Why does anyone bother?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com


How Not to Hate Your Husband came about because Dunn and her husband Tom had fallen into a deep rut of arguments and resentment about their household distribution of labour. Tom, despite good intentions and a warm personality, left almost all of the household management and childcare to Dunn, and her resentment became explosive. (Sound familiar?) Their six-year-old daughter, Sylvie, was often witness to their conflicts, and Dunn began to worry about the negative impact that this repetitive dynamic could have on her daughter. “What made me especially sad about our endless bickering,” she writes, “is that it drags down what is by all accounts a pretty wonderful life.” Indeed, she and Tom live in Brooklyn and both have interesting freelance media jobs, and both relish their roles as parents. So over several months she decided to solicit the advice of a small army of experts—including a renowned zero-bullshit couple’s therapist and a former international hostage negotiator for the FBI—to teach herself and Tom practical techniques to improve the way they divvy up the labor of their life together.

The book follows Dunn from expert to expert, and after meeting with each one she reports back to us on how she and Tom fared when applying their new skills once they got home. They go over effective communication strategies, active listening tactics, approaches to scheduling weekend activities, ways of improving their sex life, tricks to teach their daughter to help out around the house, decluttering methods—it occurred to me about halfway through the book that there are so many things to fight about in a domestic partnership that it’s amazing we’re even still trying to make these things work. But Dunn maintains a cheerful dedication to her mission, giving us honest appraisals of her and Tom’s performances as they struggle to break out of their fighting routine.

One of the social processes that fascinates me most as a sociologist-in-training are the everyday negotiations and adjustments we develop in order to “make do”—to manage, to get by. Making do in our everyday lives requires that we construct narrative frameworks—that we tell ourselves stories in order to live, as Joan Didion famously said. Through these stories, we are able to make sense of, say, the problem of living with a man who is simultaneously a wonderful partner and lazy piece of shit. When we tell ourselves stories about our domestic lives, we desperately need to maintain an optimism that things are improving — the stakes can be very high. In the service of maintaining an acceptable narrative, we come up with elaborate justifications for our bad behavior, and the bad behavior of our partners.