I don’t talk about my marriage very often because my husband is a very private person and we’ve agreed there’s some things that are best left between us. But something happened recently and I think there’s a valuable lesson in it.
Clay owns and operates a busy construction company. It’s stressful to say the least and it’s increasingly more stressful with COVID these days. I contribute to our province’s first and only financial aid for fertility treatment charity, run a small skin care business that’s super busy with the holidays plus I try to squeeze in time to write as well. As many of you know, we also have three kids ages 7, 2 and 10 months.
Needless to say, we are busy. So flippin’ busy. Some people like to wear the Busy Badge as a sign of success but we don’t. We’re a weird mix of resenting it vehemently while simultaneously feeling an incredible amount of gratitude.
Here’s what we know: this busy won’t last. We appreciate the busy because it’s a good problem to have in our careers. Busy means business which means paychecks and growth for the companies. Our kids are growing quickly so the busy will shift and transform as they grow. Busy will stick with us like luggage for many years so we try to navigate it with a “it won’t be forever” attitude.
But like everything else in life, we ebb and flow. Our marriage ebbs and flows, our routines, our busy, our lives. Lately, this busy has been overwhelming and it was manifesting in resentment towards each other.
I could feel the elephant in the room between us. It was heavy and palpable but when can two people find time to do the work of reconciliation and repair when three kids need you, orders are flying in and needing fulfillment and Clay’s phone doesn’t stop ringing all night? At the end of the day, we were lucky to have a few minutes of quiet before getting into bed ourselves. Neither didn’t want to spend that quiet fighting. So we just didn’t address the elephant. And it grew.
There wasn’t anything specifically wrong. We have our expectations for each other. They’ve been laid out for years. We each have our roles and the jobs required within them. We trade off on bath time and bed time and dishes and dinner. We work well together. But, as busy can go, we weren’t making the time to communicate. And time continued of co-existing and parenting and the elephant grew.
We started snapping at each other; taking little bites like a yappy dog coming after your ankles. Resentment built: didn’t he have any idea how hard my days are? Didn’t I have any idea how hard his days are? I believed my hard was harder. He believed his hard was harder. We were stuck between my rock of hard and his wall of hard and we weren’t budging.
One night, after the two little kids were in bed, he sat at the kitchen table and told me he was going to the neighbours for a visit. I was disappointed. I thought we’d talk that night and find our Common Ground again. But I didn’t communicate that desire. I assumed we’d talk. So when he wanted to go socialize, I was upset. Why wasn’t he choosing to take this precious time to be with his wife and regain our balance?
We didn’t have a huge problem that needed figuring out, we were just off kilter and I knew that kilter would continue shifting until we did have some big problems. It’s important to rebalance before things explode. That’s what marriage is about. Recognizing the fissures, patching them up before they erupt and communicating wholeheartedly. I mean that: wholeheartedly. You have to be honest and vulnerable and real when you’re working on your marriage. There’s no patching up anything with resentment, anger and ego. You have to set everything aside and say, I feel this.
But it’s easy to just ignore the little fissures. You figure you can work on them later when the kids are older or the work is quieter. You figure because you’re married it’ll just work itself out in the wash. We’re committed and we love each other, that’s enough, isn’t it?
You must make the time. Squeezing in pillow talk before bed, finding a sitter for an afternoon date, coffee in the morning are all necessary for marriage growth.
On the night Clay wanted to go out and I wanted him to stay in, the elephant sat down at the table with us. I was mad at first but I wasn’t communicating clearly why. As our tempers flared, the elephant roared and the next thing I knew, we were fighting. Neither of us were communicating properly, we were both making assumptions of the other and it felt like an absolute dumpster fire with no reconciliation at the end. I walked away.
I stood in the hallway outside our kitchen while he sat at the table, out of my line of sight. It would’ve been so easy to go to our room, ignore him, go to bed. It would’ve been so easy for him to storm out of the house and go. It would’ve been an easy solution that would’ve led to a bigger problem. I took a deep breath and I went back to the table.
I laid it all out. I explained how overwhelmed I felt. I told him how underappreciated I felt. I told him my fears, my worries, my everything. In turn, he explained himself, his worries, his responsibilities, his fears. We explained how our ‘hards’ felt and how we needed the other person to compromise and give grace when we couldn’t be what the other needed. We left it all on the table.
A lot happens around a table: deals are made, contracts signed, meals shared, secrets revealed, knowledge expanded. It’s at the table you meet on level ground. It’s at the table where it becomes Switzerland and you work out your problems.
I could’ve walked away. He could’ve left. We would’ve continued on being fine enough to not have complaints. But we wouldn’t have had any gushing feelings for the other either. We would’ve continued down that path of busy with kids and work and life and we would’ve been the perfect roommates co-existing under one roof.
But we’re not just roommates: he’s my husband. I’m his wife. We’re married and that means being intimate, not only with our bodies but with our souls, our feelings and our words.
I’m glad I came back to the table and we both laid bear everything going on in our worlds. We left that table feeling heard, loved and connected. We left it all on the table and that’s where it’s stayed. Our marriage is a little stronger now, our small fissures fixed, our commitment re-cemented.
Next time you want to take the easy road and walk away, do it. But only for a few minutes. Take 5 minutes to compose yourself but please come back to the table. Whatever comes from that will only be in both your best interests if you’re open, honest and real with each other. Do it for you, your partner, your family, your life. Look him/her/they in the eye, take a deep breath and lay it all out on the table.