In this corner of the internet, I try to keep things real. I try to tell the truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth. Sometimes, that means I tell people about temper tantrums and 3 hour meals and time outs and meltdowns because those things are just part of being a parent. I try my best not to omit those instances because if I only showed the high-resolution pictures with perfect lighting where everyone is looking at the camera…well, quite frankly, this would be a very short blog.
There are bloggers out there who choose to only show the high-gloss pictures. They tell the good stories. The ones where children obey and use their manners and make funny little jokes. The ones where husbands bring flowers home, hard wood floors always look shiny and clean, and toys don’t liter the floor in every room of the house. We all blog for different reasons. I blog to feel connected to people, and to remind myself that I’m not alone in this suburban life I lead. But others sometimes blog to remember the good in their lives and their families. They don’t want to look back and remember the temper tantrums and runny noses. And that’s okay. I don’t knock those blogs. In fact, I love those blogs, too. I read them to remind myself to keep striving and to, you know, bathe myself every couple of days.
For the past week or so, though, I have gotten to experience the “good only” in my household. It seems like lately, every time I turn around, I’m having more fun with my family. Chris and I are back in each others good graces, and we are working really hard to make each other and our marriage a priority again. And we are reaping the benefits of that. Our conversations have been full and satisfying, we’re joking around together again, and we are seeking out times to be together – both with the kids and without.
And the kids are only making things seem even sweeter. Lately, they have been playing together so good. They hold hands when they walk somewhere, they share their toys, they play pretend, they help each other find their shoes. It seems like every little thing they could do to get along, they are doing. I wish I could tell you there has been some big secret is making that happen, but Chris and I haven’t done anything. It’s been all them. The first words out of their mouths when they wake up is, “Where’s Beanie?” or “Where’s Gracie?” and the last thing they say at night is, “Night night, Beanie” or “Night night, Gracie.” When they are getting along like this, life is so much easier.
I would describe myself as a no nonsense type of person. I’m going to call things like I see them, and sometimes that means you may not always see the best side of my family. But even on the days when tempers flare and I’m tired, disheveled, and slightly overwhelmed, I still love my family. I love every hair on their heads. Every tear that they cry. Every temper tantrum they throw. I love them through it all. We love each other despite our imperfections. In fact, we love each other so much that when we have those rare weeks of no time outs and clean hardwood floors (…okay, so the clean floors thing will, like, NEVER happen in our house…), we aren’t so much surprised by the good we have in our family. We are just thankful that every once in a while it comes through in photos, too.
One of the things that came out of the Big Fight of 2013 is the realization that Chris and I had stopped sharing small things about our days with each other. Either because we were afraid it would lead to some kid of argument over something silly or because we just didn’t feel like talking to the other person, we would ask, “How was your day?” and each of us would respond, “It was fine.” And that was about it. For, like, two months.
We’re really trying to make an effort now to listen and share about our days. Which means that when Chris says, “My day was alright,” I am now trying to ask, “Just alright? Anything going on?” Instead of pretending like I didn’t hear him so that I didn’t have to get into a conversation about it. If you haven’t been around the general and production manager of a regional theater in a while, let me share the suspense – their daily list of annoyances are just the same as in any office anywhere in the world. Which, to be frank, is sort of boring to listen to. But, I’m trying to make an effort, so I have been asking about his job and I’ve even been listening to what he says! Look at me go!
What I’ve learned is that in listening to him talk about his days, I’m not necessarily listening for office gossip or irritating frustrations. I’m listening to how those things impact Chris. Is he stressing over them? Is he angry about them? Is he fed up with them? Is he humored by them? Because how he handles his work life greatly impacts how he handles his home life. So, if I know that something happened at work that day that put a lot on his plate and stressed him out, I’m going to respond to that by giving him a little room when he gets home. Maybe picking up some of the chores that he usually does to give him a break. And he has been doing the same thing for me, too.
Hearing about each other’s work life is important because, whether we like it or not, our work life does come home with us. It comes home in our attitudes and in our moods, at the very least. And paying more attention to what’s happening to Chris during his days is making a big difference in how I communicate in the evenings.
Look how smart I got! All because World War III broke out in my kitchen! Who would’ve thought?
I have mentioned that we are in the process of tearing down and re-building our back deck. And when I say “we,” I mean exclusively Chris. Other than saying, “Man, I hate our deck,” about six months ago, I have done little else. He went all technical on me and used his drafting program from work to draft out our deck plans a few months ago. Then we saved money for, like, forever because a deck is no cheap project. And we are finally now ready to start the project.
In one weekend, Chris demolished the current deck, but was smart enough to leave a little section that is connected to our stairs so that we could let the dogs out.
Our current deck is on the second floor of our house, which posed a few problems. It was really removed from the yard and pool for one thing. It was really inconvenient to get out of the pool and not have anywhere to sit or put food or towels or anything. You had to go all the way up to the second floor for those things. Another problem was that the deck was the major thing you saw when you opened the windows off our living room. And the deck was nasty looking. So it gave a really bad view, and we kept our blinds closed most of the time.
What Chris decided, in his brilliance and glory, was that we should drop the new deck down to pool level. That would give us an actual pool-side area for hanging out. You can see in his drawing that there is a little platform at the top, just outside our back door, for the grill. That way we don’t have to go all the way down to the pool level if we are just grilling something for dinner. Also, you can see there will now be two ways to access the backyard. You can come out the backdoor and go left down to the pool area and deck, or you can go right and go out to the backyard itself where all the playground stuff is. The entire pool will be fenced off, so when we are playing out in the backyard, we don’t have to worry about the kids and the pool. Chris is also going to build bench seating all around the sides of the deck which will have storage areas underneath for our pool floats and toys.
Last weekend Chris finished the demolition of the old deck, and this weekend he and two friends officially broke ground on our new deck. They cleaned the area out, marked it off with string for measurements, and dug giant holes which they filled with gravel and cement for the support posts for the new deck. Next weekend, Chris will start actual building, and given that he has a Masters degree from Yale in Building Stuff (didn’t know that was a real degree, did you?), I bet the entire thing will be finished or at least useable by next Sunday. He’ll spend the next month or so putting finishing touches on it (i.e. installing bench seating, outdoor lighting on the stairs so we can see at night, etc.) and it should be ready to go by summer.
I’m so happy Chris is finally starting this project. For one thing because I can’t wait to have a new deck to enjoy this summer. But mostly because he is happier when he is DOING. Chris is a doer. He likes to be busy, active, and productive. Sometimes that drives me crazy. It makes me want to take a nap just watching him. But, really, that is one of my favorite parts about him. I love that he takes pride in our home, and in the projects he takes on around our house. I love that he thinks outside the box, too. Most people would probably have just rebuilt the deck as it was before. That was the more traditional deck to have. But Chris saw something totally different in his mind, drew a picture on the computer, and is now making it come to life.
This weekend, it was pouring rain. Did I mention that? POURING RAIN. Chris and his buddy, Tray, were outside getting ready to pour the first cement post when the heavens opened up. I watched them when it happened. They stopped working and started laughing and complaining, “What?!?! NOW???? It does this NOW?????”
And then they debated what they should do. Stop or keep going?
And then, being the hard working people they are, they just went on working in the pouring rain for two more hours.
It’s that attitude that keeps our marriage on track, too. Rain or shine, taking it easy or really working it out, Chris is going to show up for me. He will be there because you can always make things better, according to Chris. Sometimes that means tweaking what we already have, and sometimes that means leveling the whole thing and building it over from scratch. But no matter how much we have to work on in our marriage, Chris is going to show up and do whatever it takes. And that makes him the best kind of partner.
Chris and I are coming out of rough patch that we’ve been battling for a couple months. Those are never any fun to be in, but they are even LESS fun to come out of because in order to get out of a rough patch, you have to speak to each other. Without fighting. And you have to agree. Without holding resentment. And, in my experience, being in a rough patch by definition means I don’t really want to get along with my husband, much less AGREE with him on anything. So, the working through it part is often much harder than the going through it part.
Being an adult sucks.
For a few months now, I have felt judgment from Chris. I felt like he was angry and irritated, but just wasn’t saying anything to me about it. Which made me do two things. First, it made me feel guilty all the time. I kept asking him if he was mad about something, but he never gave me a reason. I knew there was more going on, so I spent all of the month of March walking around with the weight of the world on my shoulders, all because I felt like my husband was mad at me for any and/or all of the following reasons:
a) I wasn’t doing enough around the house
b) I was going out on week nights too often, leaving him home with the kids too much
c) I wasn’t taking care of myself and so I looked like crap and gained a bunch of weight
d) I was nagging him
e) I was spending too much money
March was not a fun month for me.
By April, though, I began to get pissed off. I was tired of being silently punished, and so I began to silently punish back. Chris wasn’t talking to me? No problem. I wouldn’t talk to him. So, we didn’t. We took care of the household responsibilities, we took care of the kids, we took care of our family obligations, we took care of our jobs, but we decided we didn’t care enough to take care of our marriage. So, we sat in front of the television at night or we came to bed at different times or we planned fun activities with other people instead of with each other. And, quite frankly, we just didn’t care.
Thankfully, though, we had The Great Fight of 2013. We usually have one big, giant blow out fight about once a year. They aren’t usually this early in the year, but it was about time. The subject of this particular fight was money. How we made it, how we spent it, how we saved it, and how we budgeted it. Money, money, money.
But, here’s the thing. The fight wasn’t really about money. How do I know that? Because we ended up screaming at each other, only we were saying things like, “YOU’RE RIGHT, DAMMIT!” and “I COMPLETELY AGREE, YOU ASS!” We weren’t even arguing right. We were actually agreeing with each other more than we were disagreeing. We just needed an outlet for our frustration with each other. We needed a reason to just let it all out. And, yes, to yell.
The Great Fight of 2013 ended with Chris storming off to work, and me storming off to take it out on the dishes in the kitchen sink. While he was gone, I called my sister (isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when you fight with your husband?), who validated how I felt like a good sister should, but then who prompted me to share some deeper things with Chris. Like, about how I felt like he was angry at me all the time, and how I was tired of feeling guilty and not even knowing what I felt guilty for. And she said I needed to give him a hug. I started laughing, but she stayed completely serious.
“You need to hug him for at least 30 seconds. And then you need to sit down and fix this. It will be awkward. It will feel forced and uncomfortable, but that’s what you need to do. Because you need to remember that you’re fighting because you love each other, and you’re working through it because you love each other even more.”
She’s a smart cookie.
So, I did what I do best and I wrote some things down. I made a list of the things that I thought were wrong with us. Some of them were things that I thought I had done wrong and some were things that I thought Chris had done wrong. Some were things that we needed to work out together. And I made a list of the three things I could sacrifice in order to make our marriage more of a priority again.
And then I put the list in my bedside table drawer, and haven’t looked at it since.
I thought about getting it out and sharing it with Chris. I’m sure that’s what a good marriage counselor would tell me to do. But the truth is that I’d rather TALK TO him than WRITE AT him. The writing just helped me get my talking thoughts together. And so when Chris came home from work that night, I gave him a 30 second hug like Ginny suggested (freaked him out and I think pissed him off…), but then we sat down and talked.
And that talk was harder than the fighting. Fighting is easy and weak because you can say whatever you want in the heat of battle. You aren’t prepared or planned, your ideas aren’t courteous or polite. You just push it all out there all ugly-like. And I do believe there is a place for that in a marriage. But if you’re going to fight it out, you’ve also got to be willing to take the next step, and that is talking it out.
Fighting it out involves lots of “you” statement. “You never do this…” or “You always do that…” But talking involves thought and planning. It involves lots of “I” statement, “I hear what you are saying, but…” and “I will try to do better.” Talking is about your actions and how you can change. And that’s really when a marriage moves ahead.
So, that’s what we did. And it was hard for Chris. When I first started talking, I explained how I felt and then asked him what he was so angry about. I must have asked 5,000 times in a variety of ways, and the response was always the same, “There isn’t anything. I’m not angry about anything.”
Which made me want to punch him in the face. Really. How the heck was I supposed to fix a problem if he wouldn’t tell me what the problem was????
But then I realized that I needed to LISTEN. I needed to hear what he was telling me. I was waiting for an ADMISSION from him, but that isn’t the same as listening. Listening is hearing what you haven’t planned to hear. And what I hadn’t planned to hear was that Chris wasn’t mad at me. I hadn’t planned to hear that the problem was not me. Chris was having a hard time with something else, and it was coming out as anger and frustration directed at me. I had created a problem in my head, become angry about that problem, reacted to that problem, only to discover that that wasn’t actually the problem at all.
We talked about how Chris can get better at dealing with this issue. We talked about how I need to stop making everything personal and about me. Mostly, though, we talked about how we could both work to make our home a place where we wanted to be. A place where God, our marriage, and our family were the top priorities. We set some new guidelines and rules (i.e. no house guests without warning, no purchases over $100 without planning, etc.) and we put our family in time out.
This weekend, we are in family time out. We aren’t allowed to leave, to travel, to make plans – nothing. We are in lock down until we get ourselves stable again. We can’t grow our marriage if we’re always on the go. Sometimes we need to stop and reset. So, that’s what we are doing this weekend. And in the next few months, we are wrangling in our obligations. I’m not committing to anything else, we’re not traveling anywhere, Chris isn’t hiding behind house projects to avoid having to hang out with me. We are here at home, and we are together.
AND WE’RE GOING TO BE HAPPY ABOUT IT, DAMMIT!
Marriages aren’t built in the land of unicorns and good lighting and perfect parenting. Good, solid marriages are built in the land of “YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME!” and runny noses and never quite making it to church on time (or at all…). Because good, solid marriage are not about where they are built. You can build good, solid marriages in whatever surroundings you have. All you need is a willing spirit, a whole lot of patience, a determined attitude, and more love for your spouse than you think you have inside of you.
I mean, how hard is that?