Recently, I enjoyed a rare quiet morning in bed. From my cozy perch, I could hear the kitchen cupboard being opened downstairs and then the shrill sound of the coffee grinder.
“Interesting,” I thought. “He doesn’t use that coffee grinder for his coffee.”
I broke into a silent grin. This was sounding good. Soon, stairs creaked. Footsteps, and then, my eldest rounding the corner of my bedroom carefully balancing a hot cup of joe. She held the mug out towards me and said something that touched my soul.
“Daddy says to tell you that he sees you.”
With that, she handed me the coffee and exited the room, simply the messenger, completely unaware of the depth in her message.
I couldn’t stop the tears. My husband, he sees me. Oh, what a gift!
It hasn’t always been this way. It has taken much work and intentional effort for us to get to a place where we can see the other.
We started a family early in our marriage, our first baby arriving less than halfway through our third year. Clear communication had never been our strong suit, and after becoming parents, the existing challenges grew in complexity. Bleary-eyed from sleep deprivation, we shuffled about, avoiding topics that might trigger conflict, each of us stuffing our needs and living at surface-level only.
Slowly, resentment began to form, as each of us grew frustrated by all the ways the other failed to meet our own needs. Our desires seemed so different from each other and I found it hard to understand this man who was sharing my bed. We struggled to stay connected both emotionally and physically.
In our desperation to have our own needs met, we collided, jabbed and cut at each other. I stumbled over my husband and sometimes even trampled him. If I’m going down, he’s coming too, I thought. I felt like I rarely saw him anymore. We were ships passing in the night, doing shift work, dividing and conquering, tagging in and tagging out.
Our marriage continued in this pattern for nine whole years before we hit our breaking point. It was date night and we were both feeling unhappy, distant and discouraged. The darkness settled in around us as we sat in the parking lot of the restaurant that evening. Something was tugging at each of our hearts and we both had tears pouring down our cheeks before we made it inside. We were done settling for the status quo. This wasn’t ever what we wanted or envisioned for our marriage. We knew we needed outside help and it was that night we decided to seek the assistance of a counselor.
With the demands of motherhood heavy on my shoulders, I confess that I saved nothing for my husband. I spent the day giving every bit of myself to my tiny human, first one, then two and finally three in total. I poured all of my mind, soul and body into these little lives, and then I felt contempt toward my husband whenever he also seemed to desire my attention. It was a vicious cycle.
I had been lost in survival mode and I felt hurt and alone. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that he felt similarly: lonely and wounded. We couldn’t see that it was the same thing we both wanted—each other.
With the help of our counselor, we began to better understand where the other was coming from. I saw how my husband’s behavior, at times driven by insecurity or fear of rejection, revealed his desire to be with me. I developed the courage to affirm, encourage and sometimes redirect his pursuits of me into ways that were even more meaningful and vice versa. We have learned new ways of connecting and prioritizing each other.
At times the process has been painful. I have felt distant and unseen. We are no longer the same people we once were when we were young and childless. Many of our passions have changed. What speaks to each of our souls is different now. This marriage journey is one of perpetually getting-to-know and then re-getting-to-know the other.
When the going gets tough, I remind myself that marital challenges don’t occur because “I am doing it wrong” or because I married the wrong person but simply because marriage is hard and takes work. Always.
I am learning to use my voice and say hard things that I once believed might shatter our relationship. I am learning to ask for what I need and give explicit specifics, not sit silently hoping he will “just figure it out.”
These days, when I am feeling especially disconnected, I begin by simply holding him. This act helps me to remember that, despite what either of us might be thinking in the moment, we are on the same team. I have begun to think of any disconnection or disengagement between us as a third-party enemy we are striving to defeat together. Having this perspective helps me fight against the divide instead of injuring my partner and taking him out. When challenging times come and the valleys feel gaping, I am learning to sit with the pain and lean into it. Doing so alongside my husband has resulted in a richness of relationship between us.
I love my husband with a depth of love today that I didn’t know to be possible. Through learning how to communicate my needs and prioritize our connection in big and small ways as well as seeking out professional counseling help as a couple, I have felt more seen and known and heard and understood and confident in who we are–individually and together–than ever before.
Though we have walked together through some deep valleys in our marriage, I’m grateful for the ways these low points have made the high points that much more joyous and rich.
The work is worth it.
Kelsie Crozier is the wife of 10 years to her amazing husband and is mom to three littles, ages 8, 6 and 4. She is a dietitian and a foodie who is passionate about living her wild and crazy life vulnerably, investing deeply in her people, and learning to do brave, hard things. She loves to write and process the highs and lows of her journey in mothering and marriage on her blog www.kelsieskitchen.com.