Three Things I Do That Drive My Wife Insane (Sorry, Honey!)

My beloved wife, Ellen and I will be celebrating our 15th anniversary later this week. (According to Ellen, the traditional 15th anniversary gift is a kitchen remodel. I, on the other hand, think a more appropriate 15th anniversary gift is to pay a kid to cut the lawn.)

15 years is a long time, and I am pleased to report that our marriage remains healthy, happy, and kissy. My son reports that it is too kissy, but he can stuff it.

In fact, Ellen finds only three things about me that might drive her to murder me in my sleep.


When I do chores, I like to have music playing in the background. It puts a spring in my step (and, occasionally, a splint on my finger). Music makes housework fun!

When I don’t play music, I hum. Ellen hates, hates, hates my humming and I can’t blame her. Nobody ever wants to hear another person hum.

The songs I hum vary and are prompted by any earworm-y song that finds its way into my orbit. A recent Catholic Mass put me on a non-stop In Christ Alone kick. This was replaced a few weeks later by Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls. So, yeah, musically I’m all over the place. (Once I even caught myself humming the theme to Wonderpets in the men’s room.)

Sometimes the hummable song consumes me for a day; other times it’s a week or more. But, no matter how catchy, sooner or later the song will dislodge itself from my brain and vanish from my hum jukebox.

There is one exception to this rule, however.

The one song that never leaves my brain is Deck the Halls. I don’t know why, but somehow, Deck the Halls has become my fallback hum song.

All. Year. Round.

I often hum it without hearing it, so I’m frequently caught off guard when Ellen storms up, jabs her index finger in my face, and says, “NO!”

“Oh, sorry,” I reply.

But five minutes later, I’m doing it again. Come to think of it, Ellen really should’ve beaten me to death by now.


I am a night person trapped in a day schedule. I think many writers are in a similar predicament. We want to go to sleep after the Late Late Movie (remember when there were Late Late movies?) and roll out of bed at around 11-ish to start the day, but we can’t. We have jobs. And families. And other things that force us up at the ungodly predawn hours. We learn to adjust. It is the price of being a grown up.

I can function in the morning, but my productivity sweet spot kicks in at about three in the afternoon and continues for about the next eight hours.

So by the time my dear wife is ready to go to bed at around ten, I’m still relatively alert. Sometimes this means I pepper her with stupid bedtime thoughts.

But I also pepper her with thoughts that are less stupid. I talk about the chores we still need to do. The calls we still need to make. The appointments we still need to prepare for.

For me, this is called “Winding Down.” Before I rest my head on the pillow, I want to have a relatively good grasp on what needs to be done the following day.

But what winds me down revs Ellen up.

Why,” she growls into her pillow, “are you telling me all this now?”

Apparently, musing about the many, many incomplete tasks in our house makes Ellen anxious and cranky. She gets “overwhelmed,” which is a type of tired, I suppose, but not the type of tired that makes a person sleepy.


Ellen, when left to her own devices, likes to create piles of paper.

These piles are quite remarkable. Each paper in an Ellen pile is completely unrelated to any of the other papers in that same pile. Does a bank statement belong in the same pile with an ungraded essay or a takeout menu from the Tastee Wok? Apparently so.

Ellen creates lots of these incomprehensible piles. And she is always adding to the piles with new, completely unrelated pieces of paper. Phone numbers with no names. The water bill. Alex’s social studies report on the Leni Lenape Indians. Weather-beaten notebooks half-filled with handwritten algebra problems.

It is amazing just how many pieces of paper in our house are completely unrelated to any other pieces of paper.

I hate these piles.

I am an anal retentive person. I see a pile of paper as a personal affront to my existence. To me, a pile is a problem. Problems need to be solved.

Ellen does not like it when I mess with her piles and I respect that. So I ask Ellen to mess with her piles on my behalf.

“I will,” she says, but she doesn’t. Ellen is very good at ignoring her piles.

So I don’t ignore her piles. When the moment is right, I dig in. I throw things away and file things away until every dang, stupid, paper thing is away.

This makes Ellen grouchy.

“I said I’d do it!” she grumps. “Now I don’t know where anything is!”

“Everything,” I reply, with a bow of a Zen master, “is in it’s place.”

To be honest, I think my pile purging skill is the reason why Ellen doesn’t murder me for humming or creating unnecessary stress at bedtime. As much as she doesn’t want me to mess with her piles, there is a part of her that knows what would happen if I didn’t. The untended piles would continue growing, like a cancer, eventually reaching up to the ceiling, filling rooms, and spilling out into the yard.

No one wants to get crushed to death under stacks of expired coupons and back issues of The Atlantic. By keeping me alive, Ellen is keeping herself alive. And isn’t that what a healthy marriage is all about?

Here’s to the next 15 years! I love you, Sweetie!

80 Replies to “Three Things I Do That Drive My Wife Insane (Sorry, Honey!)”

  1. I crank the stereo in my car and sing along at the top of my lungs. I crank the stereo at home (blown out 3 speakers now) and sing along at the top of my lungs. It’s what has gotten me thru the last year since the death of my husband.

    I wind down by reading a book. Try it sometime. You might enjoy it. *snortz*

    My piles grow till I toss ’em all on my desk. I have this HUGE barrel from a chain company that it all goes in, eventually, and I use it to start the firepit and then I dance around it, SINGING AT THE TOP OF MY LUNGS, and …. well…. I have fun.

      1. No……..I wish it were that simple. I need my husband back. I miss him. I can get lost in the music that loud and not think of him so hard.

        Plus it annoys the neighbor. *snortz*

      2. He’s single, rich, and unkempt, drives NEW Ford pickups but no……….I couldn’t date him. He’s like 70. Can’t hear me anyway.

        Did you make sense of that??

    1. I’m so sorry for your loss. Singing at the top of your lungs and blasting music seems like a healthy way to get through this time. I also like the bonfire idea. When I have to clean in a hurry, I will grab piles of paper off counters and tables and stuff into a plastic shopping bag and toss in my closet. Months later when I’m going through the bag, I find I can mostly throw all of it away. So a fire would be fun.

      1. Thank you. It’s been difficult but I’ve always loved music. It has helped a lot.

        I don’t have enough closet space!!

  2. Thanks for the laugh, Mike. The thing that makes me insane is chewing. I have this thing about the sound of chewing that’s worse than humming, night-noticing, and piles. It’s okay if everyone is chewing at the same time, but if my husband is the only one chewing (like while we’re watching a movie), I have to leave the room; I can’t take it. His complaint about me is I ask too many questions. 😀 Ah, marriage. Ha ha. Happy 15th Anniversary.

      1. Anyone’s chewing. My daughter has the same thing. There’s actually a name for it – Misophonia – an acute sensitivity to certain sounds. It also impacts my writing in that the sounds of the words, sentences and paragraphs have to sound a certain way, right down to the number of syllables. Weird, huh?

      2. With words it’s much more subtle. It’s more about flow and it’s limited to writing. My sentences have to have a certain rhythm and cadence. So when I’m looking for a particular word, it not only has to have the right meaning, but it has to have the right number of syllables to make the sentence’s rhythm work. And the rhythm of the sentence has to work with the flow of the paragraph. If I can’t get the right number of syllables in one word, I have to change the flow of the entire paragraph. So WEIRD, I know.

  3. A kitchen remodel is the perfect gift for one’s 15th Anniversary! With new cabinets, you might be able to find the perfect place to hide the piles. Happy Anniversary!

  4. Happy Anniversary you two pile-pulling, humming-along, nocturnally romantic (or not) sweet peas. This, this is what marriage is all about. Learning to not kill each other but instead to live with each other’s inane asinine idiosyncrasies. Well, ur, the husbands’ idiosyncrasies. We wives just count to ten, leave the room if necessary (see Diana, above), or pretend we’re happy if you destroy our piles. I assure you, we are NOT really happy about that. In fact, someone near and dear to my heart just suggested to me that perhaps, ummm, maybe, if I didn’t mind? I could file my pile.
    He’s still alive, but only because I’m as sweet a wife as your Ellen.

  5. Congratulations and to many more Happy Anniversaries, Mike! What a fun post! The first thing that came to mind as I read your post was — compromise. It sounds like the two of you balance each other beautifully. That’s the sign of a good marriage.

    I see your humming as joyful and something that makes you feel good. Now, I must remember I said that the next time my husband starts one of his whistle-less whistles, usually when I’m at the computer trying to write. Even though they carry an airy tune, they drive me insane. I don’t poke, I just turn my head and stare.

    But, you know what? One day we will cherish those memories and laugh at them. I know I do things that drive my husband crazy at times, but he is far more patient with me. He may forget our anniversary date sometimes, but he sings me a little song every night before we go to bed. That’s worth it!

    1. Just like no one wants to hear another person hum, no one wants to hear another person whistle. Especially when the non-whistling person is writing. Does your husband have a special, soundproofed room of his own where he can whistle with reckless abandon?

      Aw. The singing, though! How sweet!

  6. Ha, only 15? You are both in good shape. We have had an empty nest for years, and each have a separate “wing,” study, in our “palatial” 5 room NYC apartment, in the bedrooms vacated by our sons. The future holds promise.

  7. Since I have been married 31 years (as of last week) I can tell you that you are very lucky she has smothered you in your sleep! LOL! My hubby and I still do things that annoy the hec out of each of us but at some point you learn to let things go and pick your battles. Sounds like you have all the making of at least another 15 years 😉 Just be glad you aren’t married to ME! I would rip off your arm and beat you with it if you touched my piles!!! 😂😂😂😂😂😂😂

  8. Happy Anniversary!

    I have to admit that I am more like your wife on your last two items, so that may just be a woman thing. But yes, I especially hate the “oh, by the way, there are XYZ that needs to be taken care of” AS hubby and I get in bed at night. And I’m like “…. why didn’t you tell me this when you got home from work SIX HOURS AGO?”

    1. Nighttime is, I think, a good time to plan for the following day. For me, it’s just like setting up the coffee pot the night before. Knowing what I need to do keeps my bleary-eyed morning hours focused and productive.

  9. What amazing skills and talents you have, Mike! I can appreciate them from afar. After 44 years of marriage I have Pile Poaching Envy. I desperately need to learn this skill as his office has piles just like Ellen’s.

  10. Oh my, you sound just like me with one difference, I never touch Rick’s piles because he would murder me or at least look at me as if he did. I just wait until he wastes a whole day looking for things…in his piles and finally gives in to do something about it. So when I come home and find every inch of the bed is covered with “organized piles” I quietly turn and skip out the door.

    I put up with the piles because he puts up with the bear that crawls into our bed at night, inhabiting my side, keeping him up all night long. I have no clue what he’s talking about. I didn’t’ hear anything, in fact…I slept great!

    Ah, LOVE…isn’t it grand!

  11. Happy anniversary, you crazy kids! Bruce & I just celebrated 20. I, of course, simply adore everything he does and he feels same about me. I’m sure my habit of leaving tissues all over the house and dirty glasses in the living room delights him to no end.

  12. Congratulations on 15 years! I’m pretty impressed the list is so small. If that had been me or He-Who it would have been a much longer list. The humming thing is pretty bad, it might count as more than one. Sadly, I have the same problem and can often be heard humming songs even you don’t like.

  13. Three things:
    Happy Anniversary
    Get her something nice
    My husband and I both have pile issues and we know not to mention them. When we purge it’s as a team!

    1. If you and your husband can work as a team on piles, that means you two are pile-simpatico; by this I mean you share a similar mindset about when piles can be ignored and when piles must be purged.

      Sadly, Ellen and I are pile-incompatible. My pile-tolerance threshold is much lower than Ellen’s. This is where conflict arises.

  14. Happy Happy Anniversary! I’m with Ellen on the kitchen remodel. Nothing says “I love you, and I’d marry you all over again” more than handing over a nice $75,000 check to a general contractor.

    About the humming: Jingle Bells, Let It Snow, Winter Wonderland, um, lots of Christmas tunes are lovely humming choices. I got that from my mother. Sometimes when I start humming, my son starts humming and then we break out in song. It’s a lovely bonding moment. My husband thinks we’re lunatics. But then we’ve been married since we were children (nearly 22 years), so we’re long past the point of murder. Although my husband’s snoring has been known to send me over the edge.

    About the piles: I’m right there with Ellen, too. My husband usually tries to elbow them off the dining room table when he’s eating so that the dog can have her way with the utility bills, coupons, insurance statements, story ideas, manila folders of revisions……We stack the piles on the piano bench when we have guests and need more than three place settings at the table. I try to weed through them weekly, but it takes soooo long! And the paper just keeps coming….blizzards have deposited smaller snowdrifts on my doorstep. One of these days, we’ll remodel the house and I’ll finally have my office back…..and bookshelves…..

    1. When I got on a Mission Impossible theme song humming jag. Alex was always eager to join in with verve and enthusiasm. If Ellen rolled her eyes with any more effort, I think she would’ve dislocated her optic nerve.

      But hold on, now. $75,000 for a kitchen? The only way I could pay for that is if my life insurance policy paid off…

      Uh oh.

  15. Congratulations… Hope you have many more anniversaries to celebrate and may you become more kissy.. Don’t mind your son… I personally wouldn’t mind the humming but snoring is something I can’t stand, and my poor husband has to get up every time I scream at him for snoring..

  16. Oh my GOSH! Can I have a husband that sorts, files, and throws away the absurd amount of piles of paperwork that appear uninvited into my life? Which store did she find you in? I’d like to place an order immediately.

  17. Happy, happy #15!! I agree with Ellen. A kitchen reno is always a great way to commemorate a major milestone 😉
    … or a trip to Paris. Or both. You choose.

  18. I feel like the oldest person here. We’ve been married for almost 38 years. We are complete opposites. I’m a night person, he’s a morning person. I’ve had to school him on not starting discussions of any importance first thing in the morning. Since I deal with debilitating fatigue, I also don’t want to have him discuss things of importance at bedtime either. I do like to write a list down before bed of what I want to do the next day. Since I’m usually not functional for a couple hours after I get up, it helps to have the list already made. I do read before bed. And no matter how exhausted I am during the afternoon, my body/mind wakes up about 6 every night and I am usually ready to stay awake until 11 or 12. He snores, I move around a lot in bed (I attribute that to the fibro). I don’t think the humming would bother me unless I was trying to concentrate on something, but Deck the Halls would probably drive me crazy. You need to come up with a better default hum. I create piles of paper also but I do hate them and if I could figure out what to do with them, I would. My goal is to have one of those houses that always looks clean no matter who drops in, no matter what time. We each have a sibling whose houses are like that and I would love to have my house be neat and picked up all the time.
    Kitchen remodels are hugely inconvenient, and I understand your dread. Be sure to take before and after pictures, but hey, you may gain some really good writing material out of the remodel, so there’s a positive.
    Yes, keep being kissy affectionate! Alex will someday thank you both for that.
    Happy Anniversary and Congratulations on 15 years! May you have many, many more happy years together!

  19. Save up and take Ellen to Kauai for your 35th. It will perk up the marriage for at least another 15 years. The solution for the spouse’s piles? My hubs has his own office. With a locking door. What I don’t see is fine with me. Hope you had a lovely anniversary.

    1. Oh, Lordy, forgive my very, very late reply to your comment. A month’s worth of hard deadlines has forced me to neglect the blog for a time.

      But I must ask: Since your cooking absolves you from being pesky to your husband, what is your signature dish?

  20. Organizing piles even paper piles and tossing anything not relevant is a gift. I am the same way can’t stand anything not in it’s place by the end of the day to the point it drives me crazy, not so to others in my nest. I swear we would live in piles of things if it weren’t for my obsession. Happy tiding up.

  21. Just found your blog, but I had to comment because I think your description of nocturnal peoples is spot-on. I’m the at-home parent, so my sweet spot is actually around 11:00 p.m. I start listing all the things I remember then to my husband, who is finally ready to slip off to sleep.
    My brother-in-law’s fallback song is “Toot Toot Tootsie.” My sister says she stands outside his shower and yells, “Where did you even HEAR that song?!”

  22. Happy anniversary, Mike! My husband and I celebrated our 26th anniversary this year. We meant to have a big party for our 25th last year but couldn’t agree on where to have it, so we spent a quiet evening at home trying to find our wedding album. I am married to a fabulous man I call St. Patrick, because he not only tolerates my slovenly habits, he bails me out of my messes. For example, I stain my clothing on a regular basis and he has built a chemistry lab so he can remove any substance I manage to smear onto myself, saving me from dressing like a hobo. This is every bit as important as your mission to dig through piles of paper. Keep on kissing!

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