Last weekend, we sent the kids to my mom’s for a few days. I blogged about it last week and said that Chris and I were stressed out from work and it was just the break we needed. But that was sort of a fib.
Sorry, imaginary friends.
Yes, work has been stressful and, yes, it was nice to have a little break from responsibility for a few days. But what we sent them to mom’s for was so that the two of us could have some time together. We knew we were in a slump, and we hoped that a few days by ourselves might be just the solution. In the end, it was and it wasn’t.
The first thing that went wrong happened – no kidding – about 15 seconds after my mom’s minivan pulled away with the kids. I walked back inside the house, excited and ready for a fun night with Chris. Maybe dinner out? Maybe a movie? Maybe some smoochin’ without choruses of “Ewww!!!!!” from the kids?
So, I come bouncing into the kitchen where Chris was putting down his work bag and going through the mail. “What are we going to do?!?!” I ask, hopping up and down.
He kind of laughed a little bit and replied without even looking up from the mail, “Probably the same boring things we always do.”
Way to make a girl feel special, honey.
That spawned a short, snippy session of “What the hell does that mean?” followed by the wide innocent eyes as he replied, “What’d I say?”
Yadda, yadda, yadda… (If you’re married, then you know the rest of that conversation, I’m sure.)
After a few minutes, I walked off because I didn’t want this to be how the weekend started. I was sitting on the couch when Chris walked into the living room and sat down next to me. Very calmly, without trying to pick a fight, he confessed something that scared me to death.
“I don’t know how to hang out with you anymore,” he said.
Immediately, every Oprah and Dr. Phil show I’d ever seen about those couples who had raised families together, loved each other their entire lives, but then suddenly just didn’t know how to be together anymore, and so they divorced flashed before my eyes. “This is how that starts,” I thought.
“What are you talking about?” I barked. “I like doing the same things I always have. It shouldn’t be an effort to hang out with your wife!”
And then there was this little bickering thing were I snapped at him for about 5 minutes because that’s what you do when you hear something horrific and terrifying.
But Chris explained it so well once I quit running my mouth. He said that we were so consumed by our family right now that he had forgotten what life used to be like. He had forgotten what we used to do without our kids. He had forgotten how to talk to me about things other than work and preschool field trips and who sat in time out for what.
I know what he meant. I feel that way, too, sometimes. I love our family, and I adore my children. Raising our children is mine and Chris’s privilege and joy. But we are two full-time working parents with a two-year-old and a four-year-old. Any of those things are demanding. Putting them all together, though, can be overwhelming in the truest sense of the world. Parenting is all consuming if you’re doing it right. But, let me tell you, it can be one of the greatest stresses on a marriage.
Have you ever been at work and had your boss come in one day and drop something on your desk, telling you that THIS the greatest priority right now. And then the very next day, your boss’s boss comes in and drops something different on your desk and tells you that THIS is the greatest priority right now?
That stress that you feel in that situation is very similar to the stress that comes with balancing parenting and marriage. It’s the stress that comes from the unique place of balancing two incredible priorities at one time. One of those priorities is raising honorable, good human beings, and the other is part of raising honorable, good human beings, and somewhere in the middle, BOTH of those are essential to you yourself as an honorable, good human being.
It’s a philosophical rabbit hole, I tell you!
It’s like the chicken/egg thing. Which came first????
Except, in this case, I know what came first. It was my marriage. My marriage came first and because we loved each other so much, that love overflowed out of us and made people. IT MADE PEOPLE! Our love was so great that it GREW PEOPLE. And I think that when we start to forget that fact – when the little chicks start clucking so loudly that we forget that we grew those damn chickens ourselves with a lot of hard work and even more love, then we get to the place where we are today. The place where we just walk around like… well… like chickens with their heads cut off.
It took a full day for the hurt of Chris’s comment to wear off. It hurt me that he didn’t know how to be with me because in my head what that translated to was, “I don’t care enough about you to even know what to say to you anymore.” That stung. But when the hurt subsided a little and the anger melted a bit, we talked more and I came to realize that Chris was actually right. We didn’t know how to be alone together, not because we didn’t know what to say to each other, but because we didn’t know how to turn the spotlight off of our children.
We still don’t have an answer. But that’s what we are working on. We’re working on valuing each other as more than just the mother or father of our children. It’s important for us to build identities away from our kids because even though it is a life’s work to help our children create their own identities, the trick is to not lose ourselves or each other in the process.
We’re not sure what that looks like for our marriage yet. We’re pretty sure it has something to do with more date nights and maybe even a weekend or two away together. We’re pretty sure it means that even though we are exhausted, sometimes we need to push ourselves just a little further for the sake of our marriage. We’re pretty sure that means giving each other more of ourselves than just what happens to be left over at the end of the day. We’re pretty sure that means growing together and becoming better people – as both parents AND as a couple. And we’re definitely sure it means asking God to bless our marriage for many, many, many years to come.
For myself, I think putting my marriage first again will mean letting go of the tally sheet. You know that tally sheet, right? The one we all keep in our heads that says who did what, said what, gave what, etc. That tally sheet that lists all of my household contributions next to Chris’s to prove which one of us is doing the most. (You guys keep those tally lists in your head, too, right???) Putting my marriage first again is going to mean that I throw out my tally sheet because I can’t get past all this anger and frustration if I’m still keeping score. That’s really what I’m personally focusing on right now, and, let me tell you, that’s a tough habit to break.
For Chris, putting our marriage first will mean several different things, too, but chief among them will have to be remembering to date me. He’s working on remembering that marriage and partners can’t be taken for granted, and just because we see someone every day of our lives doesn’t mean that on some really, really special days – like Tuesdays – we shouldn’t take an extra minute to tell them they look nice or that they are special or important. Yes, Chris and I have been together over half our lives, but every single day of our lives, we should make the other feel like the most important person in our lives today.
So, that’s where we are right now. I was scared a few weeks ago. Hearing Chris make such a raw, honest comment like that took my breath away. But, like everything else, when you name the monster (our monster’s name is “This Sucks”), it becomes so much less scary. I’ve learned in the past few weeks that just having the conversation about what is holding you back as a couple can be so liberating. Chris and I still have a lot to work on, but we’ve started to figure out how to make these changes with a happy heart.
That’s how I know I have a good marriage. It makes my heart happy. Even when it sucks. Even when we’re fighting or, worse, not speaking. Even when our children are so awesome that we forget that life extends beyond them. Even when we drive each other crazy. Even after all of that, Chris and I have happy hearts full of so much love.
People ask if love is all you need. Can that possibly be enough to keep a marriage alive? No. Not really. Marriage requires so much more than love. But at the heart of everything else that a marriage needs – forgiveness and patience and kindness and trust and faithfulness and perseverance and humor and joy – at the heart of all of these things is love.
And Chris and me? We have that in spades.