Brutally Honest Marriage

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I don’t like to be told what to do. (Who does, really?) And if that something that I need to do involves making a change in myself? Well then, whoever is brave enough to tell me to my face had better be wearing a helmet and a sports cup.

Just about the only people in the world that I can take direct criticism from are Chris and my sister. Ginny keeps me in check when I’m being stupid or immature. She tells me to get over things, grow up, and let it go. And though I sometimes get mad at her in the conversation, almost always, I go away somewhere by myself to lick my ego’s wounds and then I think about what she said and usually I make some changes. Sisters are great for reality checks.

Chris hardly ever criticizes me. Ever. He’s a good man and patient beyond belief, so when he tells me I’m doing something wrong or need to make some changes, I usually listen up. You’d think having that much of an impact on a person would give him a power trip, but it never has. He is selective when it comes to asking things of me and because of that, I always take him seriously.

On our way to Atlanta, after the kids had fallen asleep for the night and while we sat in comfortable silence, Chris came right out with a request.

“I need you to make a little more effort, Kate,” he said.

He had said this to me the week before, but it had been in a tense voice over two cranky kids and dinner on the stove, so we had just fought about it for five minutes and then moved on. It wasn’t productive (or even kind) at all. But hearing him speak to me thoughtfully and lovingly helped me let my guard down a bit so that I was really able to hear what he was saying.

The immediate problem he needed more effort in was with our money. Since my meltdown last year, Chris has taken over our finances to take some of the load off of me and I cannot tell you how helpful that has been. He took it over completely and except for an occasional, “Go easy this week,” I really hear very little about our money. Which is why I am ashamed to admit that the few times Chris has come to me to help him make financial decisions, I have pushed him away or melted down and not been able to have the conversation.

“I know you’re still anxious about money,” he told me in the car. “But we’re doing okay now and I really need you to get back to the point where you can help me make some decisions. It’s not fair that I have to decide budgetary things about our money by myself. It’s too much pressure for one person. You should be able to help me. Not with the day-to-day, but with the long-term planning. I need you to get to a place where you can help me.”

I listened to what he said and I knew he was right. In fact, maybe some of my anxiety would go away if I was more involved and knew what was going on. Once I agreed to make more of an effort, Chris thanked me and then said, “Actually, I need you to make a little more effort around the house, too.”

That’s when I started to get defensive. I do a TON around our house – cooking, laundry, diapers, bath time, bedtime, blogging… Who was he to tell me I needed to do MORE?

But Chris, knowing me so well, reached over and held my hand before I could explode and told me to listen. “It’s not about chores. I need you to make a little more effort with responsibilities. Things like sorting the mail, instead of refusing to open it. Answering emails, instead of asking me if I’ve looked at them. Our household is just a little messy right now and I need you to get to the place where you can help make it better.”

Once again, I knew just what he was talking about.

The truth is that last year when I had my meltdown and crawled into my black hole for a while, it was all those little things that I lost track of. I stopped opening mail – even to the point of not paying our bills. I stopped checking my email because there was just so much of it and it overwhelmed me. I didn’t manage our family calendar. I’d make appointments and then not go, or I’d forget to make the appointment altogether (case and point, Gracie STILL hasn’t been baptized and I forgot to schedule her six month vaccinations). I stopped planning our meals and clipping coupons. If it required planning or patience, I basically gave up doing it. Partly because I was depressed and partly as a solution to the depression. I cut myself some slack. I asked for help and I learned how to take help when it was offered. And there wasn’t a thing in the world wrong with that.

But now, things are better. I’m not overwhelmed (more than normal…). I’m happy and healthy and our family is back where we needed and wanted to be. And so, Chris was right. It was time for me to start taking some of that responsibility back for myself. I’ve had a whole year of excusing myself from details so that I could get better. And I did. But now, it’s time for me to start picking my load back up again.

I told my friend, Sarah, about the conversation I had with Chris and when I confessed that I was a bit of a mess at home, she was shocked.

“Your classroom is one of the most organized places I’ve ever seen,” she had said. “Maybe you just need to implement some of the same procedures that you use in your classroom in your home.”

I decided she was exactly right. What my home life needed was structure. We have a pretty clear routine, but we don’t have many structures or procedures in place. In my classroom, my students know where to turn in homework every day and where and how to check out books from my library. They know where the extra pencils are kept and they know where to keep their materials throughout class. I needed some of that same structure in my home and then maybe it wouldn’t be so overwhelming to me to take on some of that responsibility again.

I decided to start small. Our entry way in the new house is a little tricky because you have to come up a flight of stairs before you put your stuff down. And when I would finally get upstairs, hauling all my stuff and two kids in the afternoons, I’d usually just fling everything into a big arm chair and that’s where it’d stay until we left the house again. Papers piled up there, random mail, coats, keys, cell phones, shoes – it was just a big mess. So, last weekend as soon as we got home from Atlanta, I asked Chris to move one of our small cabinets into that entry way.

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It has a key bowl to hold keys and sunglasses (because I am ALWAYS losing both of those). There’s a plug for my cell phone charger (because I am ALWAYS losing that, too).

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And there is storage space down below to hold all of our daily bags that we use – lunch bags, diaper bags, my school bag, my purse, etc. Now it all has a place.

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Now, I have a place to sort through the mail and put my things so that my house doesn’t look like a college apartment. Is that a solution to all our problems? Not by a long shot. But it is a beginning step for me. I know myself and I know that I have an urge to please people and so my first instinct is to just take on the world because Chris asked me to make a few minor changes. But if I do that, I’m going to sink again under the weight of everything. So, I’m starting with small steps. Like meal planning and doing a load of laundry every night.

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And this weekend, I spent Saturday afternoon cleaning out the NEWBORN clothes from Gracie’s closet (see how bad it had gotten?!?!).

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None of these are life changing, but they are changing my marriage day by day. Chris really appreciates me stepping up and helping more. He likes coming home to a house that isn’t going crazy and not having to search around for mail or step over piles of laundry. And, you know, so do I.

Chris and I have been together a long time and through all those years, I’ve come to see him in a lot of different roles. Sometimes he’s my husband and sometimes he’s like a brother. Sometimes his presence is commanding, like a father, and sometimes he is like having a third child. But the role he plays in my life that I am the most appreciative for is the role of my best friend. Having a kind, loving voice of reason who helps me become the best version of myself is a quality in our marriage for which I am very thankful.

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37 Thoughts to “Brutally Honest Marriage”

  1. Wow, what a great message about marriage! It is so hard to accept unpleasant truths, but it is made so much easier when your spouse is loving along the way. Bravo to both of you!

  2. My husband is WAAAAAAY neater than I am, and so one of the things in our marriage is my stuff always being everywhere. One of my worst habits is using our dining room table the same way you used the arm chair, and then every night when we eat dinner I just throw it on the floor beside the table, eat, and then put all the stuff back on the table! Not very efficient….organization would be much better!

  3. Katie, I think this is awesome. Everything about it. The fact you guys can be so open and honest, and the fact that you listen to each other and make the changes necessary. This is a great reminder to all married couples! I love this, and am so happy for you both.

  4. Great post Katie. Communication is such a big part of marriage. My husband and I still struggle with this. We tend to blow up at each other for stupid things (like dinner for example) and then just ignore each other. Nothing gets accomplished and dinner doesn’t get on the table on time. Thank you for reminding me that it’s still a work in progress that we are all working on.

  5. Beth

    I can totally relate. I had PPD too and I feel like I stopped doing anything. It was so hard, and my husband picked up so much slack… it was awesome and terrifying all at the same time. I’m slowly starting to get back into it, and it’s amazing how much better I feel when I accomplish something. Tonight I made dinner from scratch for the first time in weeks. It felt awesome. Hang in there!!

  6. Jen

    Thank you for sharing this! It is inspiring (and convicting) to see both how Chris approached you and how you handled it. I often mess up both sides of that–instead of approaching my husband calmly and kindly, I save up resentment and then toss it at him in a stressful moment. Of course, this isn’t productive for either of us. And when he does point stuff out to me (which is rare) I get defensive and overreact and refuse to listen. Thank you for your honesty and openness. I am going to take these lessons to heart! This is why I read your blog! (That, and Bean and Gracie are really stinkin cute! And you make me laugh!)

  7. Kt

    great post! I love it when you post about your & Chris’ marriage – you have great insight and honesty. It always gives me food for thought in how I handle my marriage.

  8. Unfortunately I tend to take things personally when Mike says I need to work on something and it never gets done. I’m still working on that and it’s slow process but I really admire you for putting on your big girl pants and moving forward.

  9. I needed to hear this. I actually have trouble taking criticism from anyone. It’s not so much that I think I’m always right, but that I’m such an OCD perfectionist that the thought of messing up and letting someone down terrifies me. So when I do receive criticism, I crumble and become defensive and make excuses rather than listening and deciding if it’s legitimate. It’s time for to step up and be able to take criticism and change when things aren’t right. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Erin

    My classroom is sooooo much more clean and organized than my house, too, but I can blame it on pregnancy for at least 3-4 more weeks. Which reminds me, if you’re looking for a place to unload all of those newborn clothes, I’d LOVE them! Our little girl is due in a few weeks. 🙂

  11. melissa

    dear katie,
    this was a beautiful tribute to your loving partner and your positive relationship.
    love, melissa

  12. Dessi

    What a great post! I, too, have been seriously slacking around the house for months! I was incredibly sick the first few months of my pregnancy, so I gave up on everything except living! My hubby did what he could to keep our house going, but now that I’m feeling better, it’s time for me to step up!

  13. Bronwen

    This is such an interesting and useful post. I am also recovering from depression that had a significant anxiety component and I know what you mean about putting off or avoiding the scary and overwhelming things. I take it slow and test out how those things make me feel, and sometimes I need a kick in the pants to remind me how healthy I am getting! My husband gives me that too. On a more practical note, I really love the blog “Wanting What you Have” at http://www.wantingwhatyouhave.com/blog, as a source for practical home ideas like the one you showed here. She’s got great posts on coping with paper clutter, making good systems that actually work, and a nice irreverent touch as well! I think a lot of MC readers would enjoy the blog, and you too, Katie:-B

  14. I asked my fiance to clean the bathroom and go grocery shopping while I worked all day today because I was getting overwhelmed with housework and regular work. I needed him to do more around the house but it was hard for him because he has traveled for work so much recently. When I got home today I found out that he had cleaned out the entire refrigerator and cleaned and rearranged all of our kitchen cabinets. Its now 9:20 PM and he’s at the grocery store. Did I miss something? Maybe I’ve tapped into his cleanliness OCD somehow. I’m not complaining but I’m a little perplexed…and the bathroom is full of cat hair but I really can’t complain. I told him how happy I was and how much I appreciated it. This is an ongoing battle in our relationship…it’s hard when you both work to keep up on housework, bills, and just everything,…frankly, I don’t know how you do it all with 2 kids! We need maids and personal secretaries.

  15. Look, I know things have been tough but really? Do you need to resort to putting our sweet Bean in soup? I think a bubble bath would do just fine… 😉

  16. Whoops! Hit the submit button too quickly! Have you seen Sex and the City II? There’s an awesome scene in it where Miranda and Charlotte have a heart to heart about the difficulties of being a parent and managing life while being a parent. It’s hilarious and heartwarming and true. And, at the end of their chat, they toast the women out there who don’t have help — since they both have nannies and housekeepers. So, I raise my glass to you (and me!). It’s always an ebb and flow and here’s to finding the balance!

  17. jenny-bird

    Thanks for writing this post. Sharing responsibilities is definitely one of the harder aspects of marriage. It’s so easy to become defensive instead of listening patiently. Kudos to Chris for finding the right time to approach you. I think your first small steps are great ideas. It really helps me to have an organized space near the front door. I love your side table and chalkboard! Best of luck getting back into the swing of things. 🙂

  18. This is a really really great post and just what I needed. My house is slowly falling apart and I just keep thinking I do a lot (laundry, bath, bed, diapers, dinner) it shouldn’t be my job to do more work but well, it is my job. Thank you!

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  20. I think your husband must have had a pow wow with my husband because we have been arguing about the EXACT same thing recently. In fact, he is so fed up with my lack of organization (or refusal to be super in charge of anything that scares me) that today before he left for a week long business trip, I stormed out of the house and we didn’t even say goodbye to eachother. This was a wake up call for me. I am super organized with our daughter, meals, and being a mom…but as far as attending to any other real life issues, I run away from them. I may just fwd this link to my husband, and let him know I’m sorry and willing to make more of a effort. Thanks for this.

  21. Nicole (Piper_E)

    You say the little things you have started doing are not life changing, but Katie they totally are! Your head will be clearer because your entry way is organized, those small spats with Chris about where something is are no longer because they have a home! Doing a load of laundry a night will make it so you are not doing 15 loads in one day AND having to put it all away. (As I sit here in bed staring at a few loads of clean laundry that isn’t going to put itself away!) Small steps lead to bigger steps, those small steps will delete the silly confrontations you and Chris may have which will in turn make it easier to get to the bigger steps. Like you said, you don’t like when people tell you what to do but when everyone is happy it is easier just to do things, at least it is for me! So, maybe we can work on these small steps together and get to the bigger things in time. Lord knows I need to do everything I am saying!

  22. ugh. my house is currently more on the mess college apartment side. i need to start pulling my weight too…

  23. I love that chalkboard, it is so damn cute! I totally understand the need to clean up and get organised though…. Getting out of the slump in the worst part (for me, not sure about others), but once you manage it the feeling of lightness and relief is just amazing.
    Many many many good lucks! 🙂

  24. Wow! I’m so proud of you! I’m the same in that I get a bit paniky and flustered when I don’t have a plan. Which is odd because my parents are so laid back. I get snappy and anxious when I don’t have a routine but it all feels so much sometimes that I don’t know where to start so I ignore it. Which makes me anxious and panicky. Rinse. Repeat.
    The first step is always the hardest one to make. So well done. I’m proud of you. AND I want you to know you’ve inspired me to make my first step. thanks

  25. Meghan

    One thing that helps me from having the mail pile up is that I attack it as soon as I get it out of the box. Really, that basically means separating out the majority junk mail from the one or two things I need to address…..and then, if those are bills, I set up the payments right away. That way, a pile of paper doesn’t sit around in my kitchen, I don’t forget to pay a bill, and it’s done immediately. If there’s something that needs more than a minute or two of attention, it gets set aside for another look when I have enough time. Just a suggestion that might work for you….

  26. Good for you! I completely understand, and I admire the way you and Chris handle this maturely. Seriously, you two are an inspiration, even if you don’t think you are.

  27. This was so great to read! As most of your posts, it makes me feel like I’m not the only one! I am slowly learning to take my husband’s requests not as criticism but as loving care 🙂

  28. Wow, that last paragraph is totally what marriage is all about. Thanks for the great perspective. You are a lucky–and very blessed–couple

  29. “so that myhouse doesn’t looke like a college apartment”
    Man oh man did you hit the nail on the head. That is exactly how I have been living for the past 5 years or so. My kids are almost grown, the twins are 14 now, and maybe I’ve been depressed too, because recently Ihave had the energy to make myself start trying to get stuff cleaned up again. Maybe it’s just hormone surges during menopause, but Sunday I loaded 8 trash bags of good clothes and took them to the Salvation Army. Still have a long way to go before I can get to where you are, but that is the goal.
    Thank you again for your honesty and prayers continue for your happiness.

  30. What a thoughtful post! I’m glad you’re coming to this place! I also wish that perhaps my husband was as selective with his criticism.

  31. Carrie

    I love this post! My husband and I just took The Five Love Languages quiz and are now coming up with a list of 5 things we can each do weekly to help fill the other’s “love tank”. My husband’s love language is “Acts of Service” so I’m fully expecting his list to include some of the same types of things you are incorporating into your daily responsibillities. It’s amazing how doing some of these things really can make a huge difference in a relationship.

  32. I find it amazing that he was brave enough to say something and you were even braver to listen! Reading this actually made me realize that I cut us some slack when peanut was born (I’m really bad at opening mail) but I really need to shape up again.

  33. I know you’re going to think I’m making this up, but my husband and I had a very similar conversation yesterday, in which he firmly, but respectfully, told me to “suck it up and quit whining.” It stung, but it’s exactly what I needed to hear in light of some recent struggles with parenting. I love being in a marriage where we can both tell it like it is!

  34. Grandma

    I’m so proud of you AND Chris!
    Much love and happiness to you both.

  35. It’s hard to so open and honest with one’s heart – and yes, at times, even with one’s spouse! Thanks for sharing so honestly.

  36. I just attended a women’s conference at my church where Devi Titus was the speaker. She teaches The Home Experience – about having peace and order in your house instead of chaos and restoring the dignity and sanctity of the home. Thus, I’m trying to make more of an effort in our house, too. I leave junk mail on the counter and dump stuff in the hallway when I walk in the door. You’re not alone!

  37. Emily

    I love that you said sometimes Chris feels like your brother. My husband and I have only been married for ten months (together 4 yrs) and half the time he just feels like a roommate to me. Granted one I get to cuddle with at night, but still, I don’t feel “married” yet so to hear you phrase it that way was encouraging.

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