Sex, Love and Applesauce explores the complexities of maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner while the majority of your focus and energy are being devoted to parenthood. So hold on to your matrimony and buckle those car seats.
When I wrote my initial piece detailing how I forgot what my husband and I were like before we had kids, I had a feeling that the piece wasn’t actually done when I handed it in. Or perhaps that the way it ended was a little unfair.You see, I shared the joyful news that my husband and I had found our way back to each other and learned what we needed to pay attention to in order to prevent the chasm from occurring again. I wondered how many of you read that and thought, “Great. Care to enlighten me?”
In fact, I do! And it was enlightenment that started the return trip for me. An epiphany, really. I was sitting on my yoga mat at Wanderlust (an amazing yoga and music festival – highly recommend it) this summer in a class taught by Seane Corn (love her!). She had us meditating on a single thought: How have I loved? Obviously subjective and open to a million different interpretations, what these four words did for me that day was provide me with a clarity I didn’t even know was lacking.
As I repeated the words slowly in my mind, the image of my two kids drifted by my closed eyes. Right after that, I heard the word, “completely.” I have loved my children so completely that the word feels almost insufficient. What’s more than complete? It occurs to me now that beyond completeness might lie “too much,” in the sense that the loving of someone else begins to degrade other relationships in your life.
This would make sense, as the next image to float into my consciousness was of my husband. I saw his face, neither smiling nor frowning, just looking at me, free of judgement and resentment, two things I’d seen a lot of on his face over the past several months. In this open-hearted moment, I received a surprising message. When I posed the question, “how have I loved my husband,” the answer was, “selfishly.”
What?! Impossible! ME? Selfish? No, that’s his department! He’s the only child, the one who didn’t want his life to change when our kids were born, the one who tells them “no” when they ask to listen to some annoying children’s music or pound their forks on the restaurant table. It’s always about him! I’ve been trying to teach him for the past four years – to show him how to pack the kids’ snacks, what to bring to make them happy on a car trip, which drawer holds their pajamas, the proper order of their nighttime routine. I’ve been unselfishly showing him how to parent exactly the way I do.
Oh, wait. Shit. That’s totally selfish! I’ve left him little room to parent the way that comes naturally to him because I was pretty positive that my way was better. And what’s worse, I was making my love for him contingent upon his subscription to my program. This wasn’t happening consciously, but as I sat there on that yoga mat with tears creeping down my face, I discovered this ugly truth; this horrible thing I’d been doing to the person I had promised to respect and grow with for a lifetime. I felt awful. I felt cruel. I felt selfish.
Thankfully this was yoga, so shortly after feeling like the worst wife in the history or wives, I accepted what had happened and decided to change my outlook, and my conditional loving, in that moment. I didn’t even wait until the next day when I got home. I just made a mental shift (I know, easier said than done).
Of course, my husband, who was at home with our two kids, was not experiencing a magical simultaneous realization. He was in the muck, just as pre-occupied as I’ve been for the majority of the past four years. I may have changed in an instant, but our situation had not. So I waited until our next therapy session to inform him of my yoga-inspired, potentially life-changing mat moment, and I asked him to answer the same question that had led me out of the dark. How have you loved, husband of mine? How have you loved me?
His answer was less one-word and more soliloquy, filled with images and gesticulation and planetary references. It was not in the language I speak – not my “love language,” as they say (I kind of loathe this phrase, but it is accurate here). When the therapist asked me what I had just heard, my newly unselfish mind was not strong enough to overpower my still-smarting heart, which had boiled my husband’s passionate response down to the word “neutral.” Like, he didn’t regret marrying me but I wasn’t his most favorite person in the universe. It makes no sense to hear myself say it now, but it’s evidence of what happens when you start self-protecting for the wrong reasons. My heart was not open to my husband’s love anymore. Granted, it didn’t happen in a vacuum and he hadn’t exactly been striving to convince me of his adoration on a daily basis, but still – it certainly makes you pause.
How much love are you unwittingly blocking from your life because you think you know what’s going on in your partner’s mind, despite the fact that you haven’t actually talked openly about it in months? Odds are, you’ve both been injured by the other to some extent. It just happens. We react when we shouldn’t, we fight when we’re tired, we say things we don’t mean. That’s part of the deal. So every now and then you have to make an effort to slough off that tough skin you’ve developed and become vulnerable to your partner again.
It also helps to have an incredible therapist who took my husband’s words and put them into my language. She said, “close your eyes and open your heart to feel his words. Ryan just told you that he loves you with the power of a billion stars. Can you feel a billion stars flooding into your heart?” And in that very moment, I could. And I said, “Really? Is that true? I didn’t know…”
We stayed in that office long after our session had finished and talked about how far we’d drifted from one another and how painful it had been. I promised to place fewer expectations and restrictions on his parenting style. He promised to make more of an effort to tell me how awesome I am as a mom. And we pinky swore that we’d move forward with the understanding that we are still in love and must treat each other accordingly. Kiss more often. Hug longer. Be nice. Show our children how they should be loved someday. And when one of us inevitably forgets all of this, remind with care and compassion. We will do the necessary work every day to build our life into the loving existence we intended when we decided to be together forever.