Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mid-Life Marital Musings

Shortly after Tim and I started dating at Wake Forest, he had to get his wisdom teeth pulled. I set myself up as his nurse, making sure he took his medicine on time and had plenty of soft food to eat. It was my pleasure to help him in his doped-up state, and I even bought his favorite pudding flavor-- pistachio. The little pistachio bits were not safe for him to eat, so I sifted through the powdery mix, picking out each one before preparing it, chilling it in the fridge, then feeding it to his adorable, grateful self.

Twenty-three years later, I am guessing that I would not jump at the chance to spare his gaping bloody tooth sockets from wayward pistachio slivers as I once did.

Why is that?

I think years of busy-ness and scorekeeping and nurturing the heck out of small children somehow leave little room for thoughtfulness for each other. I think people are generally wired selfishly, and each day is a struggle against a me-first attitude. And our culture leaves us asking every day, "What's in this for ME?" rather than "What can I do for others?" So when we feel spent, as we often do, we don't go around looking for ways to serve our spouse.

And before I get mean comments about what a terrible, horrible, no-good wife I am, I'd also venture to guess that the same guy who used to show up at my apartment window, rapping on the glass with a box of my favorite Little Debbie Swiss Cake rolls, also left the building quite a few years back.

The truth is, it's easy to forget about the little things that make our partners happy, especially as the years pass. But life really is about the little things, rather than the grand gestures, not that grand gestures now and then hurt.

As parents, we quickly learn what it's like to put someone else's needs above ours, and we are glad to do it. It springs from our deep well of love for our children. And as we pour ourselves into them, we have no guarantee that our efforts and love will come back to us in any measureable way. But we do it anyway. We can't score-keep in parenthood, because the scales would never be balanced, and we don't expect them to be. I don't mean to imply that parents don't need to nourish and take care of themselves, but that giving of ourselves to our children, although challenging, feels good, and right, and holy.

In marriage, however, we wonder if giving to our partner first will in some way diminish us and our claim for fairness or personhood or...something.

In the clunky yet thought-provoking movie Fireproof a few years back, I saw how one spouse lavished love and thoughtfulness on another with humility and without agenda, and the relationship thawed and blessings followed. Problem was, I wanted to be the one being lavished upon, not doing the lavishing. And Tim had fallen asleep on the couch, so he missed that part.

I know I could do that more, not in my own strength, but with God's help.

But most days it seems so risky to put myself back in those early days and ask myself, WWTTYAD? (what would twenty-two year old Anna do?). Because, well, what if it requires more than I want to give?

One day our house will be empty except for the two of us. It will be even quieter than it is now, and believe me it's quiet now.

And as we age, and more things fall apart, sag, disappear-- and dignity and bravado give way to need and struggle and illness-- we will be presented with many more opportunities to show each other help and grace in the smallest ways, serving each other.

It reminds me of how my grandpa used to use a curling iron to curl the back of my wee grandma's hair. Not too far removed from how Tim already colors my roots for me, right?

I don't know where this post is going.

I just know that our hours on earth are numbered. And I'm thinking I'd like to be remembered as someone who loved-- someone who would pick out pistachio slivers for her partner-- rather than someone who is worried about what's in it for her.

68 comments:

rgy said...

amazing as usual

angela said...

This is really lovely. Ryan and I are in a space of "busy": each of us singularly and our kids. Our marriage is sadly taking a backseat to everything else, and I need to remember to pick out pistachio slivers now and then.

MrsTDJ said...

My sweet friend Anna! You've put words to such a common thing. One thing that gave me (and still gives me) comfort since my husband passed away is that we were still silly, fun and thoughtful best friends. He'd sneak onto my ipad and download new books to my Kindle, while I was at the grocery store searching for a new ice cream flavor to surprise him. It's the little things that count! ((hugs))

Laura ORourke said...

You spoke to my heart today, Anna. These are currently things I am struggling with, in the midst of parenting young children. I shared with my bible study too, as I know I'm not alone. Thank you so much for writing this, friend! So beautiful!!

elzimmy said...

This really resonated with me, thank you.

Cindy said...

Wow, that hit home with me! My husband and I are so busy taking care of not only our daughter but our elderly moms that I think we forget about doing things for each other. I need to consciously work on that!

I've been reading your blog for a long time now but have never commented. I didn't know that y'all went to Wake! I live in W-S and my little family and I are big Wake fans.

Love your writing and I'm looking forward to reading your book.

Cindy said...

Wow, that hit home with me! My husband and I are so busy taking care of not only our daughter but our elderly moms that I think we forget about doing things for each other. I need to consciously work on that!

I've been reading your blog for a long time now but have never commented. I didn't know that y'all went to Wake! I live in W-S and my little family and I are big Wake fans.

Love your writing and I'm looking forward to reading your book.

Keely said...

YES. Oh so much yes. The pistachio bits and falling asleep on the couch (to miss the message of the movie) and quietude...and future quietude... Just, yes.

annie said...

Wonderful post.

Janine said...

Amen!

IrishRN07 said...

Beautiful.

Anonymous said...

A few time my sweet J used to make me milkshakes and deliver them about midnight to me during a 12 hr shift in the MICU at UVA. So sweet. Thanks for helping me remember. He does other stuff now. BLouD.

Mrs Changstein said...

Anna, you make me smile! I got married mid-life. It was SO hard, those first few years. The only thing that got us through the first 5 was the Bible verse someone gifted us with. 'Thou shalt not kill.' Yeah, divorce wasn't an option, but murder might have been. God got his hands on us, though, and there have been some big changes. We've put each other first - well, tried to - and it's made such a difference. Love God, love him, love the kids.
Came home yesterday to my husband doing the spring cleaning. He was vacuuming the blinds, for pete's sake!! Because he knows it bugs my asthma. THAT's love!!
I try to send him an e-mail every day 1st thing when I get to my desk. To tell him I love him, that he makes my life better. 1 specific reason why. He says it makes his day.
It's our 15 year anniversary tomorrow - I never thought I'd get married - but here I am - richest, most blessed woman I know.

Noah's Mom said...

Wow, Anna...you say so eloquently what most of us are thinking or feeling. I've taken care of children for 35 years, and now with a 15-year-old son with autism...I guess I have little energy left for those caring, little things I once did for my husband! Sad but true. Well, you made me think about that and I will certainly try to conjure up a spark of energy for those little, loving gestures. Not making any promises, though ;) Love your writing & love you.

LauraBeth said...

Anna.... Sending you love and prayers this day.

With love from the other side of town...

Wildali @ These are the times... said...

AMAZING post!!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow, thank you. This one hits right between the eyes. It reminds me of a marriage retreat my husband and I participated in last year. In breakout sessions, we were directed to go outside and really talk about our issues: where we needed support, what was lacking, etc. Many came to the final session feeling justified in our lack of satisfaction in our spouses, and ready to be told what THEY would have to do to better meet our needs. The leaders then lowered the boom: the only person whose behavior you can control is your own, and by the act of loving and serving your spouse will create the space for them to respond. It's tough to do all the time, but it's always rewarding.

Anonymous said...

Love the Fireproof reference! I too wanted to be the lavishee; only difference is that I was watching the movie alone because I knew it was something he would pooh-pooh.

K said...

Thank you for sharing your honest look Anna - that was bold and brave is probably causing the wheels to turn for many who read this. I think it's the care of children and score keeping that really takes a toll. I want to find a way back, or maybe I should really say I want to find a better way forward.

Lady Jennie said...

I can't seem to come up with a single thought other than to say I really liked this post.
xo

mrscravitz said...

Well Anna, You have hit the nail on the head with this post. I KNOW! I am there, at that stage in life you are working your way too. I raised three boys. Loved every minute of the hectic days. BUT...when they moved on with their life, We also moved to a farm. I now can have my horse, a couple dogs, THREE donkeys, soon to be LLAMA....I really love their visits, and then love the quietness and solitude when they leave. We do have more time for each other. But he is usually on his Harley and I am on my horse, and we meet in the middle!

Andrea Mowery said...

Did you write this for me? Because I have a feeling that you did. :) Love the way you said everything.

One crazed mommy said...

Oh man...I can totally relate to everything in this post! Totally get it!!!

sarabean said...

Randomly, an older gentleman started a conversation with a friend and I at the gym (!) today. I've always admired how he and his wife come in and help each other from machine to machine, working out and doing physical therapy. He tirelessly places her legs and arms in correct positions, even though it takes them hours to get around the whole place. Today he shared that he is 88 years old and they have been married for 64 years. They have three children and seven grandchildren. We politely asked him a bit about his marriage and he said, "I thought I loved her the day we married - you have no idea how much more I love her now." He was talking with us, but his eyes were glued on her, a few steps away, doing some stretching. He said people ask them for marital advice all the time, and he said, just find someone that you are willing to serve - that you will do anything to put a smile on their face or make their day a little bit easier. But also wait until you find someone who feels the same way about you. Reminds me that I owe *someone* a foot rub tonight ;) A few sunset marital musings for your day, thanks for sharing yours!

Molly said...

I love this post, Anna! SO TIMELY for me and my spouse! We're having, how shall I say this, communication issues. And with the lack of time for each other after welcoming our third baby our marriage feels like it's getting lost! I'm sending this to my hubby to read tonight!

Jennifer said...

This is lovely Anna, and exactly the way a marriage is. It also gives me a lot to think about.

Anonymous said...

This entry was a good check for us all. Thank you.

Debby@Just Breathe said...

I hear you perfectly and OMG it gets even worse. Where are the sweet notes, candy and flowers???? That being said your post hit me hard. I struggle with my marriage. I want to be better at it. (Well I want him to be better at it!) I've gone as far as bought each of us The 5 Love Languages from Gary Chapman. He read his, thought it was interesting but that's it. You have sparked my heart and I actually have had the work book from Fireproof for several years now. "The Love Dare" I think it might be time to use it on my husband and of course he won't know about it like in the movie.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

I'm with Jennie. Just really liked this.

Sybil@PeaceitallTogether said...

So true! Love that you used a "wisdom teeth" story because my hubby and I have one too - only it was me that had them taken out and my then boyfriend who sat by my side all day, as I drifted in and out of sleep. Great reminder of how important doing for each other is, even if it's something small. :)

Jennifer Marshall said...

Loved this, Anna! You always speak to my heart. xoxo

Beverly Cravath said...

When my husband and I have conversations about this subject, he tells me that he wakes up most mornings and asks himself what he can do that day to make me happy and/or make my life easier. Wish I could say I do the same. Maybe one day....

When were you at Wake? We lived in Winston Salem from 83-94.

Anonymous said...

A giving attitude toward one's spouse is important, I agree, but not if it merely enables negative behaviors in him. Know what I mean? I guess what I mean is, while I'm totally with you about the "what's in it for me" attitude, I also think it's important not to confuse the giving-attitude with the slow gradual process of losing track of oneself completely and in the process allowing the husband to grow indifferent in ways that hurt himself as much as anyone else. Giving wife, yes. Submissive wife, no.

I wonder why I feel the need to make this distinction? Hmmmm......

Also, I like the meanderingness of this post. Sometimes it works well not to tie things up too neatly. Know what I mean?

E.

P.S. It's taken me a long time for me to learn this, but men really are different from women. I always thought they (well HE really) was just being a jerk, until I started seeing the exact same behaviors in every other man on the planet. They really are different. I've had to learn to accept this.

katrynka said...

Thanks for this, good reminder to remember to do the little things..... What is the saying from Mother Teresa, "do little things with great love"?

Gigi said...

This post was so beautiful and spoke to me in such a way that I skipped reading the comments to respond.

Currently, it is only the two of us at home, as ours is in college, and yes, it's quiet. And yes, I need to remind myself to give more to him. Marriage is a give and take. But I've noticed, the more I give; the more he gives - so maybe it's more of a give and give.

Also? Wake Forest? Right up the road from us.

Anonymous said...

We are recent empty-nesters, and right now we're leaning more toward "empty" than I'd like. Not sure how to change it.

Laurie F. said...

Ah yes, the sandwich generation. Boomers getting older. That's us. Two kids in college and aging parents. Stress of unemployment too. But, even with the kids away at college and things miserably dreary otherwise...I'd lovingly take the bits out of his pudding 25 years later and then maybe slam the door to not hear him whine. Laurie
http:hibernationnow.wordpress.com

Anonymous said...

This resonates with me too:) My husband is lovely and will do anything to see me happy but I was too exhausted to think about him with running our business, teenagers and my hormones!!
But after seeing many friends separating and realising that our teens were spending less time around us I realised that if I didn't make the effort now there was a high chance we would be divorcing too.
We went away for a few days on our own where I was reminded that we can still have fun together. From there I've started to do little things again for him without resentment or feeling like I'm giving myself away.

Arnebya Herndon said...

It's easy to get caught up in the day to day, the ugh I'm tired, I'll start a conversation tomorrow, buy the yogurt he likes next time, smile at him later, hump him next week. It's easy to let that mode of thinking take over. It's hard to break that cycle, to get out of the chugging along. I am currently chugging. Every now and then I look behind me because that's where he is: in a slower motion. I envision myself slowing down long enough to let him catch up but I never do.

Anonymous said...

A great post! I check in regularly but this one is too good to pass by without comment. We're about to have our fourth and the day to day can suck the life out of serving my husband with love. A great reminder to give him priority, after all, I chose him first:-)Thank you!

Rach said...

This is beautiful, Anna. B and I attended a marriage refresher retreat through our church last year. The presenter mentioned "Caring Days" as a way to reconnect with one another. The basic idea is to make a "T" chart with each person's name at the top of one side. Then, you make a list of things you'd like for your partner to do (and he has to agree to them) and he then does the same. It is then up to you guys to decide how many should be done in a given time period.

I had a hard time coming up with ideas at first and then thought back to those heady days of first love and remembered all the thoughtful things he used to do for me and I found he did the same.

It was wonderful to reconnect on that level...although I don't know about removing the pistachio slivers...;o)

Princess Kate said...

This made me cry uncontrollably for so many reasons.

Anonymous said...

This hits home, big time. In the last yearish we've had a kid, dealt with unemployment (mine) after failing the bar exam, decided to self contract our house build (still ongoing since August) and just been stressed in general.
I feel like the one who fights the battles and deals with everyone, he feels like the one who pays all the bills (neither one is completely true)

Finally started a job, the house is winding down almost, and the baby is a beautiful, healthy sweetheart. But we have lost us in there somewhere--the sweet guy who mailed me cards almost weekly when I was away at school (and I came home every weekend) has become the guy who still has my graduation and birthday cards lost, unsigned, on his desk. The sappy eyed girl who gave foot rubs, got scolded for cooking dinner too often, and ironed all his shirts just wants to collapse in bed at night and sleep.

I'm hoping we find us, but it hurts too much to think about it some days. When I see my daughter look at him with her big grin it motivates me, but then it gets lost soon after.

anymommy said...

This rings true for so many relationships. But the pistachio slivers? I think you should give yourself a by on that one. (SHudder;-)

Anonymous said...

Anna, this is so great! It reminds me of Mother Teresa's quote:

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

I met my Prince Charming in my late thirties and married him at 42. I know God sent him to me. Two days before we married, he said he wanted to make me laugh every day of our lives together. We haven't missed many days in 7+ years.

In addition to the many ways he makes my life easier and my days better, he also treats my mother like royalty and shows a great commitment to my large (and sometimes odd) family. This is the man who searched through catalogs to find the exact kind of butter mints my cancer-stricken sister loved. He kept her in mints through the last months of her life.

I pray that God helps me be the best wife I can be...and I try to do the "small things with great love." I know how blessed I am to have him and his love in my life!

Alexa B said...

My husband and I have been going through a rough patch, and we finally agreed that we are both very selfish in our relationship... we are working on being more like this, but it's nice to hear that it is normal and we are not alone in this struggle. I too want to be remembered as someone who loved. Beautiful post.

Alison said...

Yes, yes, and yes to everything in this post.

Lisa C said...

It's very difficult to feel loving toward your spouse when resentment abounds. When you're the person who doesn't sit down and he's been parked in his barcalounger since he walked in the door.

Sigh.

Anonymous said...

thank you for this reminder

teamaidan said...

So beautiful and true. It really is the little things.
Thanks for sharing.

Heather

Anonymous said...

Marriage is complex, isn't it? We're not the same people fell in love in our 20s. We've changed and our lives are now so stressful and filled to the brim with the desperate and immediate needs of little children. I've been thinking a lot about the idea "faking it until you make it". Doing those little gestures for your spouse and being affectionate even when you aren't necessarily in the giving mood. It softens tension and puts your spouse in a better mood. He acts kindly toward you. Soon you're feeling better too. There are many ups and downs in marriage. Finding the maturity and the compassion to act loving in hard times can save us from even worse times.

Robert Julian Braxton said...

Anna and Tim - Bob and Beth here. We, too, met at Wake Forest, married 1967, forty-six years (most recent September 3). Thanks. Most thoughtful.

Anonymous said...

After a failed marriage, a long one at that, I definitely can see the importance of remembering to focus on the little things. I have been dating a man for about two and a half years now and it's funny because the things we both tend to do for each other are often little, even quirky gestures, but I think it's definitely because of where we both came from. I often wonder if it's because we are both divorced and so desperately want to do things differently IF there is a second time around for us.

Sandy Shoes said...

Anna,
This reminds me how fortunate I am, that after 18 years of marriage I still am the lavishee. He still brings me boxes of Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls. Really. I LOVE those things and always have. Thanks for the reminder.

Jen said...

beautiful and true. just read another bloggers post on marriage saying spouses should be friends...a good reminder. We are Catholic and so a priest told us...remember, your marriage is a sacrament, not your children." of course we need to care for our children but his point was that our marriage needed to come first. always. (not implying that if the kids need you, you don't tend to them, just that you also have to tend to your spouse)..

Nikki Frank-Hamilton said...

If this is posted 2x I apologize my tablet is eating comments tonight!

Ah, I remember pistachio slivers.
Kids, sickness and bills have swallowed our marriage for the last few years. We try to get it now and again.we yawn over cocktails while visions of pillows dance through our minds. But one day soon, we will be back to pistachio slivers.

the Hawks said...

Anna,
"In marriage, however, we wonder if giving to our partner first will in some way diminish us and our claim for fairness or personhood or...something."
YES. I've only been married five years, but I've already found this temptation or even habit apparent. It's a daily/hourly challenge for me to overcome the concept of fairness---why should I stare at the bloody mess when he can't even show up with Debbie once in a while?

As always, I love your insight and honesty. It's the honesty and the desire for something better I always find so inspiring you in. The "this isn't good enough for me" mindset that seems to keep you blogging in a really positive, life-giving way. You don't settle! But it's really great to hear that even with your drive against mediocrity, you recognize the pitfalls. Maybe I'm not crazy after all, and maybe one day I won't have these thoughts of fairness and I'll just love him because he exists and he's good.

Lorenne said...

I love this post—as I always do. Thought-provoking and inspiring. Our grief can especially take a toll on our marriages. I'm going to figure out how I can give more without worrying about being taken advantage of. I love how you reminded me that I am capable of serving and giving in great depth without keeping score with my children, so maybe I really can do this thing! Thank you!

Dina Ochs said...

Your marriage can not be compared to other peoples. Sadly as one friend told me when their son died in a tragic accident, "The day Michael died so did a little part of us". You have memories together but not the same as when Jack was alive. We are married 34 years and have had a empty house for 10 years. It is fun, quiet and peaceful. We enjoy each other and find ourselves doing things for each other like we did when we were dating. But I have to be honest and say I doubt whether i would of been the same wife now if our son had died at 12. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you want with no excuses. Dina Hugs from Florida

Shellie said...

When our children were small and I did daycare, I took a parenting class. Still remember that wise mans advice, 21 years later. Your children are a GIFT from God for you to raise and nuture for their time on earth. They will love, grow and live their own lives. Your spouse is the person you CHOSE to live this life with. The best thing you can do for your children is model how 2 adults love and take care of each other. With respect and kindness in the home, children learn respect and kindness. No life is perfect, but the journey is.

Anonymous said...

As a widow mourning the loss of my much beloved hubby of 25+ years, I take comfort in our mutual devotion and respect. So many of the dozens of widows who I've grieved with this past year have so many regrets about how they were too busy to appreciate and love the man who shared their lives. Fortunately, due to losses of loved ones before we met, my hubby and I were committed to being present, available and actively loving to on a daily basis to ourselves. I cherish the multitude of memories of the simple pleasures and comforts
that we gave each other.

Anonymous said...

Life is so hard sometimes. It's not at all what I expected at this time of my life. Every day I am trying to choose the right thing for my entire family, which means my husband too. Lots of times I fail. I am learning to forgive myself and to keep trying. I am also learning that sometimes it can be about taking care of me, without hurting those around me. Maybe giving starts with giving to myself. That's a lesson I'm learning after 20 years of marriage.

Thrift Store Mama said...

Yes. Just yes. Wish there was a space to talk about this somewhere.

Thrift Store Mama said...

To 4/30 at 3pm Anon: AGREE!!!

Elaine Alguire said...

This just hit home in a major way, Anna. I am going to have my Tim read it tonight.

Talk about thought-provoking!!

We are struggling a bit with this ourselves right now. I've had my life wrapped up a little too much in this good ole internet (or not so good) and raising three little kids is a blessing but also a challenge.

Thank you, again.

xoxo

kristen spina said...

Wow. Incredible post.

Anonymous said...

Well. I have been feeling this for years now...we have been married for 17 years...four kids 13-7, both of us working, although I'm only part-time. Between work, the kids, the dog, the house, the activities, the homework, church, yardwork, (you get the idea) there is so very little left within me for him. It makes me sad. I met him when I was sixteen years old...he fills my world and together we have made this life but sometimes I feel like it's just a shell.

When I leave my job next month, one of the things I plan to spend more time on is him...doing more for him.

Heidi Cave said...

Yes to this. Yes, yes. I needed this today. Thank you, Anna.