“What do you think about me signing up for a 10-day meditation retreat this summer?” my husband casually asked me as we were eating dinner the other day.
I replied, “I think it will be OK. We can work it out.”
Girl, you’re zen as hell, I know you all are thinking.
Thanks. Namaste. Namaste right back ‘atcha, Sisters.
If you are at all familiar with me in real life, however, you know my immediate, innate reaction is to secretly pour the entire contents of a bottle of ghost pepper hot sauce into his food.
It has taken a decade of marriage and a serious commitment to self-improvement on both of our parts to get to the point that I’d be cool with him choosing to leave his family for 10 days. Even six years ago, a thinly-veiled joke from my husband that he needed an hour to read the paper would have made me truly angry for days. I would
threaten reply, “Do whatever you want.” But we both knew what it really meant, “Try me, buckaroo.”
Why? Because I was a new mom living in a foreign country and was I exhausted and overwhelmed. I felt insecure for the first time in my life. It is painfully lonely to be an extreme extrovert living in a place in which you don’t speak the language. I felt chained to my new life, and it made me insufferably resentful. I could not steal more than three consecutive hours to myself, as my daughter was exclusively nursing (homegirl did not take ONE bottle her entire life.) I was the one who deserved the break, not him.
My husband, for his part, was working 12-hour days at a fighter base and the ops tempo was much more demanding than his previous duty station. He was overworked, stressed and irritable. And, to be honest, my daughter did not like him much at this point. He was essentially a stranger to her due to his work schedule. She would scream when I tried to hand her over to him, which made both of us miserable. It was a bummer for him to be at work. It was a bummer for him to be home. He felt like he just needed an hour.
But, at that time, I absolutely could not give that to him.
I steadfastly believe there are points in your life in which you truly feel you cannot take on a single additional obligation or you will break. We were both so fragile that the very mention of how violently each of us was treading water inevitably turned into an argument. We didn’t know how to listen to each other without feeling personally wounded by how the other one felt.
We played the Who Has it Worse game, and as we all know, it’s less fun than a never-ending bout of Mr. Bacon’s Big Adventure with a 6-year-old. (It sounds more awesome than it really is, trust me.)
We had discussions (and arguments) and went weeks when we really didn’t speak to each other. I had days in which I really felt like I could do it all on my own. I can’t say I’ve ever even told my husband this.
I loathed feeling that way, so I forced THE fight that would set the rest of our marriage on a better path. I am from a get it out and for the love of Jeebus, get over it type of family. We. Are. Loud.
This, however, is in direct opposition of my husband’s curated training as a WASP. His preferred method of conflict resolution is to push his feelings down deep and subsequently hold a grudge over something he may or may not remember for a decade. We are still working on this insignificant fissure in our personalities.
I finally decided we were going to do it my way because, shockingly, passive-aggressively avoiding a major marital issue wasn’t working for us.
So one day, we both loudly and passionately confessed our stresses and resentments and it felt really good. It didn’t solve everything, but we both realized the validity of the others feelings, and that, for us was 90% of the battle.
From that moment on, we have given each other more grace and have been able to let go of a lot of resentment.
And on that note, we have gifted each other actual, legitimate days off. Days in which NOTHING is expected of whomever is “off.”
It’s a very bizarre feeling at first, to go from having the weight of the responsibility of a family and a career to just being able to bebop around, or do absolutely nothing as you please. I’m not a great relaxer, so I use my time for meandering through Target or taking a calligraphy class. My husband, bless his soul, simply reads the paper or sits quietly with his thoughts. Just as he wanted all those years ago.
Some days are scheduled, some are reactions to our days or whatever situation happens to pop up as a result of living as a human. Some “days” mean a couple of hours for me to ride my bike or run on my treadmill.
Sometimes I get to take a bath without having to change anyone’s Barbie clothes or make food for a poor starving child who ate 1.5 hours ago.
Some “days” are trips with my sister to New York or a month home with our kids and my family.
Some days amount to 10-day meditation retreats.
Days off help. A lot. I just got one this weekend and quite simply, it gave me life.
I came back feeling significantly less stressed and much more appreciated. It gave me the clarity I needed to regain my patience, which always makes me a better parent and a better partner.
Bedtime was much less of a box to be checked, but rather something I looked forward to because I remembered how much I actually like my kids.
This all proves true for my husband as well. A decade after we got married, there is still a lot to be discovered and tweaked to improve our evolving relationship.
This one is definitely a keeper.