Snapshot of a Happy, Unconventional Marriage
Friday, December 14, 2012Tweet
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?