A man with a short-tempered wife, about to give birth to their second child around Christmas, bemoans his lot. Mariella Frostrup rediscovers her own inner grumpy feminist.

The dilemma: I have a fiery and super-short-tempered wife, who loses her cool the moment something doesn’t work the way she wanted. Sometimes she blurts out really nasty things which I fear is beginning to push me away. Sometimes she unleashes her anger at our two-year-old son. But I love her very much and I want to provide and give her a happy life because, when calm, she is an amazing person to be around and we are excited to be expecting a daughter this month. I really don’t know how to approach or calm her down without aggravating her, so I just find myself distancing away from her to give her space, which does work sometimes, but even that at times annoys her because she thinks I am sulking when I stay away and say nothing to her.She is a good person at heart, but I really want to be able to remove the ridiculously short-tempered side of her.

Mariella replies: Surgically perhaps? It’s so inconvenient when the love of one’s life turns out to be human after all. It may be that you’ve just written to me on a bad week, but watching the women around me slowly unravel as we approach the “festivities” has definitely aroused the grumpy feminist within. I try to keep it under lock and key.

I’ll begin with what I hope will be a helpful suggestion. Have you read What To Expect When You’re Expecting? It was my bible when I was approaching motherhood and predicted almost to the moment what I’d be feeling and my body would be doing during the long months of gestation. The fear that I was descending into madness as responsibilities became overwhelming and simple tasks elevated to great challenges was alleviated the moment I opened the book and skipped to month four, the month of pregnancy I’d reached.

In your case if you look up months eight to nine, you may well find not only cause but cure for your wife’s short fuse, along with a “to do” list for yourself. That’s the simple answer. She is eight months pregnant, with a two-year-old toddler to care for and a few short weeks until Christmas. What’s not to love about that list?

I appreciate that a new baby is in the top five of great gifts, but we humans are contrary creatures, and while mothers are meant to be paragons of virtue who never lash out, we’re also human beings. If you’re seriously worried about her anger issues with your two-year-old, you should seek professional help. Respect (helpline: 0808 802 4040) offers advice about abusive behaviour. Family Lives (helpline: 0808 800 2222) offers confidential advice on all aspects of family life. Do this now before the new baby comes because January, I would caution, could be even worse, with sleeplessness, toddler tantrums and the bleak midwinter to endure.

It may sound like an unnecessarily dark portrait of the coming months, but for a lot of women, at home with only children and chores to inspire them, this really can be the season of our discontent. Dare I say that for those trying to throw paid work into the equation it’s an even greater challenge? A hundred years after the first suffragettes, many women are wondering what exactly our prize is, apart from being able to choose our next government. Otherwise you could say that we’ve ended up with too much (or should that be less?) of what we originally bargained for.

Yours is not the first letter I’ve received from a partner with an easily infuriated wife bemoaning their lot. Judging by my mail and real-life encounters, there’s an epidemic of anger raging across the land, infecting mainly women. It’s almost funny to witness your bewilderment in the face of this onslaught of irritability, particularly when you, like so many other men, are entirely blind to the causes. Not that I can scientifically diagnose it either, but there are plenty of clues to suggest that we have backed ourselves into a corner. I appreciate that readers of this fine organ are an emancipated lot, sharing domestic duties, embracing paternity leave and begging their wives to go back to work so they can stay home with the babies. Among the majority of the population, it’s simply not true. Women have inherited an impossible world where they’ve added full-time work to their already full-time role running the domestic environment and parenting.

There’s not a working woman I know who’s not at her wits’ end in this “season to be jolly”, so I’m sure it’s no coincidence that you’ve written to me during the canter towards Christmas. I’ve yet to hear a man say Christmas makes him stressed, but the number of my female friends who don’t dread the doubling of duties in celebration of a religious festival few of us believe in I can count on two hands.

Your wife also has the drudgery of toddler care and the exhaustion of pregnancy to cope with. My advice is, don’t skulk in the corner keeping clear of your wife’s outbursts but roll up your sleeves, halve the chores and witness how true equality miraculously turns us into the fairer, sweeter sex all over again.

 

Source: The Guardian