On June 27, 2022, the New York Times reassured me that the moments I want to attack my kind, mild-mannered husband with a meat cleaver are completely normal.
Three months later, the Washington Post also sanctioned these instances of partner loathing, quoting family therapist and author Terrence Real, the creator/proponent of “Normal Marital Hatred,” who says, “Real marriage comes the day you realize that this person is exquisitely designed to stick the burning spear into your eyeball.”
Mr. Real goes on to explain that no one acknowledges the “underbelly” of relationships. He postulates that there are moments when you look at your partner and hate their guts.
Wait, Terrence, have you been hiding in marital closets across America?
“You’re trapped with this horrible human being,” he continues. “How did you wind up here? What I want to say is, ‘Welcome to marriage. Welcome to long-term relationships.’”
And all this time I’ve been feeling guilty! Now I know that when Randy leaves the cabinet doors wide open or rearranges the dishes I’ve methodically loaded into the dishwasher, it’s okay to fantasize about substituting arsenic for tarragon in tonight’s Chicken Véronique.
I used to blame my occasional intensity of emotions on PMS, then on menopause. But since reaching my mid-60s, I’ve run out of hormonal excuses. Marital hatred had begun to feel like a personal problem. Now, thanks to Terrence, I’ve come to realize that internal murderous rages are, as he puts it, quite normal.
I’ve assured Randy that, at times, I hated all my boyfriends and husbands who preceded him, so he shouldn’t feel singled out.
But as I read Terrence Real’s theories of fleeting spousal contempt, I became curious: How did my friends felt about their partners? In my informal survey of eight women, there was little disagreement. No one said, “Oh, dear! I never feel hatred towards my spouse!” One or two murmured that perhaps hatred was a strong word. But by the time they recounted the myriad ways their mates aggravated them, they’d embraced the concept.
“Anyone who says they don’t hate their partners is lying. Or denying,” one friend insisted. Married to the same man for over forty years, she’s clearly an expert.
Two friends responded to my query about marital hatred by saying, “Are you reading my mind?”
And one snarled, “Of course it’s normal!”
I decided to consult my friend, Dr. Nancy Wunderlich, a therapist in the Washington, DC, area since 1994. No stranger to couples counseling, she reported that rage and resentment are frequent issues in long-term relationships.
“But is marital hatred normal?” I probed.
“We’re allowed to have strong and intense feelings in any marriage,” she said. “But how often, for how long, and how deeply do we experience these feelings?”
I marvel at how rational therapists can sound.
“Is it an acute state or an enduring trait of the relationship?” she mused.
I stop to reflect about my own marriage. Sure, Randy irritates me a few times a day. And I’m fairly certain I exhibit a few quirks that irk him. But when he takes the initiative and throws dirty towels in the washing machine or walks our dog without being nagged, my seething ebbs to a simmer. He’s not such a bad guy. And who knows, underneath that imperturbable shell he might be nursing his own Normal Marital Hatred.
I give Randy’s butt an affectionate swat as he strides to the dishwasher for his nightly audit. To be nice, I’ve loaded the bowls onto the top shelf, just as he prefers. We both sigh contentedly. Another day of marriage. Another moment of Normal Marital Hatred averted.