I’d been stewing with anger for months. Every little thing she did amplified more in my mind. If she coughed, she coughed too loudly, if she spoke, then she must be badmouthing me. My existence was limited to a handful of square footage that wasn’t even my own. My sanity crumbled, my marriage strained, I became increasingly unhappy and stressed by the minute. I felt that I was drowning more and more each day.
I live with my brother and his wife. In any situation living with another adult is hard enough but living with a Davidson can be trying in itself (although, I do strongly believe that it’s the pairing of both my father’s Davidson and my mother’s Gillies that makes my brother and I tick in the ways that we do). My brother and I have always been close. Growing up we were each other’s occasional best friend and constant companion. My brother is the one person who I know I’ll always be okay with. No matter how hard things get, in our adulthood our relationship has blossomed into one that is deeply rooted in our days of playing Atari and Nintendo, Rambo and Barbies, Laser Tag and Teddy Ruxpin. When my husband and I decided to move back to our hometown area last year I knew that my brother, who had more than enough space to accommodate us, would welcome us in without question. The three of us fell into a routine that required little discussion and just seemed to work. My brother and I are cut from the same cloth but are also quite different and so while I didn’t think that living together would be a big deal, I also was not thinking about the likely eventuality of what that dynamic would become when his wife and children moved back home.
We assumed our routine would simply continue. And although we had one family meeting with all four adults coming together to discuss some house rules, it became quite clear that the train car was going to come off the rails. Each person complained to their spouse, lines were drawn, sides declared. I know that many people would cringe at the idea of living with a family member. To that I say, I had the privilege of growing up living with both sets of grandparents and then too with my parents. We come from an island family where that can be a norm and where family truly feels like home. However, as they say, knowing someone and living with someone are two different things. And as adults, we were far removed from the easygoing nature of our younger selves.
Jaded by life experiences, crippled by our own apparent sensibilities it is easy to imagine how a relationship can become strained or cataclysmically implode when you have four adults and two children under the same roof. At times it was just easier to sweep things under the rug, but then the bickering began. Two wives in one space can be a recipe for disaster. And that it was. My sister-in-law and I stopped communicating ages ago. In its wake were people taking sides, arguments with spouses, a powder keg waiting to erupt. And erupt it did over the past few days. I’ll leave the specifics out of this but I will say that the simplest of advice is what turned around the ship that was about to collide with the rocks.
And what was this simple advice? What was it that could have prevented all the turmoil? Communication and respect, both of which are much easier said than done. I’m a type A personality and given family traits, it was no surprise that I quickly planted my stake and drew my line in the sand. But we live in a shared space, each with adults (and children) who have their own needs and motivations. It’s easy to lose sight of how living with others can and does change the way we live in general. We see sides of ourselves that we may not have known existed. Add to that the other stresses of life and marriage and sprinkle in having children within earshot of every argument you may have, it causes a sense of pause.
My sister-in-law and I sat together and talked things out for over an hour. In that time there was a sense of relief that came over us both. I spoke from a place of clarity and let my guard down. Despite how badly things had gotten, in the end we were adults. We told each other how we felt, why we felt the way that we did and most importantly, we talked about what we should do to never get back to a place where we would cause so much division and stress. Does this mean that everything is perfect? No, what it does mean is that we realized that there was more to life than “being right” regardless of the cost. We all learn to compromise, it’s something that we learned in our childhood. Somehow that managed to get lost in the mix of getting our over 21 license and the other chaos of our lives.
This article appeared on page 5A in the 7/22/15 issue of The Union-Recorder.