Recovering From A Need To Be In Control (Slowly)

Em Unravelling

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Right now (I mean right now, as in I’m currently typing with paint in my hair and dark curls of finishing wax under my fingernails), I’m in the process of updating the en-suite bathroom at our house. Usually, I enjoy renovating rooms, but this particular task is one hundred percent chore. I’m only doing it because the shower is approximately 15 years old, we live in a hard water area, and it’s turned into more of a trickle than a torrent. I like a shower, and I’d become completely tired of not having a good one.

So, yes. I’ve known for a while that I’d need to get it sorted, but I kept procrastinating. There was so much to organize. I had to find a plumber to fit the shower, a builder to erect the new shower cubicle, a tiler to tile the walls, and that’s before I had to decide on the more fun bits like wall colors and floor coverings. Plus, I wanted to do it all without it costing loads of money because it’s not a room anyone sees and I didn’t want to spend a fortune.

Anyway, I kept putting it off. I made a Pinterest board to collate tile colors and various paint and floor ideas but my heart wasn’t in it. Every so often, I’d say to my husband “We really need to sort out that en-suite!” and he would nod in a non-committal way and basically agree with me, but neither of us would do anything about it. This is exactly what happens whenever anythingneeds doing to our house. And eventually, I end up doing whatever needs to be done to make sure the task is accomplished.

This time, though, it started to actually bother me. What, I petulantly wondered, would happen if I weren’t here? How on earth would any of this stuff ever get done? And more importantly, whyis it always my role? My husband certainly showers as often as I do. He’s as annoyed as I am by the temperamental vacillations of the showerhead in our bathroom. Like me, he earns money. Like me, he has easy access to the internet and the means to make online purchases. He also co-owns the house.

Frustrating.

A circular argument

Of course, I took my big old bundle of frustration right to my husband’s door and dropped it there with a clang. “Why am I having to do all this shit?” I wailed, as I fielded Facebook messages from potential shower-fitters and toggled between different bathroom websites to compare shower pressures. “Why does this stuff always fall to me? You just get a nice bathroom at the end of it and you get to not care because you don’t have to care. Because the little woman has done all the work. Mental labour, sexism, rah rah rah.”

My husband was having none of it. “You hate me getting involved in this sort of decision,” he pointed out. “I used to try, but I’d always end up trampling on your interior design vision, or booking a really expensive builder who never quite finished the job, or choosing kitchen tiles that turned out to have a texture that trapped grease and could never be properly cleaned.” He also reminded me that out of the two of us, he’s the one who will always take a day off work to paint walls when a project gets to the doing, rather than planning, stage. But he waits until I’ve chosen the paint color.

I began to see that the only difference between us is that I will see something that needs doing and (eventually) take practical steps to sort it out, whereas he sees something that needs doing and thinks “Huh. Well, I expect Em’ll sort that out.”And how exactly has he got into this lazily comfortable position? Simple. He’s got there because historically, that’s the position I wanted him to be in. I wanted him benignly to approve my choices but I wanted to stay in control.

Basically, I’m a control freak, but I’m tired of that responsibility.

Going deep as a control freak

Being a control freak — being desperate to make sure that I was in charge of my home environment and schedule — springs in me, I think, from the very earliest days of my adult life. If I trace it right back to the point that I found myself unexpectedly pregnant, I am breathless with the memory of a total lack of control back then.

Likewise, in the early days of my career when I was a lowly assistant and very concerned every day that I would somehow mess up my job, I learned to find comfort in micro-managing every single aspect of any task I found myself responsible for. If I controlled the whole process, my brain informed me, then I’d only have myself to blame if anything went wrong. And besides — things were far less likely to go wrong in the first place, if I made sure I kept an eye on everything.

A compromise

I realized after we talked that I couldn’t blame my husband for not rushing to get involved in the sort of decisions I’d always trodden over him to grab for myself in the past.

He is right, now, to be a bit surprised that I am suddenly getting exasperated with him for not having researched local tradesmen to do the job, when in the past he might have tried to call a few for quotes, only to have me roll my eyes and say “Actually, I’ve heard the one our neighbors used was way cheaper” and swiftly book the neighbor’s recommendation without even getting them round for an estimate.

This realization came too late to save the en-suite bathroom project — I’d already lined up a tradesman via Facebook to start next week, and I’ve now gone deep on limewashing the old Ikea pine units, like a thrifty little Instagrammer — but I’ve already put it into play in other areas.

For example, we recently got a new dishwasher, which means we no longer need the pointless “repair or replace!” monthly rip-off policy on the old one. (Reader, they did not ever replace it, and let me tell you that we paid that policy for over a decade). But rather than add “cancel old dishwasher policy” to my mental list, I asked my husband if he’d make sure that got sorted. And do you know what? He did it. It’s almost like he’s a grown adult who doesn’t need my supervision for every little task.

Look, it’s very early days. The lightbulb moment has only just happened, and I’m only just starting to recover from my control-freak tendencies. I reserve the right to relapse a few times — to wade in unnecessarily on decisions I’d already delegated, particularly if I sense they’ll be expensive mistakes — but so far, so good. I’m trying.

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A lover of horizons, hills, and words. Likes to write about uncomfortable things because too many people steer round those parts of life.

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