Today something so ridiculous and so profound happened in my relationship. It was an argument, well more of a ‘I’m not arguing, so I’m leaving’ moment.
It was over some dried sauce stains on a bowl.
It wasn’t even sauce really, more like that kind of starchy water you get when pasta boils over on the stove. There was a fair amount of it on this bowl, so much so, it went from the drying rack, straight back into the sink for a repeat wash.
It was my partner who had done the washing up, because I had cooked and we take it in turns. We both do our fair share, or some nights one of us will do it all… it just depends on how we feel and what’s going on.
But he had washed this bowl.
When he walked into the kitchen as I was putting away the other dishes, I said to him, nicely..
“Would you be a little more careful when you’re washing up, because things are still dirty these days’.
His response was
“No they’re not, they’re fine.”
…Errr okay, went my brain. Swiftly proceeded by WTF?
I followed up by saying that no they’re not, and to not make me think I was imaging things.
He proceeded to essentially mock what I was saying, make out like I was either nagging or, making it up… I couldn’t work out which.
Both, as it turns out, are totally fucking unacceptable in my world.
He, my amazing, beautiful fiancé, was gaslighting me.
I WAS BEING GASLIGHTED!!!
manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.
This is not a term that I have ever used before, mainly because when it’s occurred in the past, with previous partners, I just thought they were sweeping things under the carpet, being a little dense, or choosing to not see me and the experience I was having.
Now however, I know it for what it is, and as that wise woman says – “when we know better, we do better” – and so I called out the bullshit.
I did not reduce or ignore it, just because the topic itself was unimportant (a dirty bowl is not make or break territory). I understand enough to know, that shit like this is never about the topic that started it. Fundamentally, it’s about one partner belittling another, or disengaging with their perspective. It’s about being denied the experience you’re having, how you’re perceiving it and how you’re interpreting it.
It’s about something mattering to one person, and because it is not a priority to the other, them deciding it doesn’t really even exist.
It’s what’s wrong with you, what the hell are you talking about? Instead of okay or fine, if that’s how you feel or I disagree.
My relationship is pretty solid. Our communication is tight, to the point where we might make you a little sick with how paranormally in tune we are with one another. This bowl episode, or bowlgate as I like to call it, could easily have been swept under the carpet because I’ll admit, I was a little hormonal, maybe cranky even, which in turn made me ultra sensitive to this response to a very polite request.
But here’s the thing…
The house is sometimes a bit of a state when my man gets back in the evenings (small child + work at home mum = breakfast dishes present at 5pm), and he’s not slow to mention it (warmly, before he helps to tidy up). What happened over bowlgate however, I equated to me looking him in the eyes on one such evening and saying, “No, the house is clean, why are you nagging?”
Now *that* would be insane.
Because it’s the person doing the gaslighting with the issue, not the receiver. It’s a point that everyone will do good to remember. It’s not you, it’s them.
When we choose to ignore the small things that flair up in our relationships, we will eventually begin tripping over these lumps in the carpet. They become patterns, until eventually there is very little flat, safe ground.
Men, simply because as sexes we have different priorities and ways of seeing the world, are very good at gaslighting. Women, because we can be hormonal, changeable beings, are really good at self doubt. In the wrong doses, this combination is lethal to relationships.
So, my advice is to deal with the small things, on the same day they happen. In the moment, or close to it. Call out the bullshit.
Hold yourselves to a higher standard.
You do not have to agree on everything, but you do need to agree to be kind, to listen and to acknowledge the different ways in which you are seeing the world.