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Challenge: Romance After Kids

I'm on Your Side

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I don’t know when it happened. It must have been incrementally, between the diaper changes and the handoffs as one of us went to work, between running to the grocery store and running the dog around and running to another appointment. This space developed, the one they warned us about before we got married, but it doesn’t look like they said it would. It doesn’t feel rocky but it does feel sharp. This space between us is more like a valley — steeply sloping but still pretty on the outside, covered in grass and a few flowers as we treat each other with kindness and respect.

But we’re on separate mountains, looking at each other across this valley. We’re calling for the other but our voices get muffled and garbled and nothing comes out sounding like we want it to. And the longer these little misunderstandings go on, however innocent they are, the more it feels like we’re in opposition to one another.

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On the day we said, “I do,” I thought I held the key to our happiness: we just had to stay on the same team. I carried this idea like a treasure, feeling wise and mature and on top of this marriage thing. I pulled out this advice, fixing it like a lens, when we didn’t see eye to eye on finances or the timing of having a child, reminding myself of our shared goals for our family.

When our daughter was born, I leaned heavily on this advice again. In the early days of trying to figure out all the things — feeding schedules and nap times and how much stimulation is too much stimulation and how to swaddle so she couldn’t break free — I reminded myself that we both wanted a healthy, thriving baby and to be healthy, thriving people. Shared goal, same team, same side.

But somewhere along the way, I tucked this lens away in the closet, letting it gather dust, deeming it sweet but naive. And I guess that’s when the space started to open up.

***

A few weeks ago, I scheduled an appointment to get my hair cut and colored. It had to be a long appointment to do both — three hours — and I knew I’d have to ask you to stay home with Selah. We miscommunicated about the time of the appointment and didn’t realize it until that very day, and in light of some similar recent events, I felt like the victim. This is why I’m so tired. This is why I can’t do anything nice for myself. This is why I always get the shaft.

It’s not that I thought you had done it on purpose — the miscommunication was just as much my fault — but somehow I still felt like the universe was out to get me. I used you as my scapegoat, like I have dozens of times already this year. His work schedule is the reason I never get a break. He’s the reason my life is hard. It makes me feel icky and selfish to even write these things when they are so far from the truth.

I hate myself for letting these thoughts take up any space in my mind. For one thing, it was only a hair appointment, and for another, all you’ve ever wanted to do is partner with me in the mundane and the monumental moments. I’m not saying you’re flawless or have done everything right these last few months. But I am saying you don’t deserve to be thought about in a way that is a gross misrepresentation of reality, whatever the lens.

I hear my tone when I speak to you sometimes, and I think, I’d never talk to a friend that way.

I hear my words, sharp and clipped, and I think, I’d never dream of saying that to my mom.

I made you the enemy, and I’m so terribly sorry.

***

We’re coming up to our four-year anniversary this week, kind of a boring number. With all the life change we’ve been through since that hot July day in 2013 — changing careers and buying a house and a getting a dog and bringing a whole new person into the world — it feels like we’ve been married at least seven years, maybe twelve. But really, we haven’t even made it to the first big milestone of five years. Four seems uneventful and dull, not unlike the way our rings have dulled from everyday wear and use and exposure to the elements.

While I wouldn’t say we are happier than ever (though we are generally happy together), I’m starting to realize that “happier than ever” is not the same as “stronger than ever.” Our marriage is durable and beautiful and strong — despite this disorienting place we currently find ourselves in — because we keep adding threads to the tapestry. Our marriage certainly isn't on the rocks. I think it just needs a little polish, a few steps toward each other. We need to confidently take strides down our respective mountains, finding a way to meet in this uncharted middle and make our way together.

So here’s one small step toward you that I’ll commit to taking: I’m going to pull that advice out of the closet, brush off the dust, and try it on again. I’m going pluck out my current lens — the one that feels a little gray and grimy and — and replace it with the lens that enables me to see you as a teammate. I used to think this lens was rose colored, and perhaps it is — but maybe a rose-colored lens is not so much naive as it is generous. Maybe looking through it is like looking through love, which covers a multitude of sins — including mine.

I’m going to keep taking steps toward you, however much my selfishness tells me not to, however much it tells me to retreat and make you close the distance. I’d rather be on your side than keep even a shred of my pride.

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