Where Logic Meets Love

Snapshot of a Happy, Unconventional Marriage

Friday, December 14, 2012

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Snapshot of a Happy, Unconventional Marriage | Faith Permeating Life

Since my two biggest post tags are "marriage" and "husband," I feel like I've been neglecting to give you any posts on these subjects lately.

I like to look at my relationship with Mike somewhat objectively from time to time and see if there's any pieces of wisdom or lessons learned I can share from it. What's interesting is that I feel like people might look at our relationship right now and think that we couldn't possibly be happy, even though we are both really happy.

Here's what I mean: I get up at 5:45am every day to catch the bus to work. I get home from work at 6:30pm. (Yes, this sucks, but that's another post.) We eat dinner, usually together but usually in the campus dining hall which often involves eating with anywhere from 1 to 10 other people. Two days out of the week I come home from dinner, change, then go to Zumba from 8 to 9, then come home, shower, and go to sleep. On non-Zumba days, I might get some work done on a blog post or on transcribing my great-grandfather's stories or whatever else I'm working on, then ideally I get ready for bed and go to sleep before 9pm.

Mike has adapted to a college student schedule, so he sleeps in until shortly before whenever he has a meeting (maybe 9am or 10am), then stays up until after midnight hanging out with residents, playing video games, whatever. On any given evening he might have a campus event to go to or a student to meet with or just spends time hanging out in the front lobby talking with people. Sometimes I don't see him between dinner and bed, and sometimes I don't even see him after work at all, although that's fairly rare.

On Saturday I get up and go for a run while he sleeps, then we might do errands and laundry, or we might watch some Doctor Who (we're almost to season 5!), or he might play Minecraft while I do transcription, or he might be off at a campus event, or I might be off doing a meetup or something. On Sundays he gets up and goes to a bar with his relatives to watch the Bills play while I go to early Mass, then some variation on Saturday, then I go to bed while he goes to late Mass.

So it's understandable if people would look at our schedules and start plotting how we needed to spend more time together. They might tell us to make dinner together a firm commitment and schedule around it, or make the most of our weekend time by Doing Things Together and not working on separate projects/video games. We need to schedule regular date nights to get off campus together. And maybe that's good advice for when we have kids, but right now it's just not... necessary.

Part of it is where we're coming from. Just six months ago, when Mike was a restaurant manager, he was gone all day every day, at least from my point of view -- his days off were Wednesday and Thursday, when I was at work. He'd get up at 4:30am and be gone before I woke up, and when I got home from work we'd eat while he told me all about how angry he was about his job, and then he'd go to bed. That was our life.

But here are some reasons I think we're both able to be happy and feel loved despite being focused in different directions:

We prioritize making time for each other amid busyness.
Sometimes Mike will be running around the hall taking care of things while I'm getting ready for bed, but when he has a free moment he'll say, "Hang on, I have to say good night to my wife!" He comes in, asks me how I'm doing, fills out my fertility chart for the day, tells me how much he loves me, and kisses me good night. To some people this might look like he's "squeezing me in," not making me a priority, but I understand that the nature of his job is that it's important for him to be available in the evenings. So for him to stop everything he's doing and make people wait for him just so he can come say good night to me -- that is awesome and makes me feel loved.

When we focus on each other, we really focus.
Before, it seemed like the only time we talked was when he would rant about his job for an hour before going to bed. He wasn't focused on me because he was so preoccupied with and angry about his job, and I wasn't really focused on him either because I was tired of hearing the same complaints every day. Now I don't mind hearing about his job because he only brings it up when it's affecting him emotionally (which isn't often), and we've had time to get back to occasionally discussing politics, religion, parenthood, etc. or talking about our future plans. Even though we both have other things going on, they don't seep into our Us time in an unhealthy way.

We still show our love in small ways.
As I said in that linked post, I don't think a relationship is defined by how many big, romantic gestures or moments you have but how you're demonstrating love and gratitude for each other on a daily basis. We still do all of the things I described in that post, including texting each other just to say "I love you!" while we're apart.

His job makes him super-happy.
This is huge, not just because he's not ranting in anger all the time, but because his job just makes him a more enjoyable person to be around. He thrives on his work, even the parts where he has to whip out his Social Worker Skills because the third resident that day has burst into tears in his office. He loves what he does, which puts him in a good mood, which makes him all "I'm so incredibly happy to see you! Life is awesome!" when I get home from work. (My job has turned out a bit different than I expected, which I may or may not get into at some point. I'm working on it. And Mike is very supportive.)

We have other people around.
This is part of the above point about his job, but having residents and fellow hall directors to hang out with is so fantastic for making sure all of our relational needs are met. In Chicago we really had no friends in our local area. We can't be everything for each other, and it's not good for us to try. Mike now has people around all the time to goof around with, play games with, whatever, and I have people to Zumba with, have girl time with, and drag to events Mike has no interest in. So Mike and I look to each other for the needs we can meet for each other, and focus on the things we enjoy doing together.

We each have enough me-time and separate-but-together time.
I've often found it difficult to answer questions about what my hobbies are, and I've realized that I tend to have one big project that I'm working on at any given time, and that's how I like to spend my free time. The past few years it's been a lot of family history stuff: Getting our family's home videos transferred to DVDs, researching our family tree, interviewing my mom and her siblings and making a compilation DVD, and now transcribing my great-grandfather's writings. And I need to devote time to making progress on these things or I get antsy. So some people might look at how much time Mike and I spend on our computers, including when we're both home, and see that as unhealthy, but I've embraced that that time is important and nourishing for me. It's good for me to get stuff done in the evenings when he's gone and can't distract me, and it's good for him to have time to unwind and play Minecraft. And it's nice to spend some time on the weekends not necessarily Doing Things Together, but being in the same room so we can say, "Hey, listen to this" or "Oh, guess what I heard the other day?" or "Want to go get dinner and watch Doctor Who?"

All of this is to say some combination of "There's no one recipe for a happy relationship" and "You can't judge a relationship by its cover." (Or something like that.) It's like I said in my post earlier this week about weight, that there are a lot more things to tell you if you're healthy than what the number on your scale says. And there is a lot more to the health of a relationship than the total number of minutes per week you spend Doing Things Together.

By extension, I think it's important to note that you can choose to make your relationships -- any relationships -- a priority even if you have limited time to physically be with your loved ones. You shouldn't let busyness be an excuse for not nurturing your relationships. What it looks like to make someone else a priority might be unconventional, but that's OK if it works for both of you. And as always, communication is important to making sure it is working for both of you and you both feel cared about and loved.

Someone might look at my relationship with Mike and think we're not making enough time for each other, but we've been together more than 8 years and we're more in love than ever. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

How do you nurture your relationships when you're busy?

16 comments:

  1. The key to a happy marriage is unselfish love and honest communication. Build these virtues and the rest is easy.

    Being busy makes things even more important. Everybody needs me-time and together-time and separate-but-together time, and that's going to be different for each couple. What a couple values will be different for each couple. There is no magic formula.

    For us, we make the most of the moments we do have together so that we don't feel like we are deprived the rest of the time. A short amount of togetherness in a way that we both want to spend it, is a lot more valuable to both of us than simple "time together".

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    1. A short amount of togetherness in a way that we both want to spend it, is a lot more valuable to both of us than simple "time together".
      Yep, exactly. And even our separate-but-together times, I've found, are valuable in this way -- by being with Mike but giving him time to do something that makes him happy (that I have no interest in), I am showing my love for him more than if I were trying to force that time into being something I thought it was supposed to be. And (related to honest communication) we check in with each other -- "Do you want to do something, or are you happy like this?"

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  2. This is interesting to me because I always feel like we would be at the other extreme, to the point where people might tell us we need more outside interests/independence. I could count on one hand the number of nights in a year where we go to bed at a different time. We have quirky interests and live in a small town, so we haven't really found many people we can feel close to mentally who are also geographically close. Right now we don't socialize much except for family. We have the same type of work and eventually hope to start our own firm together.

    I have been working to give him some more of his own space . . . as an extreme introvert who works in a very extroverted job, he needs some time that is genuinely alone, so we have rigged up an outbuilding where he can be out of earshot. I am also trying to figure out what I would like on my own part, but it's hard for me to figure out--I'm somewhat extroverted but thanks, I think, to some sensory issues, I am very uncomfortable going and doing anything on my own. So I'm still working to figure out what that might look like, as it ought to become more feasible as the kids get older.

    Anyway, I think we will always spend far *more* time together than most people would. And that it will be fine. Although at some point I need to grow up and be OK with doing things on my own.

    I loved what you said about prioritizing and really focusing. This is so true with any relationship--a few moments of dropping everything and being there when someone really needs you are worth far more than a much longer, scheduled time just because it's the plan.

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    1. That is interesting how you are so different from us. Although -- even though Mike and I are far from being "joined at the hip," I'd still consider him my best friend, #1 confidant, etc., and some people take that to mean I don't have enough other friends. Which is silly.

      This is so true with any relationship--a few moments of dropping everything and being there when someone really needs you are worth far more than a much longer, scheduled time just because it's the plan.
      Yeah. And that's not to knock scheduled times together by any means. I mean, the One Extraordinary Marriage hosts are really big on scheduling sex, scheduling date nights, etc., but then they're working with a lot of couples who are barely ever having sex and/or talking to each other, and that's where they're coming from as well. I think it's a great strategy for focusing goals where you feel something is missing from a relationship; so, rather than saying, "I wish we spent more time together!" you can specifically define it as "I would like to have lunch with you once a month." But if you feel close to a person already and not like you're missing anything, then that doesn't mean there's something wrong just because you don't have X amount of time set aside for each other on a regular basis.

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  3. Good for you. I love hearing about why other people's relationships work. And you're right, there is no one-size-fits-all way to keep your relationship healthy. Also, you are wise to point out that the ways we do so necessarily change as other things in our lives change. It's good to be flexible.

    Right now, my partner and I have very similar schedules, which is great, but we don't have a lot of "just hanging out" time. She's in a very intense course of studies and has tons of homework, while I work full time, work on a lot of projects related to my church, and am trying to apply to graduate school. Plus we've got to squeeze chores and errands in there. So right now, a lot of nurturing our relationship is cultivating times that are "hard stops," when we put down what we're working on and JUST focus on having fun together.

    - We say good morning to each other. This doesn't always happen; it didn't this morning because it was my partner's first day of Christmas break and she wanted to sleep in. But on the days she has to leave the house at 6:45, I try to get up at 6:30 so we can start our day by drinking tea/coffee together and talking about our dreams, what we're looking forward to or dreading that day, the last cute thing the cat did, or whatever. I treasure those 15 minutes, as well as being able to send her into her often stressful days with "I love you! Good luck!"

    - We have sit-down dinners together. Rather than trying to multitask, as we're often tempted to do, we slow down and enjoy our food - even if it's just grilled cheese - and talk about our days.

    - We have a date night just about every week. We started doing this when my partner entered school, and I'm so glad we did, because it allows both of us to decompress from the week and get out of the house where all the chores and projects are. Often we go to the art museum together. I bought us a dual museum membership as a Christmas present last year, and it has paid for itself many times over. We both love looking at art, and we've had the most amazing discussions about it. Even after being together for over five years and friends for almost thirteen(!), we still have things to learn about each other, and appreciating art helps us connect on a deeper level than just the everyday so we can discover them.

    - We try to make mundane things fun. For instance, we don't have a dishwasher, and neither of us particularly loves doing dishes (lucky you having a husband who does!), so sometimes we turn that into togetherness time as well. Often one of us will read out loud to the other while they do dishes (so dorky, I know). Lately it's been Terry Pratchett.

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    1. I also love hearing about how other people's relationships work, so thank you! :) And yes, different times of life call for different approaches. That's great that you've figured out you and your partner have a need for date night and you've made that a priority. When Mike and I were in Chicago, we went out to eat a lot more because one or both of us would just have a need to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE (apartment). Now that we have a meal plan and a dining hall to eat at, we rarely go out to eat (yay for saving money!) and instead it's a special time when we stay home and cook together because we're not eating with other people those nights. So flexibility, and finding what works for that season of your life, is absolutely key.

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  4. Nice post! It's always interesting to read about what works for a particular couple/family because these things are so individual and can be so different at different seasons in life; there are a lot of ways to make it work. (And it's nice to know that someone is farther behind on Doctor Who than we are! We are just about to start the season we got on DVD *last* Christmas.)

    One of the most important happiness-builders for Daniel and me is working together on something that reminds us how much we have in common. We are getting some new bookcases tomorrow, so tonight we'll be sorting the books that we pulled from the old bookcases (one of them went out of service months ago; the others are moving to a different room) deciding which to keep and how to categorize them. The last time we did this, it was an excellent demonstration of our similar thinking, as well as an opportunity to respect each other's individual interests, and it left us feeling good because we got rid of a lot of books that each of us had thought we were keeping because the other wanted them but really they had been left behind by old housemates or something--nice to cast off the dead weight!

    Recently I read Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix, the only "how to improve your relationship" book I've ever read that did not have any really annoying parts!! So now we are doing the exercises in the book. We had set an "appointment" for the first one, and when the time came we were both tired and grouchy, but we did it anyway. We were supposed to each make a separate list of statements about our relationship that are true or that we wish were true, and then go through several steps to combine and revise our lists. We found that we were able to skip some of these steps because our lists were so similar! It was very affirming and made us both feel a lot better. :-) :-)

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    1. Sweet, thanks for the book recommendation! (Agreed on most relationship books having annoying parts...)

      It does sounds like you and Daniel think similarly in your approach to things, which is very cool! Mike and I are quite different in our approach to projects, which is why we generally don't do things together (we did make an awesome art piece together, but that took a loooong time and caused many frustrations), but we are similar in our thinking about politics and life in general, so one of our favorite things to do together is have conversations or debates about current events or other big topics. I know some couples who are so different in their opinions that they have an agreement not to talk about these things with each other! Another reason it's good to find what you like to do together and not try to conform to somebody else's model.

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  5. Wow I'm really glad to read this! When I read your description, the first thing I thought was "oh no, you two aren't spending enough time together! This will never work." But like you always say, a good relationship isn't defined by a bunch of rigid rules about "we need to have dinner together every day or our marriage will fail."

    Also, Mike watches the Bills? I am a Bills fan too- it's the closest football team to my hometown. But they're not very good...

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    1. Yeah, it's that important differentiation between "This was an awesome lifesaver for our relationship" and "Every other couple must do this or their relationship will DIE." Another case of where people need to resist assuming what works for them is the only right way for everyone else to live their lives.

      Yes, Mike's dad's family is from Buffalo! And yes, they're pretty terrible, but he and his relatives are diehard fans. They make all the jokes about how bad their team is, though. Those Bills -- no matter how far ahead they are in a game, they'll manage to find a way to lose... ;)

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    2. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

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    3. Not a Bills fan, but I do like C.J. Spiller. It's a shame so much talent is so underutilized.

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  6. It was so refreshing to read this! My husband and I are both on weird schedules, each of us regularly getting pulled from first to second shift and back again. On top of it, we're both in grad school and involved in volunteer organizations. It might not be an ideal situation, but it works for now. Whenever one of us comes home or leaves for the day, we'll give each other a kiss and say "I love you," even if it means we both end up getting woken up sometimes. (This is not a suggested technique if your significant other is as liable to throw a pillow at you as they are to kiss you if you wake them up mid-slumber). We do little things for each other. Despite his lack of expertise in the kitchen, my husband made a valiant effort to make me a grilled cheese when I was sick this week before he disappeared into his office to work on a final project for class. The sandwich ended up a pile of soggy bread and melted cheese and butter, but it made me smile anyway.

    So anyhow, we make it work and we're happy, even if it means fielding a lot of questions and ignoring some raised eyebrows when he or I go places without the other. Now and then, the plain truth is just that my husband would rather get some much-needed sleep than have dinner with my girlfriends, and since I'm ok with that, and he's ok with that, then I guess everyone else just has to be ok with that :)

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    1. Your comment reminded me of some things I meant to include in the post -- that I always kiss Mike goodbye in the mornings before I leave for work, and that Mike preps my lunch for me every night so it's ready to pack in the morning. Those little efforts mean a lot :)

      Thanks for sharing how you and your husband are making your crazy schedules work! It's nice to know we're not the only ones who don't fit the "ideal relationship mold" (whatever that looks like) but are still making each other a priority and finding ways to show our love.

      since I'm ok with that, and he's ok with that, then I guess everyone else just has to be ok with that :)
      Precisely!

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  7. Jessica,

    I love this post as you share what you do to get that together time. You know that one thing that Tony and I do to get together time is to Schedule Sex, http://www.oneextraordinarymarriage.com/140-scheduling-sex. Everything else could be going full speed ahead and yet when we come together to be sexually intimate it is a perfect time for us to put everything aside. There are other things we do as well, but this one has had the biggest impact on our 16 years of marriage.

    Blessings.

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    1. That's great that you've found what works for you guys, and that you're open to sharing how you make it happen.

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