I’m covering up my frustration right now, can you tell?
I’ve been picking fights with you over the last few months. I kept saying, drink less, spend less time on your phone, parent more—better.
I was right to want these things, but it was wrong to ask so angrily.
You’re doing your best.
Somewhere in the last 18 months—between managing debt from our business and the stress of two young kids and me trying to make sense of what it means to be a stay-at-home mom (still)—we got lost. I stopped trusting you. I stopped believing you were doing your best in our marriage, and you stopped trying to prove me wrong.
I demanded more because I know you’re capable of it. I kept repeating, “I know we can be better,” but in my dissatisfaction, you felt conditionally loved.
Maybe it felt like I could only love you if you’d be different.
A week before we learned we’d be spending an indefinite future together in a shelter-in-place order in our community, I asked you for marriage therapy. You said no.
We’d been fighting over something small again and I said, “We need help.”
“A stranger on the internet isn’t going to fix us,” you said.
“What is then?” I questioned.
“You need to get thicker skin.”
I get hurt by words easily, yes. You say mean things, too.
You think I need to be stronger, and I think you need to be nicer.
“How should I say it then, when you do something wrong?” I ask.
“Maybe don’t say anything at all,” is your reply.
We’re on a walk by the harbor, late afternoon sun reflecting off the windows of the boats, soft breeze and thawing snow warming the road.
“Can we put that away now?” I snap when you pull out your phone to send a text. It feels like the thousandth text today. I feel like you’re looking into a screen more than you’re looking at me.
You say no.
We walk in icy silence, six feet apart by choice, in the glow of the spring thaw.
I should have said, When you’re on your phone, I feel lonely.
You can’t hear me.
As we walk, I make a decision.
I chose to stop trying to make you into someone you’re not. I choose to not let your words hurt me anymore and not to ask for change when your actions come up short.
Does this mean I need to become numb? Maybe. This doesn’t strike me as a healthy way to live, but I don’t know what else to do.
I know we can’t keep fighting.
At night watching our fears unfold on the news, you finish the last glass of wine from the bottle and reach for the Costco-sized whiskey bottle in the cupboard above the fridge. I read my book quietly. Perhaps now isn’t the time for an intervention.
I’ll work on my own stuff instead: less stress-snacking, more workout challenges with friends. Taking care of myself gives me strength. Letting go of regulating your self-care feels better, too.
I slide out of bed early to grind coffee beans and heat the kettle before you can get it to it. You say thank you with surprise in your face when I hand you your coffee, half-full just like you like it so it doesn’t get cold.
I hug you in the kitchen for no reason.
“It’s so nice we’re getting along now,” you say. I give you a tiny smile.
I wonder: Are we really getting along or is this all fake? Will it come crashing down?
I remember asking my mom what the word genuine meant when I saw it stamped on the back of my wristwatch when I was in grade school. She said it meant real and good. Genuine leather. I remember thinking, I want to be a genuine person.
Slowly, real or otherwise, the peace in our home sinks into the dry soil of my body.
I, too, enjoy not fighting. Our son sleeps better at night than he ever has. He’s being nicer to his sister, throwing fewer tantrums. I wonder if our thinly veiled disrespect toward each other in our regular life hurt him more than we realized.
I’m listening to the Marriage Therapy Radio podcast. The host says, “Let’s die on fewer hills in our marriage.”
Maybe I’m not being fake, just dying on fewer hills now. Maybe I’m choosing our relationship over being right for the first time in too long.
What if I reframe this shift in perspective as my radical acceptance? I take you as you are, husband, even though I still want more.
I can love you and want change. Not love you if only you’d change.
Being forced at home together softens me.
We don’t have the armor of busy schedules to protect us anymore so we can either blow up or become gentle. In my softness I find peace.
I pray one day I can share all this with you, my husband, from the strong place of a healed marriage, but I don’t know what’ll happen to us. I can’t predict next week, let alone next year.
I don’t know if this season will make us stronger or give me the certainty that our relationship is beyond repair, but I feel a deep strength anyway. I’ll be OK no matter what.
Till then I’ll be as loving, accepting, and peaceful as this stuck-at-home mama can be. I pray for peace in all marriages right now. We can only change from the inside.