Love and Marriage…..and Kids

When I started writing this document, I got about a half a page in and realized I had not yet saved it. When I went to do so, I decided to call it, simply, husbands. But an error popped up saying that there was already a document called this. I was reminded of how much time I spend trying to figure out this marriage / relationship thing. I have started and stopped writing about relationships and marriage no less than 100 times, and I never complete it (will this be the time?). Perhaps this is because this is the nature of these complex relationships – always evolving, always changing, making it very difficult to describe and summarize down into a witty, insightful closing line. Here goes one more attempt….

If love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, then where, may I ask, do kids fit in? Riding amiably along in said carriage? Or are they the roadside debris that gets lodged in said carriage’s wheels, rendering the whole contraption unworkable? If this seems a harsh analogy, I would guess that you do not have children:). If this horse and carriage is not in near perfect working order at the beginning of the kid adventure, the weaknesses will be found and exacerbated very quickly in. Children are wonderful and sweet and can make you feel very close as a couple at times, like, when they first come out. And then sleepless nights, crying babies and differing parenting styles (and neither of you may have realized that you HAVE a parenting style!) become the respective bumps in the road. Some may cause a major upheaval in the moment. Others are like small stones that you hardly notice when you pick them up, but over time, they wear down some spot on the wheel, eventually causing it to need emergency attention. Some sort of temporary patch can be put on the spot, which will work for a while, or one can take the wheel apart and see where the rock weakened some crucial joint, and fix it at the source. It’s a journey and the horse and carriage will wear. But this journey never ends, so upkeep is crucial.

I do believe that the family structure is grounded in the marriage, or relationship, if marriage is not chosen or allowed (I am not just being PC here – it is how I feel). I don’t believe there has to be one, but if there is one, the relationship sets the tone on so many fronts within the household. It creates the basis for the ‘energy’ that is created in the household. It also models, at all moments, to the children how adult relationships work, separate and in conjunction with their own relationships with said adults. This idea was validated for me when (un)coincidentally, this month’s issue of Parent magazine has an article titled: “How to raise Happy Children (hint: it starts with your marriage)”. I guess this is why I become doubly stressed out when I’m feeling something other than pure love for my husband – because I wonder if my kids sense it and are storing it away to share with their own therapists years down the road.

At the beginning of the year, a friend visited me as her last ‘girlie weekend’ before having her 2nd baby two months later. We spent the weekend discussing our kids, schedules, futures – going back to work, not going back to work, etc. – all of the contemplation, dilemmas, and sometimes anxiety that comes along with the privilege of choice. As friends do, we have a lot in common. We both have our MBA’s, we both got married ‘later’ than people from our respective smaller towns that we come from in Wisconsin, both started children later, both traveled pretty extensively internationally and have a shared love of travel and all things foreign. We even both married German-American engineers! Which brings me to the other thing we have in common, and which much of our weekend was spent ‘discussing’ – our frustrations with these husbands, particularly after having children. After she left, I was distressed about how much time I spent talking about this. These frustrations seem to be so universal among couples, which in my mind, makes it more frustrating. Why can’t we figure this out? And complaining about my husband makes me feel so….so….. ordinary. It’s ugly, this complaining business. But like many women, talking these things out really can help, when it’s not just complaining, but truly working out what it is that I’m really angry about. Then I can approach my husband with it. I have found that if I approach him with the wild and crazy thoughts, without prior honing, it’s hard for him to hear what I’m saying. Translation needed between Venus and Mars.

So, after all of this, what is it that I (and so many other women) complain about? The overarching theme goes something like this: I feel like I must reign in my husband, much like I have to set boundaries for my children. And frankly, I don’t need someone else testing the limits! My husband and I are both independent souls and that is how we work so well together. We have always lived the beautiful analogy of the two independent trees whose branches intertwine, but whose roots are separate and equal. This worked very well in our dating relationship and in our marriage. And then we had kids. I feel that I have lost much / most of this independence while he has lost, let’s just say, a minimal amount. Over the last year while I have struggled with a baby that never took a bottle and have not been apart from her for more than 4 hours, my husband took up bicycle racing (which entailed him being gone for entire weekends) and got his pilots license, another time-consuming venture. We can afford help, so he feels it’s not a problem to be gone. I argue that I did not agree to raise our children with hired help. I love that he has so many interests and is motivated enough to pursue them, but I felt that, particularly over this last year, he might have chosen some hobbies that kept him a little closer to home – ones that did not fill my head with visions of cops showing up at my door to tell me that my husband was killed in a plane crash. I thought road biking was dangerous enough (cars and bikes just don’t get along very well). I am not really a ‘worry wart’ by nature, or I wouldn’t be able to be married at all to this type-A adventure seeking guy. And I get that everything has it’s risks – I road bike too because I think the overall risk is relatively low. Still, he has a way of pushing everything to it’s limits, including me.

Coincidentally (if one believes in coincidence), I read an article in my Parent magazine just after my girlfriend had visited, written by a single mother, who, in essence, after listening to all of her girlfriends gripe about their husbands, says, ‘get over it – it’s way better than not having a husband!’. Point taken. And I questioned, myself, why am I so often griping about this husband-o-mine, when, rationally, I love this man more than any other man on this planet? I have a list a mile long of things that I admire and love about him. We’ve only been married for 4 years, though we’ve known each other for almost 10, but there is no ‘stale’ or ‘boring’ problem, by any stretch. So why, oh why, I plead with myself, CAN’T I ‘get over it’. Let him off the hook. ACCEPT how he is, which my Buddhist side screams to do. I would be the happier for it.

In my intake form for my therapist, I insightfully wrote that, while I felt very frustrated with my husband, I recognized that I could not change him and that this was likely a journey of acceptance. When I started this therapy I mentioned to hubby that he would likely be invited along, thinking that certainly some couple therapy was needed. But it was clear from the first session that this was my gig. I was unhappy and he, being the closest person to me, was the easiest to take it out on. And I still feel like he has taken liberties over the year that make it easy for me to make a case against him. But ultimately, when I emerged from my therapy as, what it felt like, as a new person who was joyful once again in life and with my children, I found that I was equally joyful and in love with this husband o-mine. To be fair, I never doubted my love for him. I feel a cosmic love for this man that defies all intellectual understanding – the love that drives any of us to actually marry someone. But I did wonder if my love was big enough to overcome the every day resentment that builds with the change and stresses of children. Children create a lot of beautiful moments to share but anger, bitterness and resentment can create a fog so thick that you can’t see the person sitting across the table from you with whom these beautiful moments were created. What I know now is that, yes, that love is big enough. It’s always enough. Staying connected to it can be challenging, but it’s there, and it’s enough. There are times when I have felt disconnected from the love that I feel for my own children. If this love, that is so crazily intense in the moments when you are really in touch with it, can be lost, then it should not be surprising that I can fall out of touch with this love for my husband, which can get buried under daily stresses and imperfect human interaction. I really do recognize how great I have it. I have a husband that loves me dearly and a great marriage. What I’m seeing is that anger, bitterness and resentment are not all bad – for they are beacons sending a serious distress signal that something is out of balance in me. NOW, before we let off these husbands of ours scot-free, as the aforementioned single mother suggested, marriage is a created institution where we agree to create a shared world and life – with or without children. Every couple’s world stays in balance in it’s own way. I recognize my husband is substantially more involved than some other men I’ve known. This makes me appreciate him, but is not a basis of argument for doing anything less than what it takes to keep US in balance. “Sorry, honey,” I say, “but you married me. It’s unfortunate for you.” And, luckily, we can still laugh about this.

I was discussing with yet another one of my friends the other night, the magic of finding the balance in motherhood / wifery / life. Magic is what I feel it is – most certainly more an art form than a science. She recently went through a divorce, so I was questioning her on what they learned, as a couple, about relationship and what they would look for in their next relationship. Her overall conclusion gave me great solace. Her assessment of her relationship was that they made a great parenting partnership, but the relationship foundation was flawed. They could use the partnership to overlook the other issues, but only for so long. I have often said that I give my husband 1000 kudos as a father and as a husband. It’s where these two roles intersect, in the parenting-partnership, where my frustrations lie. But our foundation, I feel, is rock solid, and that is a great place to be. In the evolution of the analogy, today’s carriages may come in all sorts of new age construction – maybe carbon fiber or titanium – seeming to need less upkeep. But the horse? It will perform only as well as it is taken care of. Some things do not change.