I used to write quite a bit about issues in our marriage. Stepping back from this topic had very much to do with protecting myself from the vulnerability of exposing these deeply held, delicate feelings to the world's entirety of internet-abled humans. It is hard to post a really honest raw post about an issue and get a rude anonymous comment or even a smug non-anonymous comment from someone who just doesn't get it.
But I know a lot of you do get it. And your varied experience and insight is one of the main reasons I'm still here writing, so I'm going to step back out on the ledge. Also, things aren't going so well, and I've been thinking about & researching (but of course! that's what I do!) this topic and need to work out some thoughts.
First of all, its really hard if not impossible to find any kind of marriage-related advice or information without falling immediately into a snake pit of "family values" propaganda, "Jesus is the third person in your marriage" and the answer to your problem is to pray on it and ooh here's an applicable proverb. And that's the best case scenario, where there is no mention of wife serving husband, etc... Its sometimes just too difficult to "read around" the heavy-handed Christian focus to find the actual useful information*.
Thankfully I did find some blogs & websites that were more Christian-lite with a healthy dose of feminism, and in reading about common issues in marriages and tools for working through them, I'm pretty sure I'm getting closer to the root of our problems.
Pretty much anything written recently about marriage can be traced back to the Gottmans---the psychologists who created the concept of "love languages" and tells you that rolling your eyes at your spouse puts you on the fast track to divorce. I've taken the Love Language quiz before, was not surprised at the outcome, and worked on trying to get more of what I thought I needed: Quality Time. We set aside time a couple of nights a week to hang out together, talk, play games, watch a movie or do a puzzle**.
And yet, I still didn't feel like I was getting what I really needed from my marriage. I mean, doing puzzles is fun! But I do puzzles with my 5 year old and its equally fun. I get just as much (if not way more, because I alone chose the content) enjoyment watching TV on my own as I do watching a movie with my husband (I really don't find "watching things" to really be "quality time" anyways, but he is always wanting me to watch movies with him so I have started to say yes more often).
Anyways, we've been fighting about various things, and I took again to the internet and I found a blog written by a married couple with 3 kids and they were major Gottman devotees and dissected all his research throughout their posts. And I read about their love languages and the ways they tried to "speak" each others' preferred language and I went back and took the test and...
I filled it out honestly this time, and I got very different and surprising answers. See, the first time, I was filling it out the way I thought I "should". I thought that what I wanted was more time, so I filled it out to reflect that. I don't really want more TIME. Time is great, but we're sort of short on time in this season of life, and sometimes I'm just tired and I want to get more sleep.
I was not expecting my love languages to actually be: gifts, and words of affirmation (in equal measures), followed closely by physical affection. I suspect I purposefully did NOT pick any of the "gift" answers because it sounds so shallow & materialist. It wasn't until I read that post where the husband talks about hand-written notes his wife left him as "gifts" that it clicked. I'm not a big fan of material gifts but I do like tangible reminders that my husband is thinking of me. I kept for years a post-it G put in my lunchbox just saying "I love you, have a good day" during a rough time at work. I keep forever the cards he was written heartfelt messages in. I also would really love a thoughtful (not generic!) present every once in a while---though I don't want him to feel obligated to buy me anything for a certain occasion, and we do not do birthday/anniversary/holiday gifts as a rule. Gifts can be obligations, but when given freely they can also be looked at & used again & again to re-create that warm, fuzzy, surrounded by love feeling.
Words of affirmation were another one I think I initially avoided because it sounded "cheesy". I definitely do NOT want wrought out declarations of love, nor would I be able to keep a straight face should my husband start spouting love sonnets! But you know what would be nice, particularly as I find myself in a career where I am constantly bombarded by criticisms and self-doubt, kids that never fail to bring up that I'm "mean" or "stinky" or hated, and the daily affront of the mirror showing me that I really don't look anything like I imagine myself in my head anymore? Real genuine compliments & validation that something about me is special, lovable, and worthy. I so do NOT get this. For years we had a lot of fights about G being too critical, and to his credit he has toned that down a LOT. But I can't remember ever hearing a specific compliment about any aspect of my actions, person, or personality other than an occasional "oh you look nice today" or "good job getting all those chores done".
Physical affection, well, what can we say about that. Its hard when two people have vastly different needs in this realm, and its not something you can force.
So, yay! I know what I need. The hard part is figuring out how to get it. It is pretty easy to ask someone for more time together. How do you, really, without sounding like a demanding needy a&shole, ask for gifts and compliments? And how can I get HIM to take this quiz and answer it honestly (I've tried to bring it up, he just...seems to be ALLERGIC to stuff like this)***.
Oh and just for the record****.
*yes, yes, I know you are perfect and can navigate any relationship naturally and easily and if you need to "research" having a happy marriage clearly there is something wrong with you/your spouse, or, most likely both of you. This post is not for you
**in retrospect, what helped these things happen is a great period of months with easy kid bedtimes, no major work deadlines, and unbroken sleep.
***don't say counseling. his allergy to THAT is beyond epi-pen level. (long time readers may remember a disastrous attempt at couples counseling 2-3 years ago). Plus OMG with my own therapy and B's behavioral therapy I really don't have the bandwidth for that right now!
****No seriously if your marriage is perfect and you can't relate, I'm happy
for you & you can go cuddle with your spouse, you don't need to
comment to tell me that!