The One Thing That Saved My Marriage
I think that the underlying issue my husband and I were dealing with was fairly common: I feel like I did everything.
At first, when we were just DINKs with an apartment and a cat, it didn’t matter because there wasn’t much to be done. We had small meals or we ate out. When the house was cleaned, it stayed clean. I began to see what the issues were, but they didn’t have a big impact at that time. The main way it manifested in the early years was that, for example, I’d ask him to clean the bathroom. Shortly after, I’d find him playing video games. I’d ask about the bathroom, and he’d tell me he already cleaned it. But when I looked, I didn’t see a sparkling clean bathroom. Sometimes, I could hardly tell he’d done anything at all. This became a pattern.
His argument then was that when he lived with his friend Rob, that would be considered a clean bathroom, and that basically, it wasn’t his fault that I had unreasonable standards. Early on, this started to create the mother-son dynamic.
Then your first child throws your world into chaos. Adding to this was the complication that David, our first child, was medically fragile with many psychological and behavioral challenges. It wasn’t long after we adopted David before I felt like I was raising two children.
It snowballed. Now I was the only one completing the important papers, making the appointments and shopping, organizing, and still, cleaning and cooking and all of what existed before, but now on a larger scale. The consequences of our tension around these issues were much further reaching. And yes, we still both worked full-time. Even if it wasn’t true that I was the one doing “everything”, I was doing so much more than he was that it was a fair analogy.
My husband claimed he wasn’t a mind reader and couldn’t infer what I expected him to do. But to me, what needed to be done was obvious, and if I had to go around explaining every little thing that needed to be done and how to do it, I might as well just have done it myself. Either that, or now I’ve become your mother, leaving you a list of chores and monitoring your compliance.
And I resented the way he always used the phrase “what I expected him to do”, as if the only reason he would buy groceries or do laundry was because it’s what I required, and not because it’s what adults do as a normal contribution to a household. In other words, if he hadn’t married me, he wouldn’t have inherited all of this work because they’re not activities he would do for himself. To me, that made him an adolescent – not a man, and certainly not an equal partner.
". . . his belongings were packed up the next day . . . "
The Breaking Point
One Friday, I came home from work and told him that we were going to find an apartment. We found one that night, and his belongings were packed up the next day with the move nearly completed by the end of the weekend. At first, he was in shock, not really sure how serious I was. But I did not move him out for dramatic effect; at that point, I actually had no intention of changing my mind.
That separation lasted for four months.
There were two reasons we didn’t get divorced. The first is prayer. Initially, he prayed much more than I did. When we first separated, I had no desire to reconcile, so there was no real incentive for me to pray about the matter. But one thing that gave me pause was hearing about others’ experience, where they admitted that years after the divorce, they experienced regret. So I prayed because I wanted to be 100% certain I was making the right decision, and this left the door open just a crack.
The other reason was that, independently of me, my husband wanted to make a turn-around. I was not convinced at first. A desperate man would say anything to get back into his comfortable life that had been turned upside down. But I watched him. He went to counseling, he took full responsibility for wrong actions and attitudes, and he committed to changing – even if it did not result in us getting back together, he wanted to make the changes for himself.
(This also caused me to commit to some changes as well, in the ways that I had not been completely sensitive to his needs and how he was experiencing the marriage.)
All I can say is I experienced a miracle, and my feelings for him began to thaw. We went on a few dates, and by then, it felt like we were starting over. But how was I to ensure that this emerging change would be put into action?
We decided to create a monthly calendar, where we recorded a complete division of responsibilities, including child care, and we stuck to it. (Now I’m not advocating that every couple experiencing problems take time to live apart, but I will tell you that in our case, when my husband had joint custody of David, which also meant that he had to independently maintain a standard of living in his apartment that accommodated a child, his ability to “adult” increased exponentially.)
Mainly, the child care trade affected weekends. On the weekends, my husband had David on Saturday (while I had a day off), and I took David on Sunday while he had a day off. The following week, I had David on Saturday, and my husband took him on Sunday. This didn’t mean the other person was completely absent, but it meant the main parent for the day is the point person for making sure the child is cared for. When we adopted our second child, the schedule remained, but with two children.
Imagine what you could do with one full day off each week: go back to school, sleep, exercise, visit with friends, catch up on organization . . . all the elements of self-care that you need, but never have time for.
And for my husband, he has a day to golf or watch a game or do yard work uninterrupted.
This also doesn’t mean that we never see each other or spend time together as a family. As we choose to make the calendar, we can also flex as we desire. Sometimes we schedule family events, or we participate in an activity on an impromptu basis, as in “Hey, does everyone feel like going out to dinner tonight?” Rather, the calendar is the default so there’s a guarantee that one person is not taking on too much, unseen by the other partner.
We are all together most weeknights, unless there is an extenuating circumstance. For instance, if I have class Monday nights for one semester, he’ll trade me for Thursday nights so he can play softball. And my husband and I regularly spend time alone with each other after the kids go to bed because everything gets done and neither of us is overly exhausted.
The arrangement also applies to cleaning, grocery shopping, and general household duties. And after years, it’s gotten to where we don’t really need the paper because our understanding of what’s needed to keep this machine running, with consideration for the other person, has been internalized.