On a very rare date night last week, we saw Gleason. In case you’ve been living under a rock, it’s the film about former Saints player Steve Gleason’s battle with ALS. About 2/3 of the way through the movie, there’s a really powerful and gut-wrenching scene between Steve and his wife, Michel. I won’t spoil it for you, but essentially Steve tells her that he feels like she doesn’t see him anymore and asks what he can do better to make her see him. She responds that it’s not him, it’s on her to do better.
Later that night, my husband and I got in a fight about something small and silly, which morphed into a big fight about big problems we’ve both been avoiding talking about. That’s our M.O.: move about life as if everything is fine until a tiny crack gives way to Mt. Vesuvius. At one point he looked at me and said, “You know that part in the movie where Steve says it feels like she doesn’t see him? That really hit home. Sometimes I feel like you don’t see me.” Yes, yes it did hit home. And as much as I didn’t want to admit it at the time, he’s right. Sometimes I see right through him.
We aren’t connected and haven’t been for some time. I’ve watched it come at me like a slow train, while I’m stuck on the tracks in traffic between the two lowered crossing bars. If our friends read this, they’ll probably be shocked. I’m fairly sure we’re the model couple that everyone admires for navigating the rough waters of marriage. But the real life with kids is more of an ebb and flow. Nothing is simple. Nothing is easy. Marriage is infinitely harder when there are small people who need things like food, education, and a roof over their heads. It can get better, but not if no one admits that the ship’s got a leak and it needs to be bailed out. So here I am, bucket in hand.
I’ve spent the week replaying all of this in my head, trying to figure out what we, what I, can do better. My days are filled with to-do lists, taking care of everyone’s needs (well, almost), and putting out fires. We both work full time plus extra jobs as they come in. We spend most weeks tag-teaming taking care of the kids so the other one can fulfill the commitments we have to the household and the rest of the world. We don’t get many date nights because babysitters and nights out are expensive, and usually get reserved for events we have to attend, like weddings and work functions. Finding the time for date nights or therapy is a logistical nightmare; finding the money for either is even harder. I really don’t know what to do or where to go from here. I think we will be okay, and he seems to think so, too. But at this very moment, in this season of life, we aren’t doing so hot.
His love language is touch and mine is acts of service. I spend my energy taking care of everyone and trying to keep everyone happy because that makes me happy, and it’s how I show my love to them. Recently, he’s gotten pretty good at picking up extra household tasks when he sees that I’m slacking or I desperately need extra sleep. I’ve noticed. I’ve tried really hard to tell him thank you as much as possible, but what I haven’t tried really hard to do is reciprocate the gratitude in the love language he understands. All I’ve done is show him how I feel in a way that I understand.
At the end of the day, the only thing I want to touch or have touch me is a container of double stuffed Oreos. I cuddle with the kids on a regular basis every night, but they don’t expect anything from me. There’s always a fine line between our expectations and what will get needs met. What he says he needs and what he shows me he needs in the moment are usually two different things. I often shut down, feeling some combination of anxious, misunderstood, unheard, or angry. I want to be the girl that can have anger or make-up sex, but I can’t. I’m not wired that way.
I’m not the girl I was when we started dating a decade and a half ago. I don’t like the same things I used to, I can’t clear my mind of all responsibilities to the point where we are the only two people in the world like I could back then. He still does. He still can. Which makes the suggestion from others that we just need to have more sex to be connected frustrating; if it’s the last thing I want these days and it’s done reluctantly to make him happy, how can it be the solution to our issues? Minimizing deeper problems by being forced to connect in a way that half of us doesn’t want is a recipe for resentment and disaster. Truthfully, part of me longs to be that girl again, and I’m jealous of him. Things would be easier if I could shut my mind off and we could just be the old us again, best friends head over heels in love with each other without worrying about anything or anyone else.
Searching for Balance
I’m searching deeply for the balance between meeting his needs, being true to the me that exists now, and what our marriage was built on. I’m looking for things we can do together, even if it’s just sitting on the couch, next to each other instead of on opposite ends, watching a show we both actually like. Or sitting on the porch swing that sold our house for us, drinking a beer and talking about our day and everything we have going on. We don’t make time for those things anymore; you know, those things that usually lead to other things.
A little less than a decade ago I promised I would put him first. I know now that I didn’t exactly know what I was promising then and how incredibly hard it would be. I’ll probably say the exact same thing another ten years from now. For a while, I lost sight of him … of us. What I see now is that I married an amazing man who loves me and appreciates me, who has become an incredible father. I don’t want to live this life by anyone else’s side. The hard times, all of them, pale in comparison to the happiness we’ve made together, and I promise to bail the boat out as much as I need to make more.