My most current (recurrent) marital complaint has been a lack of full-fledged effort.
“Hey…” I look up from meditating on the flames in the wood stove and attempt to catch my hubby before he flips on the tube. It’s a chilly winter evening in Vermont, but the fire is warm enough to allow him to emerge from his shower donning, well…less than a full set of pajamas. The house is quiet. The littles are sleeping.
“What’s going on with our marriage?” I begin.
Earlier, John Paul had put out the “bat signal” to organize a last-minute dads’ night out, but his buddies hadn’t bitten the bait this time. He was bummed, but happy enough to hang at home. Over the past few months, he had been planning more meet-ups, out and at home. He’d also been rallying friends to play hockey with him a few times a week and had taken our kids out for a special breakfast date here and there.
I guess I started feeling a bit envious. Whole-heartedly, I’m glad he’s filling his life with memory-making, but I want a piece of the pie. Whenever I plan a date for us, his RSVP is always “yes,” and we have a blast. But it’d be nice to receive an invite from him once in a while.
“I still feel like you’re not putting in effort…into me…choosing me,“ I continue. “I’ve been saying it for a while now that I’d love to see you plan things for us to do together. What’s up? What’s the reason? Do you not like me anymore? Do you not want to hang out anymore? Why are you being a bum, husband?”
A quiet pause ensues. I force myself (internally chattering away) to be silent and hope he’s actually processing my emotionally-charged bombardment. A few more uncomfortable (only for me) moments pass.
His regular excuses aren’t going to stick this time. In the past, he claimed he never knew my schedule and whether I had meetings or classes or plans. So we created an online family calendar. Now he can track me like a 12-point buck. Sometimes he’ll even call five minutes before a scheduled event to say, “Mrs. Arnoldy, your 10 o’clock volunteer slot is nearing commencement.”
Clearly, it’s a win-win.
The second excuse has been my on-call schedule. I work as a doula and live on-call for most months of the year. This can be tough on the fam. It’s hard to plan anything. Buuuuuuut these days, I’m on a two-month hiatus. No births plus shared calendar plus doting grandmother neighbor ready and willing to watch the kids should equal a perfect storm for mad dating, right?
“You used to be so flighty,” he starts, “I felt like I had to work really hard to keep you. Now I know you’re not going anywhere. I guess I’m not worried anymore.” He shrugs with tentative, yet unfiltered honesty.
This freshly surfaced revelation knocks us both a bit sideways. Here I was wondering if, after over a decade of love and marriage, our relationship was starting to wane. Turns out, his recent laissez-faire (a.k.a. “lazy ass”) approach to wedded bliss blossoms from its foundation becoming sturdy and solid. We’ve worked so hard to create stability, and now it’s a potential threat?!?
“Well…okay…yeah, I’m not going anywhere,” I respond in acknowledgment while soaking in his disclosure.
He has a point though. When we met, I’d left a short yet significant broken-heart trail in my wake. When I decided a relationship was done, it was done, and nothing could convince me otherwise. We all have our protective shields, right?
My husband witnessed the fallout of this when an old flame reached out three or four years ago to profess that I was his one true soulmate and that he would never forgive himself for losing me. It was horrible news to hear, so I attempted to convince my ex otherwise and offered forgiveness and resolution.
I was, and still am, a fiercely independent, bullheaded gal. I made it clear to my husband from the get-go that I would not be held prisoner in a relationship that proved anything less than healthy and mutually fulfilling. Apparently, I had begun to lower my shield (thankfully without dismissing my needs).
A few years back, I began putting more sincere effort into giving my husband the reassurance I thought he deserved (and probably needed) by verbalizing my true contentment. Although it exposed some vulnerability, it was important. He has always provided me with an unwavering, unconditional feeling of security. Out of fear, I had always retained my oath to bail “if needed.”
Yet, the more hurdles a marriage successfully jumps, the more resilient it becomes. You stop questioning its strength so much. Years of ending up in one piece on the other side of an issue will do that to you, I guess.
We all drag our baggage around, though. For my husband to feel the assurance of my steadfast commitment is fairly incredible, given the wounds he carries from being a young child of divorce. The certainty of shared devotion has actually been a heartwarming place to reach, I realize.
“It’s so different when we go away together and it’s just us,” he adds with a half-smile. “I hate parenting with you.”
“Yup. I haaaate parenting with you,” I agree.
“You’re terrible at parenting.” He tries a harsh zinger on for size: “Just awful.”
Not pretty, but I’m usually the guilty party of unleashing such comments when I reach my breaking point. Parenting is a big deal to me – an unequivocal privilege and honor, and when my other half doesn’t hold what I consider adequate reverence for the job, I tend to react…
“I love so much about your parenting,” I retort defensively. “I love how involved you are with the kids’ activities and all the coaching you do. You play with them and teach them so much. I just wish you could be more understanding about their feelings…the intentions behind their behaviors.”
Time to return to the subject at hand. “Sometimes I do think we should live apart, parent separately, and date. Each other. Exclusively and all,” I add jokingly.
He rolls his eyes.
“We’ve both been so busy lately, too,” he reminds me. “You with the UVM doula course and me building our upstairs.”
More truth. I have been working more than double the hours expected during the past few weeks on an End of Life Doula Care certification course I’m developing. Some of the hours predictably land on evenings and weekends. Meanwhile, the hubs happily pours his creative energy and tons of time into framing, insulating, and sheet-rocking our second story every evening and weekend day possible.
“But, seriously – our marriage,” I protest. “Even though it feels secure, you can’t just throw it into autopilot. You’ve gotta water the grass. I want to stay happy together.”
A bit more banter, followed by a sheepish invite to hit the sack. This would mean John Paul would need to choose me (us) over an old MacGyver episode, mullet and all.
Even after a decade of co-habitation, co-parenting, co-struggling, and co-celebrating life together, I still didn’t know my husband well enough to know what he had been feeling. My guess was off. I felt ignored. He felt reassured by our steadiness.
Maybe assumptions won’t ever pan out. Marriage is a practice – an ever-unfolding journey only deemed successful by the willingness of two people to huff it together, and occasionally signal the other back to true north during moments of off-course meandering.
This time, I out-MacGyvered MacGyver. And by the next morning, the grass already looked noticeably greener.