Is discussing your feelings always the right thing to do? New columnists Anna Whitehouse and Matt Farquharson - also known as Instagram's @Mother_Pukka and @Papa_Pukka - battle it out
In a new fortnightly column for marieclaire.co.uk, Anna Whitehouse and her husband Matt Farquharson, will be going head to head on the most pressing issues of the day – relationship curveballs, the gender politics of cheating, and what the hell would Love Island be without cosmetic dentistry? Welcome to #TrueRomance, where the couple known as Mother Pukka and Papa Pukka will be getting to the bottom of all those niggling questions we always wanted answering (but perhaps couldn’t be arsed to ask). This week: Is it always good to talk, or should we sometimes just shut up?
By Anna Whitehouse
When it comes to a quick jaunt to the corner shop, Matt and I have got our communication nailed. After years of yelling things at him (‘Don’t forget the bog roll and feta’), only for him to return with a sweaty mozzarella ball and some pork scratchings, we have established a system to stop relationship breakdown. I now text him The List, he purchases items on The List and marital harmony is maintained.
But transferring that watertight set-up to matters of the heart is a trickier task. The minute I edge into ‘do you have five minutes for a chat?’, Matt’s eyes glaze over, his lids descend and a little of his spirit disperses as he realises we aren’t about to watch another episode of Glow. No Netflix, only grilling.
‘No Netflix, only grilling – I need to know what’s going on in his mind’
Matt is a nice man, but he dislikes talking about his needs or feelings: why waste time blathering when you could be fondling? And he does have a stellar point but the issue is, to fondle, I need the blather. I need to exchange thoughts and catch insights into his day that go beyond life insurance angst and running out of bin bags. I get turned on by a laugh or a story about a pigeon wreaking havoc on the Tube – it doesn’t take much. In short, I need to know what is going on in his mind. While he assures me it’s just ‘sandwiches, mainly’, I read the subtext as: complex web of emotions that requires unravelling. I overheard him say once to a mate, ‘I just swallow emotions and shit them out.’
I don’t think this is something that only afflicts women – my friend Gemma has a ‘cuddle pillow’ for her husband Jude to hold when she hasn’t got the emotional headspace for his daily request for ‘a chat’. But I have learned how to navigate life with my emotion-wary partner. A few years ago, I was having a miserable time at work. One evening I cornered Matt and delivered a 45-minute monologue about my potentially psychopathic colleague at the time. Part of me wanted a place to unload frustration. Part of me just wanted to look at his face and say words so that we would feel more connected. It seemed to make sense to focus those efforts on something practical like work, even though I wasn’t really seeking an answer.
In Matt’s ideal world, I would deliver The Issue and he would respond with The List of Solutions. In my ideal world, I would present The Issue, we would discuss it, he would empathise, say something witty and then know exactly the right moment to cup my left buttock.
Perhaps if we’d spelt this out ten years ago, we might not have been stuck so often ricocheting between ‘you don’t understand’ and ‘what you need to do is this…’
By Matt Farquharson
In the early years of Facebook, when trolls were still just imaginary creatures with extravagant hair and a fondness for bridges, a picture of an old magazine cutting did the digital rounds. It was Housekeeping Monthly from 1955, and an article called ‘The Good Wife’s Guide’. The list of to-dos for wives on their husband’s return from work – arrange his cushion, have dinner ready, put a ribbon in your hair – stopped just short of demanding a quick blowie while simultaneously removing his shoes. It was a fake: too much even by the ‘traditional’ standards of 1955. But there is one line that stuck in my memory: ‘Don’t greet him with complaints and problems,’ because, very quietly, I agreed.
I don’t really want to talk about feelings, because I’m not sure I have many. I’m quite often hungry or horny, and occasionally both at once (which can make mealtimes confusing: cheese sandwiches not being a traditional object of lust). But hunger and horniness are physical symptoms, rather than emotional feels. If I have problems, I prefer to let them stew in the back of my head until I know how fix them, not parp them into the ear of someone else. When times are tough, I’d rather just swear more at technology. During one particularly stressful spell of work and life, I shouted ‘twatty little bastard’ at an Asda self-service till and felt much better for it. To the outsider it looked like a minor breakdown, to me it felt like therapy.
‘I prefer to suck up any problems, and then let them pass while reading sports apps on the toilet’
I’m of the view that a problem shared isn’t a problem solved, but instead one that you’ve now lumbered on to some other poor schmuck. I understand that this is an emotional failing on my part, but I’ve found that the best way for me to handle strains and unhappiness is to inhale them, sucking them deep into my core, and then let them pass while reading sports apps on the toilet. Within the sanctity of my meditation chamber, troubles ease away, and no one else has been bothered in the process.
I spent my formative years in an otherwise female household, and have been in healthy(ish) long-term relationships for most of my adult life. The idea that men are from Mars and have different needs to women has always struck me as the laziest of cliches, but in matters of emotional wellbeing, it seems Anna and I fall plumbly into gender stereotype.
I sometimes (unintentionally) zone out her voice, and see the disappointment in her face when I return from the corner shop with the wrong kind of soggy foreign cheese. She likes to talk things through, I like to ignore them, or try to fix them. A few years ago, Anna once worked in a place where she was deeply unhappy, and every night she would detail her experiences of terrible atmospheres, blame-shifting and whispering cliques. I would tell her she should quit, we’d be fine, and did she fancy Thai or Indian take-out? This, it transpired, was not what was required. Sometimes, she wasn’t even hungry. It took many tears for me to realise my error.
But now, slowly, I am becoming a listener. I resist the urge to say, ‘This’ll fix it’, and against all my natural instincts, instead I ask, ‘how did you feel?’ I just hope she doesn’t ask me the same thing, so that I can keep swearing at inanimate objects.
Anna Whitehouse and Matt Farquharson are the authors of Sunday Times bestseller Parenting the Shit out of Life, published by Hodder & Stoughton.