Carl’s rules of order

Published 5:42 pm Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Unless you are a dedicated loner, most of you will at some time in your life, live with a relative, friend, or spouse. Roommates come in different sizes, shapes and personalities. Some will get on your nerves more than others, but it is guaranteed that your live in companion will drive you a bit crazy.

Such is the way with husbands and wives, or if you would like, insert long-term relationships here.

If you have lived with someone over a year technically that is the same as being an old married couple. Predictably, the newlywed timetable comes to an end and the romance and wonder will probably have disappeared allowing reality to set in. Love can blind you to only so much and then bam! You discover those little idiosyncrasies of the person you chose to spend forever with.

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Happily ever after is in fact… happy, but with moments. The happily married couple struggles with day to day issues (unhappily married couples magnify these issues into boxing rounds). The subtle give and take usually begins with each other’s “helpful” suggestions. To keep things blissfully harmonious, the couples begin their journey into what I call husband or wife’s rules to live by.

Speaking of rules, I am not supposed to write about ‘said’ husband unless he approves — rule number one — so I will use a ‘fake’ spouse when referring to husband’s rules to live by for the purpose of this column. (If you buy that, then let me reinstate my real estate license and sell you some land in the Rigolets!)

Women’s rules can sometimes come off as nagging. This is because of the manner in which we try to pressure our husbands into following our agenda. Does it work? You tell me? How is it in your home? Let’s look at how nagging typically works? Threats… until eventually you give up. (This was the man’s plan all along.) As women, we must learn the art of negotiation… or how to make rules that husbands will not break. You figure it out… write a book so we all can learn.

However, sometimes, it’s the man who nags… yep. Men can nag. It’s not pretty.

The communication of the rules is very important. Some spouses are list makers and provide in black and white how the daily rituals will work. “How to do this and how do to that.” Does this work? Will a list that states, “Leave toilet lid down after each use” be more effective than the scolding we give the man after we fall in. Would it help if we taped it to the lid?

After the honeymoon, couples settle into routines. Each person begins to manipulate the control factor of who will grocery shop, who cooks, who cleans and who does laundry. These are considered a balance of duties but within their task lies specific rules. How we cook, what we buy, and how we clean become a cesspool of policy.

Unfortunately, in some households the duties of house holding falls heavily on the female species. This is not fair, especially when wives are now putting in full time career hours too. In fairness, the balance of household duties should be split. No matter what. Shame on husbands who come home and relax while the wife cooks, cleans, assists kids with homework, bathes kids, and puts them down for the night only to find a husband well rested and ready for romantic activities. Hmm. Can’t imagine why the wife’s mood is unaccommodating.

In my “pretend” marriage, we try to improve each other with small suggestive rules. My ‘supposed’ husband will tweak how I do things by telling me (nicely of course) how to do them better. In other words, I know how to load a dishwasher, but with his tweaking I can do it much better now. Let’s say I have greatly improved in eight years of marriage.

Rules like put coffee spoon on napkin rather than countertop. Keep dirty dishes out of the sink with the garbage disposal so he won’t have to retrieve objects from the machine.

Rules like toilet paper is to roll down and over the top, rather than under and over. (This one is really important…) And in the spirit of toilet paper rules, buy the good stuff. You know the paper with lotion in it. No sand paper.

Always change the vacuum cleaner bag before it gets full. Don’t stuff the freezer full (or the door will not shut properly). When adjusting the rear view mirror, just pull it straight down (no moving it around). Leave empty hangers in his closet so he can find one to use when he needs one.

Now you understand the daily routine rules. Do you have some for your significant other? What happens if he or she doesn’t follow the rules? He repeats them. Sometimes he precedes the repetition of the rules with — “I thought I told you to…” This phrase generally guarantees the purposeful breaking of the rule the next time.

Do you hear the voice of your spouse reciting the rules in your head as you break them?

Do you feign amnesia when you have broken the rules?

In retaliation, do you make up rules of your very own such as I did with my ‘pretend’ spouse? Please don’t throw the hand towel down on the counter in our shared bathroom. (It knocks down all the bottles he has left on the counter such as: after shave, prescription bottles, shaving cream and other man paraphernalia.)

I have had from the beginning a rule in which I enforce. Please put your dinner plate on the kitchen counter or sink when finished. I have in fact, left a plate of scraps on the table for over 24 hours. Did I make my point? Yes. But, I stared at that plate every time I walked near it. I grew indignant by the hour. I made one reference to it by late evening and got the quick apology and promise to take care of it only to find it there staring back at me the next morning.

Why did I buy the Advil without the child-proof cap? Especially since it is right next to the handi-cap bottles? The rule is to buy child-proof only.

Why is it that my husband’s rule to keep the thermostat at a specific number to save energy and money doesn’t apply when he turns on every light in the house when I am gone, regardless if he is in the room or not. In our Mississippi house, I counted twelve lights throughout the whole first level. The only light he needed was the one on the television anyway. Rules, bah humbug!

Isn’t there a unspoken rule to pick up after yourself? Didn’t some mother rules bleed over into marriage? For instance, do you ignore the discarded clothes on the floor on his side of the bed instead of harping on picking up after him? I let them stay there until I hear the hilarious inquiry, “Do I have any underwear clean?”

You see, my rule is, I only wash what has been put into dirty clothes hampers.

Do you hang up your spouse’s work clothes when he lays them on the bed because he always claims he can’t find a hanger. (Because I broke the rule of leaving an empty hanger…) So, what happened to the hanger it came off when he pulled it out of his closet that morning? Hmm. Have you ever tried leaving your discarded clothes on his side of the bed to see him hang it up? Don’t bother, he just throws them down on the floor.

I announced a rule to always put the remote control for the main room’s big screen television in the same spot so we don’t have to play, “Find that remote” every time I need it. Why? Because when ‘pretend’ husband gets up from sofa, he just tosses it and it lands in strange places that require effort to find it when it needs to be used again.

The majority of my material for this column came from ‘pretend’ husband although I asked a girlfriend of mine about spousal rules in her house. She gave me similar ones to my own and then after guilt set in, she gave me a list of all the good things ‘he’ does too.

The way I see it, these rules can be annoying, can be broken, and can communicate to each other our little needs along the way and can drive your spouse crazy!

The best list any spouse can make is the one where our life partner gets it right! He may not leave the toilet lid up all the time, but for the most part, he makes up for it in numerous wonderful ways.

But of course, this is a fictional spouse because I would never write about my real husband without his permission. Just disregard the title of this column.

Tracy Williams is a guest columnist for the Item. Her email address is