned about the next six, though. Our circumstances are about to change dramatically, and I think I see the glimmer of an iceberg.

On the day we got back from our honeymoon, I began a leave of absence from my full-time job to write a book. Andrew agreed to be the breadwinner for six months, and I agreed to "pay" my way during my income-free sabbatical by essentially becoming his slave. I cooked, I shopped, I cleaned, I did the dishes, I made the bed, I paid the bills and kept the household books. I managed our schedule. I put away the laundry and hung up his shirts. I picked up his clothes from the floor and put them into the laundry basket. I kept track of his disappearing keys and wallet. I did everything but brush his teeth for him, and I would have done that, too, if he had asked. I was more than happy to strike this deal, and Andrewís generosity during my leave was wholehearted and unconditional. He got an über-wife, I finally got to write a book.

My father always told me, "Never get good at anything you donít want to do." Whoops. After six months of being über-wife, I may have set a dangerous precedent in my marriage. In fact, what I should have done is increase my hours at my job so I was almost never home, forcing him occasionally to wash a dish or shovel a path to our bed. This would have been smart. Iím not smart. Now Andrew thinks this is how married life is supposed to be ó him working, then relaxing, with me scurrying around after him, catering to his every need.

The question is this: how do I slowly wean Andrew off über-wife and introduce him to reality-wife, who works a full-time job and needs to edit her first book at night and on weekends, and who expects her beloved husband to cook and clean at least half the time? Is it a pipe dream to think that such a switch is possible after setting the bar so high for six months? What have I done?

What Iíve done is learn marriage lesson number one: set reasonable expectations from the start. Iím not the only person I know who is currently dealing with this transition. A few of my friends took leaves or sabbaticals, or were unemployed for a while right after getting married. They all struck some version of this deal with their husbands ó services-in-kind while they werenít bringing home any bacon. We all agree: itís sort of fun to be all wifey and stuff. Itís considerably less stressful than working in an office all day (of course, none of us has kids). Itís great to be able to work in my home office in the same sweatpants and T-shirt I wore the day before. Itís nice to be able to spend the late afternoon planning and shopping for a fabulous homemade dinner. Itís fun to get all gussied up before my man comes home, and to have a cocktail waiting for him. Itís rewarding to keep a well-organized home. (And, God help me, Iíve even started watching Dr. Phil in the afternoons.) Itís like playing house. The key word here is "playing." And now weíre all left to do the impossible ó we have shown our husbands Paris, and now thereís no way theyíre going back to the farm.

Iím not optimistic. One woman I know just went back to work after six months of unemployment and über-wifehood. One night, she came home late from work, exhausted, and found a sink full of dishes and a husband sacked out on the couch watching a Britney Spears special. This is the stuff of nightmares.

My greatest fear is that re-education is impossible. It may be in a manís nature to avoid anything even remotely domestic. Andrew avoided (ignored, really) all domestic activities for many years before I met him. But that wonít stop me from giving it my best shot.

I have devised a re-education plan that I think may be my best hope at nipping this thing in the bud before it defines the rest of our married life. Phase one will be "the talk," in which I clearly and simply outline the new world and his role in it. This he will ignore. Then, once I start back at work, I will stop doing dishes and picking up his clothes off the floor. I expect limited success with this tactic as well. (When I met Andrew, he had a laundry pile that was as tall as I am, rendering his closet inaccessible.) At week two, the nagging will begin. If necessary, there will be some crying and stamping of feet. And if after a month he still hasnít adjusted, Iíll bring out the big guns: Iíll stop pulling the hair out of the bathroom drain. When a big wad of it brushes up against his foot while heís standing in eight inches of shower water because the tub wonít drain ó well, that might get his attention. Or not. Iím suddenly remembering what his tub looked like when I met him. Dear God, I may be sunk.

I know that the best I can hope for is that one day, our housekeeping standards will meet somewhere near the middle. Andrew will do a little more, Iíll do a lot less. Weíll both ignore the gap. Then weíll learn marriage lesson number two: donít sweat the small stuff until it gets big enough to block access to the bedroom closet.

Kris Frieswick can be reached at k.frieswick@verizon.net

Issue Date: November 28 - December 4, 2003
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