I was all kinds of agitated. It was one of those “I hate everything” mornings that I couldn’t shake. My husband helpfully suggested a fix: “Why don’t you head outside with the kids?” Ordinarily, time outside, being present with my kids would be the perfect solution. Today, the idea only served to increase frustration.
“NO. I can’t go outside with the kids. It’s well below zero and I don’t OWN snow pants. Do you know why? Because I outgrew them. I’M TOO FAT TO GO PLAY WITH MY CHILDREN.” I burst into tears.
He responded, both baffled and amused, “…do you want snow pants?”
“NO!” I rage-blubbered. “I don’t want to! Because not only am I too fat to go outside with my kids, I’m not a good enough mother to WANT to! I have crap to DO!”
At that, I ugly-cried into his shoulder as he hugged me and chuckled softly. Eventually, I took a nap (regardless of my “crap to DO!”) and the day sort of reset.
Because sometimes, that’s what marriage is about—being honest about my crazy and letting him love me through it, even when he’s not hiding that he knows it’s crazy.It hasn’t always been this way. Not very long ago, that morning would have gone very differently. Rather than both of us reacting honestly and with kindness toward each other, I’d have attacked, he’d have patronized, and, in a tiny fraction of the time it takes kindergarteners to get into their snow gear, we’d be having the eleventy-billionth iteration of the same old fight where I feel minimized and he feels like I’m attacking over nothing.
This is better.
The road from there to here isn’t easily tied up in quick action steps, and we certainly don’t have the ideal marriage. But it’s a good one, and better than it used to be.
Anything worth having requires effort and tending. We have tended for a lot of years. We’ve pruned some things, weeded and planted, and watched things grow.
Amidst the chores and logistics, laughter and play are an important part of our marriage, so we nurture this friendship. Our date nights don’t look so snazzy anymore. Tonight after the kids were down, we sat on the futon with our respective wines (dry red for him, nearly juice for me) and I read a chapter from our current fun sci-fi book to him. It doesn’t have to be fancy—connection is the goal.
Last year, I pulled the weed of “the mean husband.” For our whole marriage, I filtered everything he said and did through the lens of my gnarly self-talk. Anything he said could be interpreted, in all sincerity, as “YOU SUCK.” But one evening after the aforementioned stale repeat fight, I realized that the mean husband was a figment of my imagination. He has been banned from all discussion since. Every now and then, I hear him tell me (again) how much I suck at everything, but my actual husband and I have developed a habit of calling him out: “Did you just tell me I suck? Shut up, mean husband.” We both chuckle and exhale and move forward together. It was a big weed. A deep one, but pulling it took so much less effort than working around it for the prior dozen years, and it seems not to be regrowing.
We’ve planted, carefully, little seedlings of vulnerability. This is scary because those are especially fragile, but having provided them with TONS of safety and love and honor, those little things are starting to thrive. They’re turning into some lovely things. He knows I love him and his heart, and has seen—slowly, incrementally—that I won’t turn away when he fails. I have learned to trust his heart for me as well, and am learning (again, slowly) not to be such a chicken about speaking my heart to him.
So on Saturday, when I freaked out about being too fat and crappy at motherhood to play outside with my children, I was able to speak those things aloud—crazy as they were—trusting him to love me still. And he was free to love me honestly, laughing just a little at the crazy, but in the most genuinely affectionate way (which no longer sounds at all like “YOU SUCK”), because laughing together is what we do as friends. (“I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing with you,” he says. I blubber back, “I’m not laughing right now, but I can see why you would. Maybe I will. Later.”) This change has come through all manner of things: marriage retreats, books, tons of therapy for me, a lot of growing up together, and heaps upon heaps of grace. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes it is—when we’re in our “best friends” space, doing life together can be sweet and simple—but often it takes a lot of conscious effort and intentionality. It’s worth every bit of that as the marriage becomes a calm refuge for us both.
Robin Chapman is a full-time imperfect Jesus lover, wife, and homeschooling mama to four babies, ages one to seven. When she isn’t buried in children or hiding from them, she enjoys reading, photography, and sharing stories on her blog, where she’d love to connect with you! You can also find her on Facebook or Instagram… or perhaps holed up in her bathroom with some coffee.
If you missed it, check out the Self-Care for Moms series we featured last month! Also, check out the most recent Kindred Mom Podcast episode with special guest, author Kat Lee.