It started when I shuffled past him, arms overloaded with a fresh load of clean laundry. I dropped them into a messy pile on the living room floor and I sat nearby, folding, fuming. I watched my husband punch the keys on his keyboard, never glancing my way, never offering a helping hand, distracted by his own interests. It ended with a fight, with tears, with terrible words, a packed-car and a call to the kids’ grandma to let me come and stay, indefinitely.
Sometimes I just don’t understand my husband. What I do understand is that the feeling is mutual. As much as we love one another, we both also find the other to be completely non-relatable and at times, completely intolerable.
Is there something wrong with us? With our marriage?
In the lottery of men, I truly feel like I struck gold. My partner is a good husband and a good father. Generally speaking, he does his best to be thoughtfully engaged and helpful around the house. Sometimes he does more work than I do. But he’s also oblivious. He’s oblivious to what it means to be a mother. He’s oblivious to the toll of a 24/7 schedule. He’s asleep when I’m awake to nurse one or two or 10 times in a night. He enjoys a long, peaceful drive to work, listening to podcasts or NPR, while my morning tune is the sound of cartoons and a cacophony of requests from hungry mouths and little hands.
What I wouldn’t give for a quiet morning coffee and a country drive in the rain.
It was a joint decision for me to stay home with our kids, yet as much as I love it I sometimes dream of being a working mother. I imagine the pleasure of engaging in adult conversation, of being respected, of completing a task without watching its immediate undoing. But I’m also entirely fulfilled and grateful to be here, raising my children. My husband doesn’t understand the disconnect. “Get a job if you want a job,” he’ll say. It’s not that simple. Since when does working relieve the pressure of being a mom?
I sent my husband an article, months ago, but he never read it. It was about the emotional labor of motherhood, about the endless spinning occurring in our heads.
Wake up, dress the kids, make the breakfast, clean the spill, fit in a load of laundry, quiet the crying baby, sweep the floor, remind yourself to write a list, forget what you wanted to write down, help your child use the potty, wash their hands, drink your coffee cold, check the calendar, sign the kids up for swimming, all before 9:00 a.m.
My husband mentioned that I’ve become scatterbrained and really, is there any wonder? When we go away for a weekend, he packs his bag. I pack mine and three kids, feed the animals and organize their care, adjust the temperature, and make sure we come home to a clean house. At times I’ve forgotten a favorite toy or overnight diaper and my husband asks me, “Did you forget to pack that?” It takes every ounce of self-control for me to not respond sarcastically, “I don’t know, did you?”
But like the author states in the aforementioned article:
“Forcing him to see emotional labor for the work it is feels like a personal attack on his character… Even having a conversation about the imbalance of emotional labor becomes emotional labor. It gets to a point where I have to weigh the benefits of getting my husband to understand my frustration against the compounded emotional labor of doing so in a way that won’t end in us fighting. Usually I let it slide.”
Usually, I let it slide, too. It is such a challenge to try to get my husband to understand my perspective and internal exhaustion without a fight that honestly, it’s rarely worth the extra effort. I don’t have time to be expressive or frustrated when my day is chock-full of so many menial tasks. I already know where voicing my frustration lands us, and it takes a whole day to hash it out. I don’t have a whole day, and I have yet to express frustration in a way that my husband doesn’t find offensive.
So where does that land us? Is our marriage doomed?
I hope not, and I truly don’t believe it is. For me, sometimes it helps to think of our life in the bigger picture. Sociological studies reveal that marital happiness is at its lowest during the child-rearing years. I don’t believe we are an exception.
I do believe things will get better.
So, as we have in the past, we will continue to try to understand and empathize with one another. We will continue to demonstrate to our children that relationships can be difficult, but are foundationally built on love. We persevere, as we always have, as we always must. We said our vows and if there is just one thing we know about one another, it’s that we intend to stick to them.