This post comes out of many conversations I’ve had lately with a number of different people who either are, have been, or will soon be married as well as many new moms trying to learn the ropes of parenting while maintaining some sort of harmony at home.
I also think a little on this topic anytime I notice the judgemental eyes that now land on my newly-naked ring finger as I travel to and fro with my two children in tow. I sometimes feel like wearing a t-shirt that says, “It’s not what you think.” But anyway, I digress as always.
I realized recently that I had no idea just how much my husband was a part of me; I never really realized how lost I’d be without him. Sure, I can manage… and I do. But the sense of unconditional love and security that he brought to my life and our home is now gone… and I never even really knew how strong that was until it was missing.
Marriage is all or nothing.
Blending two lives together is tough. I know it was a painful reality for me when I realized I had to let someone else’s life, goals, wishes, wants, dreams and plans factor into my decision-making. It took me a long time to get there… in fact, I can say in no uncertain terms that it was only after we were actually married that I fell in love with him with the married kind of love.
The first time the reality of marriage hit me was when Dave severely injured himself from a fall off our 2nd floor balcony when I was pregnant the first time. He had taken off the railing and was cutting some lumber when he slipped and lost his balance, falling to the concrete below, but not before hitting the scaffolding on the way down. He broke a couple of ribs, collapsed a lung and bruised his liver and was virtually incapacitated for weeks. After just 12 hours or so in the ER they said, “You have a wife; you can go home and she can take care of you.” It was then that I realized physically caring for another individual is actually in the cards when you say, “I do.” Whether that means helping them with bathing, using the bathroom, getting dressed or cutting up their food and feeding it to them. I thank God he didn’t sustain a spinal cord injury that day and I can only imagine the selflessness required to care for a permanently disabled spouse. But guess what? As his wife, that was my responsibility, even though I was pregnant and working full time. And if his injuries had been worse, my job would have been bigger. I’m not convinced many marriages start out with the kind of commitment it would take to get through something like that. I think that kind of commitment is something you grow into together.
The birth of our first son put a huge strain on our already imperfect relationship. Those first couple of years were excruciating. I hated being so dependent on someone else and I fought it with all my strength. I was so lost in this new world of motherhood coupled with an awful bout of postpartum depression I barely knew which way was up, couldn’t get enough sleep and went about my life oblivious to everyone and everything other than me and my son. My husband was left to feel lonely, confused and inadequate when he couldn’t solve my problem, but he loved us both so much he would have done anything to make it better. So he waited and worked hard to provide for us while taking on all the cooking and cleaning in our home so I was free to just be a mom. We barely spoke to each other for ages.
And then one day the fog started to lift.
Our life together started to take shape. Our son was older and more interactive; he and his dad became inseparable. I began to enjoy life again; most of all I delighted in watching my husband and my son together… our family. My family.
The point of this, at least where babies and parenthood is concerned, is that it is only a season in your life. It does pass. Kids get older and more self-sufficient; you eventually get more sleep and see the world more clearly; and as you learn to parent together you might actually find a deeper level of connectedness than you ever had before kids. I have said this in person to some new moms and I’ll say it again here:
Do not make any permanent decisions about your relationship until your child is at least two years old. Please. It will get better.
I actually think there is something to be respected about the old-fashioned way of doing things… staying together for the kids. People don’t do that anymore; some don’t even try. We’re all wrapped up in our own self-absorbed worlds and we want what we want without being able to see clearly beyond the here and now. We all want a partner who will place our needs above their own and many times moms have a tendency to put their children before their husbands (I can say this because I’m guilty of it myself). We play the “my life sucks worse than your life” game and bicker over who worked longer hours, who has it rougher, who has more household chores, who spent more money, who gets more “me time”. Then we find we’re meaner, ruder, snarkier to each other than we would be to a complete and total stranger.
If you have children, I think you owe it to your children to do anything and everything to not only make your marriage tolerable but enjoyable! If two adults without children find they both don’t want to live together anymore, fine. Part company. But your kids never asked to be dragged in to your mess and they never asked to live in a world where they’re expected to grow up and know how to have great relationships (or a relationship at all) without ever having witnessed one in their own home.
I received a great message from a marriage conference Dave and I attended once that really struck me: People always think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but the truth is the grass is greenest when it is cared for, nurtured, seeded, watered, cared for, aerated, mowed, fertilized, cared for… it’s a LOT of WORK to have a green grass. If you don’t take care of it it will fade and die.
The same is true of a marriage.
We spend hours upon hours at our jobs, our hobbies, our athletic pursuits, our education, our passions… how much time and energy do we spend on nurturing our marriage relationships? I know I didn’t spend enough, that’s for sure.
I feel really blessed that in the last year before Dave died, our relationship had again moved to yet another deeper level of commitment. It started when we found out we were expecting another baby. It was like something clicked between us and we realized we had absolutely no choice anymore but to work together if we were going to not only avoid the hell we went through the first time but move ahead with peace and joy in our home. We were so excited about it; we began to deliberately focus on enjoying our time together. When Mini-Boy was born our family felt totally complete and we were embarking on a brand new adventure of a lifetime.
It took 10 years before we got to feel that total oneness marriage is supposed to be about. And I count myself blessed to have known that kind of love.
Don’t give up.