One of the things that I love most about Chris is his work ethic. You won’t find too many people who are as committed and loyal as Chris is. When he takes on a project, task, or job, he gives it nothing less than 110% for 110% of the time. He is as dependable of a person as you can find. All of this is well and good in an employee or team member. But it can be downright irritating in a spouse. Because when Chris goes above and beyond at work, his home life sometimes pays the price.
The problem with being married to someone who is so committed to their work is that you sound like a real brat when you complain about it. What am I supposed to say, “Quit being so awesome at work and take me out to dinner” or “Stop being so dependable and help me with the dishes”? I can’t say those things. But if I’m really honest, I think them.
And sometimes I text them to my friend Sarah with really mad emoticon figures doing inappropriate gestures.
If it were a vice that Chris was giving all this time to, I would have no problem speaking up and saying, “Hey, dude. Your priorities are screwed up.” But it’s hard to find a way to say that about someone who is working really hard. Especially when their paycheck is the ONLY paycheck all summer long. I am grateful for and dependent on Chris working so hard.
But as right or wrong as it is to feel like I do, it’s how things are. I’m frustrated with Chris working so much. The weird thing is that I’m not blaming Chris for this. I’m not picking fights or pointing fingers or placing blame. I’m really not. In fact, I tell him how proud I am of how hard he is working, and I listen and talk to him about all his problems and situations at work every night when he gets home. But at some point, I just want to scream at SOMEONE, “Hey! I’m over this!”
I planned a little weekend getaway for our family for this coming weekend. I thought it would be nice time for us all to get away – no phones, no iPads, no emails. But any time I talk to Chris about it, he seems not only uninterested, but downright irritated. “This is a really hard time to get away,” or “We don’t really have the money right now.” But, you know, it’s a weekend. Two days. One night. It ain’t going to kill or bankrupt us. But instead of yelling out, “SUCK IT UP!” like I want to, I just say, “I know,” and then move on to talk about something else.
I think the most frustrating part of this whole thing is that Chris does just enough to get by at home without me being able to point to something and say, “See?” He’s home for dinner and bedtime with the kids when he has to work late, which is awesome. What kind of awesome person does that? He leaves work for a couple hours to come help me get them fed and in bed, but then he has to be back up at work for tech rehearsals. And while it’s great that he can come home and help with the kids, what about me? I miss him, too. But how can I complain about that when he’s doing just enough to say he’s doing enough? We have swimming lessons every day at 6:00. Now, I realize that Chris can’t always get home for those lessons. But he has only made it to a few of them, not nearly as many as I had hoped. But he shows up when I directly ask him (like the week that Bean was scared), so how can I say that he isn’t doing enough? He’s there when he has to be, isn’t he? He’s showing up when it counts. But what about those times when it doesn’t count, and it would just be nice if he were there?
This isn’t a new issue in our marriage. Chris has always been a hard worker, and sometimes I have had to wait. When we were younger, I would go crazy on him. He’d come home and I’d yell at him for those precious few minutes we had together, and then he’d head back up to school or work again, and I would feel even worse. I’ve learned since then. Yelling isn’t the solution because this isn’t necessarily something that is Chris’s fault. It’s part of who he is. I can’t change that about him. He is dependable, and that builds a great reputation in business, which means a lot of things get put on Chris because people know he’ll take care of it. That’s not something to blame him for, and yelling or fighting about it isn’t the right solution. Yelling or fighting is rarely a solution to anything, really. It’s just a symptom.
When we became new parents, I changed my approach and went with the kids. That’s always a good way to win an argument – “but it’s for the kids, honey,” or “don’t you want this for the kids?” – but that’s a very underhanded way to win an argument. And, let me tell you, I have seen lots of marriages with resentment built up because the kids were put in the middle of adult situations. ‘Tis no good, my friends. Leave the little ones out of it.
But that leaves me at this new stage in our relationship. Seven years in (oy!). Patient enough to not jump all over him. Kind enough to not blame him. Wise enough to not guilt him. But struggling with how to communicate needs with him now. Maybe that’s at the center of the seven year itch. Maybe it’s that every seven years, your communication style needs to change and some couples just don’t know how to do that. The problem is that a lot of couples give up trying to find the right communication style. One has worked for so long that it seems ridiculous to change things now. But I’m willing to do that. I can find another way to communicate with him. While Chris and I have always been direct in our communication, it is the presentation of the communication that we need to work on. How do we talk to each other now when there is a problem?
Well, here’s this radical idea I’m going to try:
I’m going to put the kids down tonight. And I’m going to sit next to Chris on the couch. And I’m going to say, “You are killing me with this work thing at this moment, my love.” And then we will talk about it. Like adults. I’ll tell him how proud I am of him. How I love the example he is setting for the kids, and even for me. How I know he is doing great things, and making great strides forward. But that we miss him at home. Not that we miss having him around to help (though that is part of it), but that we just miss having him there. Present, both mentally and physically. And then I’m going to tell him that I know he has a lot happening at work, but there is a lot happening here, too. And besides, I do his laundry, and you should always keep the laundress happy…
Yes, I think that is what I shall do. Because love is found in all aspects of a marriage, including the stressful aspects. It’s just up to me to put the love in the center.