“So what are we going to fight about in our counseling session today?” Clayton asks as I tap my knee nervously, sitting in our marriage counselor’s waiting room.
“Come on sweetie. I know you’ve been pretty upset with me this last week. What are we going to tackle today? The chores? My emotional distance? You always think of something. I just want to be prepared.” He said it jokingly, but he seemed tired and overwhelmed.
My usual come back would have been something sarcastic about how I like to keep him on his toes, but not this time. Instead I heard myself saying that I wasn’t planning to fight with him at all. He smiled, unconvinced. I fell deeper into my chair and suddenly felt sad.
My husband had been driving me crazy for the last two weeks. I was disappointed in his behavior and I felt like he could stand to treat me better. He seemed distracted, apathetic, and uninterested in helping with chores. Our unmade bed stresses me. He works from home, so he could make the bed, wash the dishes, do the laundry, and sweep while he is home. That’s what I do when I am home working. I multitask!
So we argued about chores and ultimately I blamed him for being emotionally and physically distant and even offered specific instances to prove my point. He countered with his own interpretations but I didn’t buy it one bit.
“He’s just not very present and I need more from him.” I vented to one of my girlfriend’s. “Who can work with six dirty coffee mugs on their desk. It’s like I’m married to a child sometimes.”
She patted my shoulder but didn’t say anything, trying to steer clear of my storm.
The rift between us started as something petty but kept revealing itself to be bigger and bigger.
So during our session I chose not to talk about us or Clayton. Instead, I talked about myself and my struggles and the loss in our family, a dear uncle who passed about a month ago. My parents were still pretty shaken and I wasn’t quite sure how to mourn from so far away. I’ve only allowed myself to feel grief in small bite-sized pieces. Just saying all that to our counselor felt overwhelming and I asked if I could just not talk about it anymore. So my husband took the lead and talked about his week and the books he was reading. As I sat there silently, I realized that some of my frustrations with him were actually directed at myself. I was just as distant in our relationship as he was.
That night after we got home we watched a movie. I didn’t really feel any more vulnerable with Clayton. I was just tired, spent, and sad. The next morning as I was leaving for work, my husband gave me a long hug and whispered in my ear, “Thank you for being on my team.”
Was he joking?!
I hadn’t been on his team all week. In fact, I was on the opposite team, harassing him and blaming him for our problems. And then last night all I did was just take a break. Gave him a break and gave myself a break… and my husband was so thankful.
My cheeks flushed as I tried to wipe away some tears. I hadn’t really thought about it like that. I thought the point was to push the other person to grow. I thought I was “helping” Clayton by being on the opposite team.
That was the day I decided to be on my man’s team every day, 24 hours, seven days a week. What does that look like for us? Good question. I have been trying to figure that out. This is what I have come up with thus far.
1. When I get home from work I run in his arms and tell him I missed him instead of rolling my eyes at the dirty dishes in the sink.
2. I plan weekly date nights, instead of expecting him to do it just becuase I planned the last one.
3. Every day I make sure he knows how much I appreciate all the hard work he does for us and how lucky I am to be his wife.
4. I hug him more. I kiss him more. I touch him more in general so that we maintain a strong physical connection. I do this in public, which is hard for someone as private as myself, though it comes very natural to him.
5. I try not to hold grudges, even when I really want to.
These five things have not been easy to do, believe me. Just the other day we walked into the grocery store to get some food at 7:30 in the morning. Clayton punched in the wrong pin code, forgot to pay for his coffee, and took a wrong turn on the road. I was annoyed and I let him know very ungraciously, even though the voice in my head kept saying, “You’re NOT on his team!” I wasn’t, at least not right then. But the difference is that I knew it.
After fifteen long minutes of silence, I apologized for being a grumpy cat. He laughed and squeezed my hand and I squeezed his back.
Life is nicer when we’re on the same team. We fight less and spend more time liking each other. And I feel physically more in love with him. The other day he sent me a photo of his clean desk, he had washed all the coffee mugs.
We’ve still got plenty of issues to deal with. I’m working on not thinking of them them as insurmountable issues that might lead us to divorce because we’re just fundamentally different. I’m working on not thinking of myself as coming from a moral high ground, which is my natural inclination. But if we know we are fighting for each other, and not against each other, these are issues we can address without fear. We can talk about it put it aside and talk about it more later, and treat each other kindly in the mean time.
The longer I’m married the more I realize that loving someone is a conscious act. It’s not passive in any way. I work hard to love my husband every day. It doesn’t always come easy, but the results are priceless and I wouldn’t trade our love for anything in the world. Maybe everyone knows all this already. Maybe even I did. But recently my marriage has revealed it to me again in new ways I never expected, and I suspect it always will.
I encourage you to try to be on your spouse’s team for one week, be their cheerleader, make them feel special, and see how they respond. Then let me know! This marriage stuff is still a work in progress for me, and I need all the help I can get!