When I talk to my husband, he often doesn’t answer. This is not new to our relationship. It has been true for decades but waxes and wanes depending on his stress level.

Sometimes, he is just spacey and lost in thought. Other times, he is feeling anxious. He is very sensitive to rejection at these times. I may actually be annoyed or mad at him. I may not be mad, at all and just trying to get the business part of our lives done and coordinate household responsibilities. I am an organizer and a “big picture” person when it comes to administering a household. John is not. After many years, he asked me to start writing tasks on a “honey do” list, a little white board in our kitchen. I don’t really like doing this. I think he would be more likely to remember to do the task if he wrote it down himself. For some reason, that is something he just won’t do. He wants me to write it down. Sometimes this feels like a face saving move on his part. I wouldn’t mind writing it down if I didn’t know that a number of the things I’ve written down, stayed on that little board for years. So it filled up with tasks, most of which never got done. And every time I worked in the kitchen, I would see it and it was a visible sign of my frustration.

I hate the silence. The non-answers that could mean many different things. But even when my husband is merely lost in thought, the silence hurts. Relationship intimacy doesn’t just come with the package, it is something that must be continually nurtured and protected. It is important for marital happiness, for sexual health, and for emotional well being.

I nag, it is true. It is not a super power but I am also not an evil villain. I often feel caught between a rock and a hard place. John tells me that he is going to do a task and then he doesn’t do it. An excellent example might be doing the dishes. I’d say that between 1/3 of the times that John says he will do the dishes before he goes to bed at night, I wake up to a sink full of dishes. About half of the time, most of the dishes are done but some are either still on the dinner table or on one of the kitchen counters. And almost 100% of the time, either the table, counters, or the stove top are dirty.

If I say something, he probably won’t finish the job because he’s already gone to work. If I need to use the sink, then I need to clean it out. Later, when we are discussing dishes, because they are never to be taken for granted because they are not yet a habit, I might clarify that what I am asking is for him to do ALL of the dishes and if the kitchen stove top needs to be wiped, I expect him to wipe it. By this time, I am at my best, using a businesslike voice and at my worst I am doing nothing to conceal my annoyance.

The follow up discussions almost never go well. John feels criticized. And you know what? I am criticizing. I am complaining about the job he did. I understand why he doesn’t like it but he often communicates to me an expectation that a loving wife doesn’t ever criticize or complain. Although I don’t think he 100% believes this, it is an ideal he has and I even think he believes it to be attainable. These are the the times when my husband’s dreamy romanticism conflict with my pragmatic realism.

Relationships are full of noise. Some of it is like beautiful and romantic music. Some of it is not. Some of it is disagreement, some is problem-solving, some is negotiation. Relationships are also full of silence. But this kind of silence, the not answering with clear words but instead answering with confusing actions or lack of actions, is not helpful. These are the times when I feel that I am to match his silence with my own. And sometimes that is what I do because I have already tried to make my point and failed time and time again.

These are the time I feel silenced, that my job is to pick up after the many unfinished tasks in my household and not say a word. Just do other people’s work and carry through on other people’s promises. There are times in my life I am resigned to this. There are times in my life when I know that my husband has many other wonderful qualities that compensate for these shortcomings.

At other times, I feel alone. I feel like there is work that I have to do and for which I will never be appreciated. If I say something, I get a negative response. If I am silent, I get no response. To have to have no routine between the two of us to take care of these things is a perpetual stress to me. Routines can make life a lot easier and require a lot less higher order thinking. I would like to preserve my mental energy for things other than working and reworking the daily household routine as well as keeping track of so much of the family’s schedule. People who do not have organizational skills like this, the skills for carrying out and managing the most boring and perpetual household tasks just don’t get it. They don’t get the value they don’t get toll that it takes on the very most developed part of the human brain. My husband and I do not have a traditional marriage but my brain works like a housewife’s and his does not.

When it comes to managing my cancer, I am even more alone. And that’s one of the main reasons that I blog. I don’t need my husband to attend my appointments any more. He has no idea what my schedule is like and how it impacts the rest of my life. He can read about it here but he can’t experience it. And when I talk about the anger I feel, the fears I have, or my annoyance with the inconvenience of it, I know he gets afraid. He wants to do something. And there’s nothing for him to do but there’s a great deal he could say.

I empathize with him, really I do. I empathize with him when I don’t know what to say to one of my friends with mets, when they speak of incredible pain or fear or anger. Every once in awhile, I think I rise to the challenge and say the “right” thing. Other times, I just do my best to communicate the fact that I care. It never seems like enough but I also know that I can’t solve the problem of cancer. I can just do my best to be present. Sometimes, and I’m ashamed to admit it, I feel negative toward my friends’ cries of pain. I have thoughts like, “She must have waited too long to take her pain meds.” It doesn’t happen frequently but at those times, I understand why so many of us have lost the support of friends and family. Our brain tricks us into blaming someone with a painful and life ending disease to protect ourselves from our own helplessness and guilt. At these time, I am forced to stare at hard truths about the vulnerability of life and that fact that people I love are in excruciating pain and experience incredible isolation.

I am a loving human being. I am also flawed. I do, however, commit to keeping present with my family, my friends in face to face and cyber worlds. In our relationships, I will make noise.