Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Temperatures Cold, Relationship Colder

It was not a fun night at our residence last night. The furnace burner developed problems, leaving us without heat until the morning. It was in the low 20s outside, with windchills in the teens.

I stayed up a couple hours beyond my normal bedtime to watch the thermostat to make sure that it didn't plummet too close to 60 oF. I updated resumes on the major job boards. By 2:30 a.m., the temperature had sunk down to 62 oF, so at my wife's request, I made a run to the Wal-Hell nearby to acquire a ceramic space heater.

After I got back, my wife said she was worried about me because I looked angry. Indeed I was because I knew that this was not going to be a cheap repair bill, and we didn't have the cash on hand to pay it.

I told her that I felt like I was hanging by the last thread. She said, "Let me be part of the solution." I said that now wasn't a good time to talk about it, but I said I felt that the money situation made it difficult for me to put my trust in her. I said that some missed payments on our car insurance and a couple phone calls from creditors said to me that she hadn't reformed her spending habits. She downplayed one of the phone calls saying that the payment was overdue by only one day, but I didn't have any way of verifying that.

She said that I was probably right in that it wasn't a good time to talk about it. Then she said she was getting a headache and held back tears.

By the time I got the space heater set up, our older daughter had awakened. We moved her into our bedroom where the space heater was, and she slept with my wife. I slept on the couch in the living room. The young'un didn't want to sleep, so neither did my wife or myself because I could hear the whining. The lack of sleep made my wife decide not to take her to preschool.

As it neared 8 a.m., I arranged for the heating repair service to stop by. The service technician diagnosed it as a failed safety switch. The furnace needed a cleaning as well. Fortunately, I was able to get both repair and cleaning done for about $50 cheaper by signing up for their heating/air conditioning plan. The total came to about $330. It would have cost $380 to have the work done a la carte.

We had to wait a couple more hours for the tech to run out to his office for the new part. Once he got back, he did the repair and servicing, wrapping things up shortly before 11 a.m. The house temperatures are back to normal.

When the time came to pay, I asked my wife if we should pay for the repair work using her Discover card (yes the one she had the $5,400 balance on). She said that we should. I asked her what the balance on it was. She said around $6,000. She then got defensive, saying that she hadn't been using it on frivolous stuff and had only spent a couple hundred dollars.

I said that increment was less than the difference between the current balance and the amount that it was back in October when we had the talk (a couple hundred dollars < $600). She stuck to her claims, saying that she had only charged on that card when "we were low on money to get things like food."

I told her calmly, yet firmly, that regarding last night's conflict, I was no longer going to negate or bottle up my emotions because they made her uncomfortable. She said she wasn't uncomfortable with them. I then clarified that by "uncomfortable", I meant her crying or saying she was getting a headache.

She tried to shift the discussion to put me on the defensive, saying that it was the first time since that talk that I had said anything about money. That was false because she had talked to me about bill payment priorities, about budgeting for Christmas, and I asked routinely what the status was on our accounts. I wasn't going to fight that reality war, so I let that go.

I told my wife I was going to get ready to go to work. She said, "Well, I thought you would want to stay home because you didn't get enough sleep last night." Rather than try to parse for any agenda that might have been embedded in that statement (e.g. I want you to stay home and watch the kids so I can nap all afternoon), I stuck with my plan. She said she thought she could get one of the other preschool moms to help give her a break.

Emotionally, things are really out of synch between us right now, but amid all this anger there is some perspective, and the full impact didn't hit me until I was driving to work.

As the service technician was preparing the receipts, we talked about the cold temperatures, and he said that he had to lose five pounds soon. He was going back to Iraq soon. It was going to be his third tour. The first was back in the early 90s with Desert Storm and the second was in Baghdad with the current war.

I thought back earlier, when he had seen my daughters playing together, he was telling me about his boys, all in the adolescent years. It made my quarrels with my wife look small and my occasional thoughts of moving away seem juvenile.

I hope that he returns safely.
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