Ok, here’s the deal…sometimes, I find myself completely furious at my partner and I’m not entirely sure why. I know I’m fortunate to have a parenting partner with whom I share responsibility. But sometimes, he drives me crazy. It can be little things - like not wiping down the island when he says he cleaned the kitchen (uhhh…then you didn’t really clean the kitchen, my friend). Or it can be much larger topics - like how I’m always the parent who makes a kid get a strep test when they’ve got a fever and a sore throat. (I know it has to happen, but doesn’t it feel awful to hold your kid’s arms tight while a nurse jabs a cotton swab at them until they gag?) There are times when it feels like most of the kill-joy parenting responsibilities fall in my court. My partner gets to be the fun parent. You know, the one who doesn’t stress over what we’re having for dinner, the one who thinks maybe teeth brushing twice a day is overrated, the one who doesn’t comb through tangled hair after a bath. And as I’m typing this out right now, I’m getting a little mad again and the poor guy hasn’t even done anything today. So why am I so mad at him when he’s done nothing wrong? Is this even normal to feel this frustrated? And what’s a healthy way to get past the anger?
Why Do We Get So Angry at Our Partners?
The anger and frustration I feel at times takes me back to the early days right after we brought our babies home. You know, those completely exhausted and overwhelmed days where you’re thinking, huh, so exactly what did I sign up for with this parenting gig? I remember seething with rage during those first few months when my partner would note that he was tired. Oh really? You’re tired? Were you up nursing a baby last night every hour? Or he said that he was sore when he got back from a run. Yeah, I’m sore too. Sore from a C-section and, you know, like, growing and carrying a person inside my body for nine months. Our day to day became a tally sheet of who was doing more (me) and who was annoying me (him) and it was soooo not good. And I don’t understand why I was fixated on keeping track of those things. But, I found out later, feeling that way was normal! Validation that I wasn’t a horrible person! Postpartum hormones, especially when compiled with sleep deprivation and a complete upheaval of life as you know it, can cause you to be super cranky with your partner. You’re also navigating a new normal as a family and trying to figure out how that all works.
But partner frustrations can stem well beyond that newborn time period. The fact is, we spend a lot of time with our partners. (Especially this last year during which the pandemic kept us at home so much more.) And because we know our partners so well and are most comfortable with them, we get to experience all their little quirks and idiosyncrasies more than anyone else. (Hooray for that?) On the plus side, knowing those deeply personal bits about your partner just means that you have a rich relationship with that person. Sometimes, you’re going to unearth some annoyances or grievances, but keep in mind the positive note of being so close to someone.
How We Get Past Being Mad?
You’re going to be irritated with your partner at times. (You’d be shocked - or maybe not - to see how many parents have asked the internet if it’s normal to be frustrated by their partners.) With something as significant as raising children together, you are likely going to come across some disagreements in ideology or division of household and parenting labor. Some of the best advice I’ve received is that your anger is most likely another emotion identified incorrectly. (I’m annoyed and angry that he’s doing X, but really I’m feeling disappointed/sad/jealous/unsupported, etc.) For example, he’s looking at his phone while at the dinner table and didn’t even hear the question I just asked him. I’m angry (like, about to explode furious) that he’s entirely disregarding our family rule of no phones while we eat. (Being ignored is never a way to curry favor with me, either.) But if I look beyond my seething frustration, the feeling really causing the anger is hurt because it feels like he’s valuing texting a friend over our limited family time together and being disrespectful because this rule is something we all agreed to abide by.
Ok, so once I’ve identified the emotion behind my frustration, that clarity makes a great tool to keep in the ole emotional toolbox when it comes to staving off arguments and negative emotions. Say your partner’s dirty dishes only ever make it to the sink instead of the empty dishwasher (which is conveniently 18 inches from the sink, but who’s counting?) With clarity - and an absence of emotion which can bring out negativity and defensiveness - you can point out what’s bothering you and why. “I’d really like it if all the dirty dishes went into the empty dishwasher instead of the sink. It makes it hard to use the sink for dinner prep when it’s full and the extra work of cleaning up after everybody while I cook makes me feel resentful.” And…boom. We’ve stated a problem (in a judgement-free manner) and pointed out why it matters. The idea is that the clarity and lack of judgment makes it plain to your partner what you need and why. And hopefully, you both can get on the same page.
Use the same formula for other issues as well: “I’d like it if you’d initiate bedtime three nights a week because when I’m always the one who does it, it feels like I’m the only parent who stops the fun at night and it makes me feel like a grouch.” It’s a simple and helpful framework. But, much like a lot of other topics relating to our emotional relationships, it can be hard to put into practice. But it’s so beneficial if you can stop yourself from yelling “How do you not know what day trash pick-up is?!? We’ve lived here for three years!” and instead say, “I’d love it if you’d take on getting the trash and recycling out every Sunday night. It always needs to be done right when I’m making dinner and packing the kids’ snacks for the coming week and it makes me feel short-tempered to try and handle it all.” Ah, nice and clear and calm. I’m sure I’ll never yell again, right?
It can also help to get past frustration and irritation if you reframe things and look at the positive. I’m not saying you suddenly turn all Pollyannaish on everything, but if we focus so much on all the ticky-tacky negatives, sometimes we get overwhelmed in annoyances and caught in a downward spiral - which may not be the most accurate assessment of our partners. So it’s helpful to make a mental list of all their positive attributes to remind yourself of the good person your partner is. This isn’t to say that you never deal with the negativity, but a little reframing of your thinking can help you more accurately look at what matters. (For instance, sure, his shoes never get put away, but he makes the kids breakfast every morning.) And always talk things out sooner than later. If you catch a pot right before it’s about to boil over and can turn the heat down, you’ll have much less mess to clean up and resolve than if you let it boil over onto the stovetop and into every little nook and cranny on the counter. Same with an emotional issue. Catch it sooner to avoid major fallout.
It’s no secret that kids can add stress to a relationship - whether that co-parenting relationship is also a romantic one or not. Parenting is a big, twenty-four hour job that gets emotional and messy at times. And just like our kids who can hold it together and behave in public only to melt down as soon as they’re buckled into their carseats (gotta love how they save it all for mom), we are often not at our best proactive and conflict resolving-selves with the folks we feel most comfortable with. Part of the joy of a deep relationship is that you feel secure. But that emotional security also means you are comfortable exhibiting traits like pettiness, anger, and frustration in a way you never would with, say, a co-worker. Keep those limitations in mind as you work to resolve conflicts with your partner. It won’t always be a tidy, textbook outcome with a lot of “I feel…” statements, but hopefully, any reduction in anger toward a parenting partner will lessen tension and frustration within the relationship. And that makes for a much happier household overall.