Four years in, I can honestly say that more now than ever my marriage feels like a honeymoon. I can’t wait to see my husband. We steal touches, hugs and kisses while navigating jobs and kids and bills and the other sharp edges of real life. We steal away for night time ice creams or we just curl up in front of a turned-off TV just talking about life and dreams and hopes. It is pure bliss.
But how? you may sputter. Kids! Mortgages! LIFE!
How? Simple: I changed almost everything about myself.
“Wait, what?” you shriek in indignance, “isn’t he supposed to love you for who you are, imperfections and all?”
Every latent feminist bone in your body demands I assert myself and demand he accept me for EVERYTHING I am.
But the thing is…. he does. He always did. And if current trend continues, it seems he always will. Life changed for the better when I asked myself: Do I do the same for him?
The answer surprised me. Because no I did not.
He was my ultimate project. Now I can only use those words in retrospect. At the time, and in those earlier moments, I would have been furious with anyone who suggested I didn’t love my husband for all he was. And that yeah sure, there were things to be tweaked but wasn’t that what wives were for?
But the thing is… is that what wives are for? Who exactly was it that decided that men who try to change us are jerks, but women who try to change them are ‘improvers’?
Although we argue (of COURSE we do), my husband has this uncanny way of loving me; this way of looking at me that begins to convince me that the time I crashed the car, and the time I forgot to bathe the kids, the time I got so caught up in my Kindle that I forgot to do the laundry or the body that shows the inevitable wear of having two children…none of it has done a thing to change how he feels about me. Somehow he can allow temporary annoyances be that: temporary. Not life altering, love changing things that MEAAAAAN I’m inherently broken and must be repaired. Just blips that must be somehow worked through and released to the winds. His sharp and unfaltering focus is on Big Picture Us, not Microscope Me. My husband’s heart towards me is so full of love, his intentions so good, even if he occasionally gets things wrong.
Yet somewhere along the line I had shed my easygoing flower girl self to become a shrill and resentful harpy straight out of a 50s cartoon strip. He was under constant surveillance,and yesterday’s complaint, swallowed with pursed lips, was added to today’s irritation, and awaiting tomorrow’s annoyance. So many yesterdays and todays and tomorrows piled up, seeping secret poison into our marriage. Some days I just felt so miserable, so alone and so unsupported. And it was easy to feel validated because somehow there’s been this movement of The Longsuffering Wife, and we’ve come together all across the world to form these ‘wink wink nudge nudge’ support groups. “He did whaaaat???” vent blogs can be found at every other click and the propaganda has merrily made its way onto our Facebook pages, coffee mugs, key rings and more.
Before our husbands have even had a chance to screw up on their own, they inherit the burdens of mis-steps past and the media driven “man- child” meme all made worse by the burgeoning sisterhood of exasperation and martyrdom.
Turns out I had unwittingly been sipping on the Koolaid, and had developed this idea that I was ENTITLED to happiness, and flowers everyday and clean rooms and a bathroom sink free of beard shavings and to socks that folded themselves and children that stayed silent until I was ready to be charmed, amused and pic-worthily maternal. Whenever that didn’t happen, my answer was less than gracious, and my target less than deserving. Most times.
I could go on about all the petty gripes we build up over a lifetime of babies and bills and the bickering in between, but we all know what frustration looks like. Yes of course, sometimes a husband is forgetful and irresponsible and insensitive. Of course sometimes the burden of house and home and happy kids seems to be resting more heavily on your shoulders. Of course sometimes he makes you so angry that you could single-handedly melt the remaining polar caps with the heat radiating off just your left cheek. Of course he does. Because he’s people. And people have failings. Even you. Even me. (But we keep that one between us). One day I sat down miserably taking account of my husband’s running tally of errors when I realized I was looking at it all wrong. I was sitting there like a malicious tyrant demanding to be fed ideal spousal behaviour, when I MYSELF WAS NOT GIVING ANYTHING FROM MY “IS IT TOO MUCH TO ASK” LIST!
I had gotten so caught up in that very slippery ride of “How has he failed me today?” that I forgot to examine my own behaviour as Wife. I had failed at actively loving him through his own bad days, his own mistakes that he was already beating himself up over, his own way of doing things; I had failed at remembering that different isn’t always wrong- just different. I was so busy resenting him for not offering me MY own version of perfect that I had failed to recognize that he was offering me HIS version of perfect.
The clothes folded in a more freehand style than my department store preference were still folded! The sink still had food remnants in it BECAUSE he had washed and stashed all the dishes for me; the boys were wearing eye-watering pattern combos because Daddy had bathed them for me! And hey… patterns are fun; there were no flowers, because he used the money to renew my roadside assistance membership knowing my fears of being stranded by car troubles; compliments were freely given, feet rubbed and children loved, hugged, bathed and put to sleep without request, without fail- even if the baths were short, the jammies mismatched and the bedtime rituals questionable.
He was showing me love every day. He was pouring himself into every aspect of our relationship in his way, in his Love Language, in his version of perfect.
I thank God every day for opening my eyes to seeing that! In that instant, everything about how I viewed my roles and my “rights” changed. I learned to release the clean rooms and the ‘just so’ specifications for everything, because when I agreed to share my life with this man, I meant my house, my rooms, my sink, my hopes and yes…my children and their wardrobe. To do that, I had to make space inside each of those places. And to make the space, I had to carve out some (not all) of myself…my own ego, expectations and nagging inclinations, and throw it away. And in doing so, I realized that without the years of angst behind it, my husband had figured that out way before I did, and had already done the same with such love and grace.
Oh but don’t get it twisted, that didn’t make it ‘easy’. As far as I was concerned, my version of perfect was just so EFFECTIVE. Things flowed easier MY way, made more sense, looked better. They really did. But the minute I relinquished my death grip on How Life Should Be and embraced what life was; the minute I took a breath, and scootched over inside my own self, making room for my husband, our babies and the blissful chaos that comes with that, I free-fell into the kind of love I never imagined possible. Every time I extend grace to my husband, I recognize the times he must have done the same for me and the gratitude loop keeps moving us closer. The fights are shorter, the recovery period swifter, the love deeper, the joy richer.
Let’s face it, ladies…our husbands mostly want to please us. When we keep raising the bar either as a twisted training exercise or out of our own misery, no one wins. At best we get a ‘yes dear’ drone. At worst…well, at worst it can get pretty brutal. It’s not fair and it’s not our ‘job’ to do any of that. I hate when we refer to our husbands as another child or bemoan the burden of ‘being his mother’. Stop it! They’re grown men! Break the chains of co-dependency that feed us that heady cocktail of power and pressure yet starves them of their sovereignty and purpose. Give them the room to define the parameters of their manhood their way. Learn him as the man he is and is trying to become, not as the man you’re trying and failing to create.
It’s such a beautiful thing to watch a person steadfastly become who he or she is meant to be. Once you stop thinking of his ‘groom and care’ as your burden, and realize that even as you support, cheer, argue, and make up… you also get to simply be a witness to the wonder of him growing steadily as a man, a friend, a father and a partner. And it’s not in a patronizing “Oh look at the little husband trying to be a grown up” way, it’s in a “Oh yeah… I DID marry an amazing man. How did I lose sight of that?” way. It’s so worth the gear-changing, because once you get there, it’s like a honeymoon all over again, but better. Because you’ve fought and grown and hand-in-hand made your way back to that kind of love. You discover anew the sweetness that’s been hiding behind the bile, the love behind the let downs, the hope in every hug. And you develop such a deep appreciation for how he, too, has created the same kind of grace-space inside his own world just for you. That kind of synchronizing of your lives is… well, it’s everything.
Respect is a healing balm and a heady drug in one beautiful, revolutionary gift. Respect your partner, with the different needs, backgrounds, baggage , purpose and motivations. Make room, extend grace, share your space with an open-heart.
I don’t want to ever again allow that habit of perfection-policing and nagging to take up residence in my heart. It’s so much more fun when I leave those spaces free for laughing and loving and fighting and forgiving from a place that’s learned that it takes all kinds of ‘perfect’ to give you what remains the fabulously flawed life that’s all you’ve ever wanted.
And I wouldn’t trade it for all the non-crayon walled, frilly bedspread, sparkling spa bathroom lives in the world.
(Unless that bathroom has rainfall shower heads. Then we might need to talk.)