My husband and I sat cuddled and chatting on the couch. At one point, our conversation turned to a statistic we’d heard—resentment was a leading factor in divorce. So sad for everyone else, but we were ironclad, no chinks in our armor. We talked on but basked in a no, NEVER us sunshine. We humans are good at thinking we’re above the things we haven’t yet wrestled. And so, life had a lesson in store for me . . .
Once upon a time, my husband was on a business trip. He often gets called to consult on topics related to his field for various media gigs. That was the case. He was going to be on national morning TV. Meanwhile, across the country, I was at home with our children. Four kids under six can be a lot. It was a lot. The baby was fiercely committed to not sleeping. A typical night had me up every few hours feeding, rocking, and resettling him.
But this night, the night before the husband’s TV spot, was not a typical night. In addition to the baby’s waking, two of the other littles started with a tummy bug. I spent the night wandering from room to room, blearily caring for and cleaning one child and then another, changing PJs and bed linens on repeat, feeding and rocking the baby, and soothing tears. Morning light came and sleep never did.
It was a hard night on top of a lot of other hard nights. My body ached for rest, for restoration.
I stumbled toward the garage, realizing it was trash day as my phone rang. It was my sweet husband. He’d already been on set for several hours and launched into an excited report of his day. I listened while reaching for the button to open the garage door. He went on: he’d had a great night’s sleep, I should see the unbelievable dewy glow of a 20-year-old that the make-up people gave him, he was bumping shoulders with a celebrity, the takes had been going great, and he was receiving accolades for a job well done.
I stood there listening, now standing in the middle of the garage, eyes half open with exhaustion, waiting for the door to raise. And then . . . as that door lifted, it must have startled a rogue chipmunk hiding out on the rafters above my head. Directly onto my chest, with no moment of warning, plunged the equally surprised striped and furry assailant! I dropped the phone. The chipmunk and I were now engaged in what felt like a slow-motion action scene from The Matrix. It frantically scurried back and forth across my chest and shoulders, while I flailed, shrieked, and flapped.
My husband was on morning TV, but I was definitely the neighborhood entertainment . . . “WOW! She’s really lost it today! Screaming and carrying on like a lunatic! Wait, are those the same clothes she had on yesterday? And is that vomit in her hair?!”
Finally, the chipmunk leaped from me to the floor and was gone. What just happened?! My chest burned with a maze of red scratches. I looked at the trash bins waiting for me. I listened to the start of baby cries and little voices calling from the house. I felt a weary crush of tired, and then, the faint sound of my husband’s voice from the phone on the floor.
And there it was, a feeling that until that moment was not known in my marriage . . . resentment.
A hot rush to my cheeks, my heart beating fast, and thoughts battering in my head. Are you kidding me?! He’s over there energized and bright, climbing the professional ladder and winning praises. Meanwhile, I had had a night that should be required Navy SEAL training, spit-up covered zombie was my regular look, and I had just been jumped by a tiny rodent ninja!
I must have been barely hanging on because that chipmunk seemed to be all it took, that last little stressor pushing me right off the ledge. The ugly thoughts kept filtering in, and in my exhaustion, it was hard to beat them off. I was so depleted, and the story I started telling myself was that I was stuck at home while he was dancing in the light. I felt it, the sting and dark of resentment, and then almost immediately following, it’s friend, shame.
I am steeped in gratitude for our children. Putting my career on hold to stay home with them was a decision made joyfully. And my husband: he’s literally the best. He is the hardest working person I know, the most integrity-filled, the most loving, the most dedicated, the most sacrificing man. And he’s truly my other half. The person I want to spend all the days with, and in truth, the very person who would understand and know me best at this moment. The shame washed over. It mixed into and tangled along with those feelings of resentment; I broke with a flood of tears.
After the cry left me, I could feel myself slowly return. It didn’t last long, but resentment grabbed me that day in the same startling way as the chipmunk.
It shook me to know just how fast it hit and how powerful it had felt. Life is going to throw hard, ugly feels our way. I’ve learned to be on guard when my coping resources are down, when I’m worn and lacking the balance of self-care. We are most vulnerable in those moments. I also understand now the importance of allowing time to breathe, process, and pray before reacting. With the gift of calmer perspective, I was able to own the false story that those emotions were trying to weave. And sweet, sweet communication. I poured my heart out to my husband about that break, and after he stopped belly laughing from the image of the chipmunk battle scene, he heard me.
We are on the same team, both working so hard to keep the same ship afloat. Sometimes one partner needs a lift, a rescue, to be seen with grace-filled understanding (and maybe some antibiotic ointment for unexpected rodent scratches). But remembering that we are all of that and more for one another is healing. We can choose what we water and nurture in our relationship and take care to not let the negative seeds take root. As it turned out, I was not above that dividing emotion of resentment, but I didn’t allow it to leave its mark on me. (Unlike like that darn chipmunk!)