How My Follow Through Problem Isn’t Just About Laundry
I have a follow through problem.
I used to think it was just about folding the laundry or finishing craft projects or getting thank you notes sent out. (I know. It’s indecent how irresponsible I am.) But it’s more than that, and this was revealed to me last summer.
Last year the Builder and I faced some pretty nasty storms in our marriage. It had been building (ha! that word just keeps popping up!) for a long time, like most nasty marriage weather, but it got to where we could ignore it no longer. (I tried. Believe me, I tried.) So we learned all kinds of delightful things last year (the sarcasm is dripping here), but the best one (now I’m being serious) is that we still want to be married to each other. (Yay!) Despite my following through problem, despite all our other issues – we are still married and much happier now, I might add.
Facing our storm meant looking in the mirror and figuring out what role I was playing in our disaster. (I’m not taking all the credit for our problems, but I’m not going to speak for my husband, so this will just be about me.) One day I had a rude awakening when the following exchange took place:
(Keep in mind, there is tension in the house.)
The Builder walks in to our master bathroom. I’m in the bedroom.
“Oh, sorry I left my work clothes in there on the floor. I need to pick them up.”
(Leaving my nasty dirty work clothes on the floor was a habit, by the way. I had never really stopped to figure out how much this annoyed the Builder.)
He doesn’t respond.
Usually we would just keep things to ourselves, but I was done with that. I got annoyed and blew up at him. “Why is it that when I apologize for things, you don’t say anything?! It makes me crazy!“
He was quiet at first, but then shot right back at me.
“If you were really sorry I don’t think you would have left them there in the first place! You always leave them there! Why not just pick them up?!“
I stopped in my tracks. Besides the fact that he had eradicated the fight I WANTED to have, he had also called me out on a BIG problem: I can talk the talk, but I can’t walk the walk.
I have all sorts of great intentions, but I don’t follow through on things.
I am an idea person. Not a person of action.
This moment in our marriage hit me square in the face. First of all, the Builder is a man of few words. By definition, he is a man of action. We speak very different languages. (The next few months would be me working through that concept.)
But second of all, he was totally right. My follow through problem wasn’t just about not getting the last pan washed when I’m doing the dishes (why do I do that?), or folding the clothes but not putting them away. My follow through problem was blowing holes in our marriage right and left.
“I’ll do that when I get home.”
He heard a promise. I thought of it more as a nice idea.
“Let’s pay off that credit card with this money!”
He heard a promise. I thought we were having a ‘conversation,’ and since he didn’t respond with much I forgot all about it.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get that phone call made.”
He thinks of “sorry” as a moment of repentance; a plan to change future actions. If I’m sorry, then you would think the follow through would be that I would change my behavior – at least part of the time.
But I didn’t.
And I had no idea how he perceived my behavior.
Until that moment in the bathroom.
Obviously I’m human and so is he and this was all just the tip of the iceberg. But it was, and continues to be, an issue I think about. It isn’t just about my interaction with him. In all facets of life I have great intentions, but fall short sometimes in getting the job done. I create charts to help us get chores done, and they are forgotten in only a few days. I make goals for kids, and lists for the house, and I fill index card holders with systems for getting the job done. But sometimes those jobs don’t get done.
Look, I’m not perfect and I get that. There is no way I’m always going to follow through on all my ideas, and that’s ok. But I also have learned that I need to be more careful about what I say. I need to weigh my actions and my words and think a little harder about how those things are affecting the people I love and the family that has to live with me. It has been a big deal for me to recognize this about myself. Understanding this flaw and where it fits into my daily life has changed things.
I still have laundry baskets sitting around with clothes (some folded, some not). I still have plans and ideas that go unfulfilled. But I’m more careful about what I say these days. If I tell the Builder I’m going to do something – and it’s an important something (to him or to the well-being of our family) – I take it much more seriously than I used to. I’m still learning. But one thing I’ve gotten a lot better at:
My dirty clothes are rarely left on the master bathroom floor.