Meredith Carroll wonders if she’s doing enough to keep her marriage healthy.
I spend a fair amount of time in my car each day shuttling my kids from Point A to Point B (and then back to Point A when someone forgets a lovey and then onto Points S, F, E, Y, T, Q, G, and Z for doctors’ appointments, piano lessons, gymnastics classes, and playdates).
So I have ample time to listen for three hours each day to Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who doles out “no-nonsense” (read: nasty) relationship advice to those who call in to her radio show. I’m not sure who calls in thinking she’ll actually make a difference or why I listen, but they do and so do I.
Schlessinger is big into women being more submissive, and if I were a 1950’s-era housewife, her tips on “the proper care and feeding of husbands” would probably be useful. But I’m an educated and savvy modern woman, which means I hardly wait at the front door for my husband to return from work each day, pipe and gin martini in hand, his favorite dinner waiting on the table. Even if I hadn’t been caring for our kids pretty much full-time since they were born, in addition to working a full-time paying job, our daughters, who are nearly 4 and 7, are simply far too demanding at the precise time of day that he tends to come home for me to be able to give him that kind of attention.
My husband and I met nearly 12 years ago and in September, we’ll celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary. We’re swimming along happily, but I’ve watched recently as more friends and acquaintances struggle in their own marriages, with some starting down the path to divorce. I’ve started to wonder if we are — or, more specifically I — am doing enough to keep our bond healthy.
While we’re still in the weeds with our daughters, everyone is now potty trained, out of strollers and cribs, in school at least part-time, and developing into human beings slightly less whiny and dependent on us than they were when they were babies and toddlers. Yet we’re still in the thick of it and my instinct has always been to put my kids first. It’s partly because they demand it and it’s hard to negotiate with a
terrorist toddler, and it’s also because I’m their mom, so it’s what I signed on to do.
My husband comes home each night and promptly exhales the contents of his day to me. While we’re vigilant about teaching the girls manners and respect, they have a hard time waiting for him to a finish a tale from the office when they have burning questions about dessert or the location of a Beanie Boo. I’m good but I’m not good enough that I can give him and them both of my ears at once, which all of them expect. Usually, the girls win. Because the way I see it, I can generally pacify them quicker than I can him. Besides, we’re married, he knows I love him, and this is what parents do.
Except the more I listen to some of the saddest stories I’ve ever imagined on Dr. Laura’s show, and the more I see friends suffering through the dissolution of their relationships, the more I’ve been thinking about how no marriage is bulletproof. While I work on our marriage, I don’t necessarily think too much about how my husband should come before the kids whenever possible. But the fact is that he and I are the glue that holds our family together. We model love, empathy, compassion, good cheer, and affection to them through our interactions with each other.
If our marriage isn’t healthy, our entire family suffers.
So a couple of months ago, I declared to my husband that I’d be making an effort to a better girlfriend (another Dr. Laura relationship mainstay). What that’s translated to is me trying harder to be sweeter (sour and spicy come more naturally to me). I listen more, criticize a bit less, and try to let go of what, after 12 years together, I know is never going to change.
It hasn’t been perfect, although my husband did mention a few weeks into our courtship how much sweeter I’ve been. The girls’ world hasn’t imploded when they’ve been told to wait — really wait — until Daddy’s done speaking. Of course a few months (plus nine years) isn’t all it’s going to take to cement the bonds of marriage. But we’re in this for a lifetime, not just for the time our kids will be with us before they leave the nest.
Since I’m committed to my husband, I’m determined to continue putting him first for his sake, our sake, and so my girls can see that while they’re my sun and my moon, my world doesn’t revolve around just them.
By having them witness me spreading my love around, hopefully they’ll learn that they shouldn’t be afraid to test the capacity of their hearts by being wise enough to know when, how much, and to whom they should hold it close.
Originally appeared at Babble.com