A Minute to Myself (46)
Looking at Marriage in a Glass Half-full/Half-empty Way

Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Eighteen

When a House Is Not a Home

Lately, he has been calling our house “his house.” It is his house and I should leave, just like that. It is his house because he has earned more money. There is absolutely no recognition of non-monetary contribution or partnership or support, it is cut and dry. How does something that was shared, that was decided upon by two of us for our family, that was a sign of success for the both of us, suddenly become the sole property of one? How does one person negate the value of another? How does my space suddenly become non-existent? And how did I become a squatter with no rights to my own house?

From being told not to take up space with my things, I am now told that there is no space for me. My presence is being invalidated simply because I have opposed him. Although I know that I should have spoken up more, I wonder if it really would have helped. If this man attempts to erase my existence because I no longer adhere to his rules, what would have happened if I would have spoken up sooner, would it really have improved the situation or worsened it? Would it have ended sooner rather than later? This is not a situation replete with negotiation, these are blanket statements and actions, and no matter how I act, go with the flow or fight against it, I am always found to be guilty of some offense against him.


And now that I have moved out of the master bedroom and am living in a guest bedroom, one that is used by my daughters since that is where the computer is, my space is even more restricted. It’s not that I agree that it is his house, but his stating it has made me uncomfortable in this house, as if that in and of itself has managed to dislodge me from the comfort I had enjoyed previously in this home. Since I moved out of the master bedroom, I barely have any personal space, since even this refuge is a shared space. My space, originally delineated by my daughter’s old twin mattress on the floor, and now a love seat, a pile of books next to it, and an alarm clock. My comfort in being at home has been taken from me. This is no longer a home.  


When he was working (ostensibly) at home, he had taken over the kitchen table and the study in the basement, not to mention the master bedroom. He spread out. No one told him to put his things away, to make like he does not exist, to move his things so that they don’t interfere with the life of the family. No, he takes and uses space as he sees fit. Isn’t that the way it should be, that we each consider our private needs as well as the needs of the family? It seems that he is reinforcing his statement that it is his house by taking so much of it for his exclusive use. Not surprisingly, he does not clear his things away at the end of the day; he does not have to uninhabit the space, I do not place that demand on him.


Why not oppose him? There was some logic to not leaving things out, not leaving a mess, not taking up too much of the family space with my individual things. But also, as always, I conceded without an argument to prevent an argument. I did not want to upset him, I did not want to create an opportunity for him to find fault with me for other things, to lash out at me for things I might have said or done, real and imagined. I stayed quiet simply to keep him quiet. This policy of appeasement may have been momentarily successful, but in the long run it undermined me to the core.


But why didn’t I start a fight? Why didn’t I let these things come out? I am a conflict avoider who goes out of her way not to cause an argument, and to settle those already begun. Even my graduate studies focused on how to resolve conflicts, on how to prevent or stop them. Yet, a central point that I seemed to have missed is that conflict can be good, it can help us to understand the other, and then to move forward in a relationship, whether between people or nations. That was the point I obviously missed, that confrontation is good and avoidance is bad. I just kept sweeping things under the rug.


Thinking back to the requirement that I clear out my things, I realize now that it was nonsense and an insult. What is a family home if not the space that holds the needs of the family? The space should be adapted to suit the family, each of its members, and not the other way around.


* * *



Interestingly, I was in the process of writing an entry about the use of space issue when you posted this. (I just posted mine)

I don't think anything you might have done differently would have ultimately made much of a difference. I am not conflict avoidant, but my husband is. I don't think the willingness to discuss issues is as important as each person's orientation towards marriage. Avoidance can be used as a form of covert aggression just as much as an overt power grab.

In a healthy relationship both people will see the other person's needs as being just as important as their own. When there is a conflict of needs, the parties will focus on ways that each of them can get their needs met. There will be compromise and give and take.

If one person has a "power over" orientation, and does not see marriage as an equal partnership, you might "win" a few by fighting like hell but ultimately everybody loses.


Thanks for your insights. I'm wondering if a relationship can start out healthy and become unhealthy? I try to think that at some point mine was healthy and that the continued interaction of our personalities made it the disaster it became. My trying to deal with him caused me to act (or not act) in the ways I did. This action/reaction only gets worse as we react to previous violations, with no mitigating niceness (real or perceived) at a certain point. My further retreat and his increased demands were all that was possible.


I have definitely experienced this. I always felt the pain of being "dematerialized" in our "home". Hmmm, maybe that's why my office is such a mess, I do after all need to keep my stuff somewhere.

It took me until just a few days ago to think of this "dematerializing" as perhaps one more way in which my "wife" has been controlling me during our 13 years of "marriage".


I don't know if it is dematerializing you or materializing you. Don't you think that these controllers see us more as objects to direct/push/control rather than full-bodied peers with which to interact? Maybe a real problem is that they are unable to see people as "real" as they see themselves.



You are so right in what you say about us becoming "materialized". i.e. material objects to be controlled, used, whatever.

What I meant by the term "dematerialized" was I had been slowly but surely deprived of the right to keep any material things at home. I do not even have a place to keep my keys anymore... It has always been in the name of having a tidy home, which it is. Thus my unclarity as to whether this is a controlling behavior on the part of my wife or not. The feeling I always had though was that "there is no room for me here"


Laura, I think a relationship can start out healthy and then turn. I have heard of many such cases.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about being seen as objects rather than as real people. That's why Patricia Evan's book, "Controlling People" makes so much sense to me.

She says there is usually a point at which the controlling person feels sufficiently 'safe' that the other won't leave, that they anchor their 'pretend person' in our bodies.

Avi, I can understand the confusion about whether the condition of the house is control when it is tidy. Especially given the traditional female role of housekeeping.

I guess I would look at the objects in the home. Are they hers? yours? both of yours?

What was the process by which it was decided what went where? Were you preferences and needs taken into consideration and balanced with hers?


I never quite got that point of hers, it seems so cartoonish (the anti-thesis of a superhero, perhaps). I have no theory, I just have my experience with this one man, and I think that behaviors that didn't look bad with rose-colored glasses on lost their lustre when they came off over time, and when he was not lauded his negative persona took over. Conjecture.

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