Unexpected events are largely unavoidable. Things happen, stuff comes up, plans change. I understand that.
I also live with small unpredictable people, which adds another dimension to unexpectedness. I also recently learned of some insecurities on the part of my allistic (non-Autistic) husband that feed into many of the unexpected event-related difficulties in our marriage. More on that farther down.
In December I wrote this:
Sometimes the unexpected is enough to cause a complete melt down or shut down. Other times, it can be okay. It seems to primarily depend on how unknown the unexpected event is to me, how it’s handled by the other people around me, and how many coping techniques I have at hand. If my reserves are low to begin with then the situation is likely not going to turn out well even if the other things are all optimal.
Now, even though I wrote it generally and applied it specifically to my dental work situation, I didn’t really come to the conclusion that I might need to apply this idea of minimizing unexpected events more specifically to my life until just the other night after we’d had (planned) guests come over to our house.
I’d been out most of the day with one of my children at an event we both enjoyed and Husband had invited some of our other children’s friends over to the house while we were gone. He promised that he’d clean the house while I was at the event so that I wouldn’t stress about it being dirty/cluttered when I returned shortly before our evening guests would be arriving.
The event was lovely and I returned home, expecting the house to be at least mostly tidy. I figured I could do some straightening up if only the basics were done.
When I walked in the door Husband wasn’t home and I was greeted with the entryway and living room looking pretty much exactly as they’d looked when I’d left, hours earlier. I continued through the house, noting that the dishes were mostly done, but that was about it.
Cue my panic. As far as I knew, I had less than an hour before our guests arrived and the house needed a good amount of work. I paced around a bit, frantically thinking through the situation, before texting Husband to let him know that I’d start cleaning since I was home. It was the only solution I could come up with. I pushed aside my panic, focusing on my task at hand, as I wrote out the words “I’ll start cleaning” and then got busy.
Later he told me that he interpreted that as meaning that he hadn’t done any cleaning. He texted me back saying that he had done some cleaning, to which I’d replied, “Nobody said you didn’t.” because that seemed to be a distraction when I really just needed to get cleaning while continuing to fight my rising panic at the change in my task ahead.
I worked very hard and got a lot done.
But, I exploded when Husband got home. I was very upset. Not about needing to clean. I couldn’t explain why I was upset, but I was. He kept trying to explain why he hadn’t gotten more done and I kept trying to tell him to stop talking and just help. Talking wasn’t helping. It was making me more upset to try and listen and explain because he wasn’t addressing anything close to why I was actually upset and I couldn’t verbalize how I even knew that, let alone what was actually upsetting.
At the end of the day, when our guests had gone home, I was finally able to examine what had happened and put it into words for Husband too.
My picture of coming home hadn’t included needing to clean the entire house in less than an hour. I wasn’t expecting perfection or anything, but I really wasn’t expecting it to look nearly the same as when I’d left.
Husband had things that came up and prevented him from cleaning. That’s fine. I get that. We have children, they had friends over, things come up. That’s not a big deal to me.
But I have to be told about it or it will be a big deal. I have to have time to prepare and transition my expectations. If he’d been home, the transition might have gone more smoothly for me, although I probably still would’ve yelled due to the shock so maybe it wouldn’t have gone more smoothly for him.
If he’d texted ahead of time then it definitely would’ve gone more smoothly for both of us because I would’ve been expecting the change in advance. No upset, no yelling, no frantic reassessment of the situation in panic mode…
Husband let me know about some of his difficulties too. He tends to take on a lot of pressure to do the things he’s said he’ll do. That’s not a bad thing, per se, but he takes it a little farther and ends up lying to himself that it’ll get done because he’s so focused on needing to get it done and then he doesn’t tell me that he’s struggling or that plans need to change.
So, he gets stressed out because he’s not keeping his word, I get stressed out because he’s not telling me what’s going on, and when I get upset, he internalizes it all and assumes (despite the fact that we’ve had the, “please just TELL me when plans change” conversation before) that I’m upset because he didn’t get the thing done.
When really, I’m just fine if I know that the thing won’t get done because then I can plan ahead for it and either do it myself or make peace with it not getting done.
Cleaning the house even when I wasn’t supposed to have to do it? Not a big deal. Walking into a messy house when I was promised and expecting a clean one? A huge, often meltdown-inducing, deal.
I need to remind him frequently to just tell me things. The more he can tell me and the fewer unexpected events coming from him, the better. I already have to navigate all the children’s unexpectedness so I have very limited energy for dealing with another adult’s unexpectedness.
It makes a huge difference when I can count on him letting me know in advance when plans or expectations need to change.