There are a million unique experiences about being married to someone in the clergy. (My husband is a cantor.) One of the sweetest for me so far has been witnessing him officiating weddings. I love a good wedding. But when it’s one of those weddings when it’s a great couple and everyone is excited for them and there is a great ceremony, it’s a recipe for a big sob fest for me (in the best way).
I’ve seen Jamie officiate a few times now, so I know his shtick pretty well. He always includes this advice:
In every marriage there are at least three aspects that require care and feeding: each of you individually and the marriage itself. What each of you might require to stay healthy, happy, and sane is very different than what your relationship might need to stay healthy, happy, and sane.
The first time I heard him give this advice I laughed quietly to myself. Not because I thought it was silly, but because I couldn’t believe he had such a powerful and clear understanding of how we work as a couple and he hadn’t told me! I suppose he just thought we both knew. It’s certainly how we live our lives together. Most importantly, we have learned that what I need from him, what he needs from me, and what our marriage needs from both of us are actually quite different.
Here’s some of what I’ve learned over the last decade and a half:
Stop complaining and start asking.
When Dr. Phil first got his own show, I was an avid watcher (hey, don’t judge!). He had a bunch of one-liners he used with his guests all the time and a few of them were really quite good and have stuck with me. One of my favorites was, “Stop complaining and start asking.”
Figure out what you need.
Sometimes, though, I actually didn’t know what to ask for because I didn’t understand the problem myself. For example, in the first few years of our relationship, we often ended up in the same argument after a party where I didn’t know that many people. At some point during the party, we would get separated and I would start to feel completely overwhelmed and panicked. I would look all around the place trying to find Jamie and give him the “help me” signal, which he never picked up on. And then I would get mad at him for “abandoning” me.
It wasn’t until years of this recurring argument that I realized that I am a total introvert. (Quick explanation: An introvert is a person whose energy is drained from external stimuli and is recharged through internal stimuli. It does not mean a hermit or recluse!) After we had that all settled and figured out, I realized that I had been angry at my husband many times over for many years because, essentially, he couldn’t read my mind. This realization was a game changer for our marriage. Suddenly, I was able to ask for what I needed and stop accusing him. And he complied willingly and lovingly because he wanted me to be happy.
So now, when I find myself irrationally upset, I try (emphasize try) to think figure out what I actually need. Then, I find a way to ask. Simple, right? If only…
Ask what your partner needs. Then, do that.
As close as Jamie and I are, I have occasionally forgotten over the years that he’s actually a different human being than I am (see above statement about being upset that he couldn’t read my mind). There are times when I feel like we are so close that we might be almost the same person. As beautiful as that sounds, it’s gotten us both into trouble in the past. Because, of course, we are not the same.
Unlike my introverted tendencies, Jamie is a classic extrovert. He needs to be around other people all the time. He thrives off of noise and semi-organized chaos. When he comes home at night, he sits on the couch and narrates his entire day to me. It took me a very long time to understand what was happening in these evening unloading sessions. After all, I’m an introvert and all I want at the end of the day is for quiet time to recharge.
Put your own needs aside, just for a minute or two
Once I understood that Jamie needed this time to unload, I learned to put my needs for quiet aside to let him have the time he needed. And that point continues to be a hard one to learn: once you know what the other needs, you have to do it. It’s not enough to show up – you have to show up how they need you to as much as possible. If I want him to be ready to ditch a party even though he’s enjoying himself, then I have to also be willing to listen to a nonstop monologue even though I’d prefer quiet.
Have I blown your mind yet? Maybe not. This isn’t rocket science. But it never ceases to amaze me how many couples I come across who struggle to get this. I’ve heard plenty of complaints about how much the partner won’t do, but very little about what they are doing for their partner.
Work together to figure out what your relationship needs.
Over the years, Jamie and I have worked to become closer and more considerate of one another. But that’s not quite enough. There is still the third aspect of our relationship to care for: the marriage itself. In our marriage, we have learned that we absolutely must have time just for the two of us. We prioritize paying for babysitters over other expenses so that we can get away for a few hours. When grandparents come to visit, we usually stay at a hotel for a night. These opportunities to be together without distractions are how we reconnect, check in, and recharge our relationship.
What our marriage has needed over the years has evolved, but two things remain the same:
1. Our marriage requires dedicated time where we are both paying full attention to the relationship itself. That might happen at a nice dinner out, a weekend away, or a coffee date in the middle of the workday.
2. What happens during that time matters as much as carving it out. We have to have the real conversations. It has to be about more than figuring out the childcare schedule for the month or debriefing our workday. We talk about the future and what we wish were different in the world. We talk about our fears, hopes, and disappointments. Without these real conversations, then the dedicated time is just visiting hours.
The relationship itself has to be maintained. It needs check-ups and pampering and, every so often, some repair.
Rinse and Repeat
No matter how simple these lessons seem, they aren’t always so easy to follow. Life always seems to get in the way of good intentions. Over and over again, we need to remind ourselves and each other of these lessons: to pay attention to our own evolving needs, how we ask for what we need, how we show up for the other, and how we care for our marriage itself. If we are doing it right, then we will never be done. We learn the lessons and try them out and mess them up and try it again. Rinse and repeat.
Ordinary Days, Meaningful Life is a labor of love geared toward working moms ready to embrace the chaos and find meaning in it. If you found this post meaningful, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it too! I’d love to stay in touch with you! Leave a comment below, contact me, or sign up for the mailing list. I can’t wait to hear from you!