The Rumpelstiltskin Effect

It’s been almost a year since we bought this house, and our marriage is weathering it quite well, I’m relieved to say. We’re still having fun with our growing roster of projects. We almost never fight, and the fights we do have a pretty small-time. Garden-variety stuff, really.

There’s The Hungry Fight. It starts with Dylan skipping breakfast, then lunch, and then setting to work on the house. Natuarlly, right around 3:00, he turns into a giant, hammer-wielding jerkasaurus.

I say Dylan—not me—because many, many people have told me I am insufferable when I’m hungry, so I just do not go there. I snack. A lot.

But when the late afternoon rolls around and Dylan has had four shots of espresso and zero food, he’s incapable of recognizing this behavior in himself—in fact, when I point it out, it offends him. “No,” he says. “I’m NOT hungry! You’re just obsessed with food!”

“No,” I say, “I’m just mature enough to know when to feed myself—unlike SOME people!” Et cetera. Pretty soon we’re insulting one another’s ancestry. (I exaggerate. I love my insane little Italian/German jerkasaurus.)

I have learned that when The Hungry Fight starts a-brewin’, the best I can do is fix a plate of cheese and crackers, ostensibly for myself, then casually offer him a bite. Pretty soon, he’s eaten half the plate and completely forgotten what upset him in the first place.

Then there’s The Money Fight, an inevitability of marriage that just plain sucks any way you slice it. Fortunately, Dylan and I are at least learning that under no circumstances should we ever, EVER hazard to talk about money—nay, even THINK about it—on an empty stomach.

Since we became homeowners, we’ve identified a new specie of fight that follows a predictable pattern. It starts when Dylan gets stuck in some awful DIY pickle.

I say Dylan—and not me—because in our dynamic duo, he’s the problem solver, the guy with the time and the acuity to learn skills like plasterwork, tiling, and building bookshelves from scratch. He. Is. Amazing. (I, on the other hand, am better suited for the more repetitive stuff like stripping, sanding, and painting—things you can daydream to.)

As our resident problem solver, Dylan dives fearlessly into stumpers, again and again. In due time, he always finds a solution, but first, there is always a moment of despair. Unfortunately, I have an amazing ability to pick that exact moment to ask him, “Whatcha doing? Why?” Whereupon he blows me off. Because he really doesn’t have a clue what to tell me.

I don’t get this as it’s happening, though. And I go nuts. “So the little wife isn’t allowed to ASK?” I say. “We can’t have a DIALOGUE?! Why don’t you RESPECT me?!” Et cetera. And pretty soon we’re insulting each other’s chromosomal makeup. (I exaggerate. I love my stupid ape boy.)

Like I said, these fights are few and far between, and they don’t last long—perhaps because we’ve learned a little secret to overcoming marital DIY discord.

We look for patterns, then give each pattern a name—the wackier the name, the better. If it’s so silly you can’t even say it without laughing, the fight immediately loses its power. The Rumpelstiltskin effect, if you will.

For example, now, when I start circling Dylan with my whatcha-doings and my why-comes, and he doesn’t wanna deal, and I feel a four-alarm freak-out coming on…..

I count to ten. I take a deep breath. And then I say, “Sweetie! We’re doing it again! We’re THROWING THE CABBAGE!!!”

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