February 6, 2012

Negotiations and Love Songs

Advice. It pours out when you go through a life transition. Marriage. Death. Birth. School. Moving. New Job.

“The key to a happy marriage is for each person to give 100 percent and expect 0 percent.” The most counter-intuitive advice given when we were getting married, it’s what echoes most true as we muddle along this path together.

We’re trying to work through this new pattern of parenting and owning a house and both working demanding jobs. In Baltimore, Jrex was sucked almost completely dry by his onc0logy fellowship. He had very little left for me or us, and hardly anything for a house. In Baltimore though, I had a job where I worked four days a week, usually had lots of time for surfing the internet, and was only stressed in small spurts. My California job gives me rare slow days and is creatively and emotionally draining.

Now, again, he’s being sucked dry. He loves the new job and is working hard to figure it all out, but it’s challenging to be an entrepreneur inside a big institution. Not only to measure up to his own expectations (high), but to also not disappoint all the people who have believed in him, granted him space, given him advice and who want him to succeed.

In the midst of all that, who takes out the garbage?

Who wakes up and stays up to engage with the baby when he’s up for the day at 5:30 AM?

Who makes dinner?

Washes dishes?

Picks up socks?

When sick, who gets to rest? When?

These are ordinary negotiations around a new pattern. Nothing out of the ordinary except the compression into the same few months of so many new things.

While on maternity leave, it felt ‘fair’ that I do all the laundry and deal with all the house stuff. That felt like my ‘job’. Focus on the baby and deal with what I can around the house. No problem. I was able to mostly give cheerfully.

Now that I’m back at work, it’s been hard to not keep tally. Not on a daily level, but over time, feeling like I’m giving 110% and getting 30%. Knowing he’s giving as much as he can, but feeling overwhelmed, tired and increasingly resentful. Behind it all lies a fear that if I give 110%, it still won’t be enough (since my 110% still doesn’t match what his Mom was doing when she stayed with us). A fear that he’ll take my actions for granted and ask for still more. That as much as I’ve flipped a switch into being a Mommy (Moms wash laundry, Moms cook dinner, Moms are available for their kids and keep house and make the world a better place for everyone around them...), maybe he’s switched into being a deadbeat Dad (easily frustrated, lashing out, stressed, no emotional resources, sitting on the couch watching TV while the Mom does everything without complaining, impatient with children, waiting to be served).

The fear that the cup of love just sprang a leak and all I can give will never be enough.

Knowing it’s a lie, yet being driven by that fear into self-protection and counting the cost. Demanding more from him. Beating a winded horse and getting impatient when it won’t pick up the pace.

“The key to a happy marriage is to give 100 percent and expect 0 percent.”

But if I do that, I’ll die!


I’ll die. I have to die to my ‘right’ to whatever it is I’m demanding from him. Yet, behind that. When I give up that demand. When I open up my fist, turn my opening hand up and let the ashes of what I was clutching blow away. When I trust that behind every true death, there is a better resurrection. Well. Then. Then there is life. Then he turns towards me and towards us. Then there’s room for him to give, in his way. And for me to be grateful instead of thinking, “That’s it?!” Usually then, he gives more then than I could have ever demanded.

Somehow, that lesson is the hardest part of marriage. I stop on a threshold filled with fear, need and disappointed expectations. How could I give MORE? How can I let him get away with IT (whatever that IT might be)? And in that place, our marriage begins to shrink and shrivel from bitterness and resentment. Knowing this secret of the resurrection, that there’s a joy set before me that outweighs the death required right now, it’s not enough. Somehow, on the threshold, that hope seems like a tiny little liquid light. Barely weighing anything, certainly not heavier on the scale than this current NEED.

Hands open before Him. Crying again. Breaking open. Waiting. The light gets bigger, brighter and heavier until my life fills again with a golden light that is warm, thick and filled with love.

Welcome home. Be at peace. Be still and know that He is God and this marriage, this child, this home is His. We are not alone here left to our own devices and our own capacities. There IS more. And it IS good. Take the key, open the door, and rest.


Monterey Jack said...


NGS said...

I wrote once about how I figured out that marriage is hard when life is hard. It was a sudden revelation to me and I was kind of taken off guard because our marriage had been so laid back before that. Anyway, good luck to you. I hope you get some peace soon. (And someday, hopefully soon, that little adorable baby won't be as needy in the middle of the night!!)

scarp said...

My first reaction also was, WOW.

My secondary reaction is a bit selfish... Sometimes it is good to hear about someone else seriously struggling in their marriage, cause I know I am, and at times it looks like everyone else is in one of those fairy tale relationships. I also need to read less Christian fiction sometimes, where everything really does turn into a fairy tale ending. So thanks for being real. And for the reminder...

Snickollet said...

This rings so true to me.

What a beautiful, honest, insightful, and instructive piece of writing.

Rachel said...

Yes, what a gorgeous, honest post. I have been there more than once with my own workaholic husband. I don't think I handled it with as much grace as you.

That said, it sounds like your needs are not being met. If your cup is empty, how can you give to the baby? Can you hire help, maybe? An au pair, or someone to clean the house once a week? No advice, just brainstorming here. Hugs to you. It does get better.

Aimee said...

Beautiful! Honest. I love it.

I've felt this way, too. Welcome to Motherhood! There's a lot of give and take, and in this early stage, it certainly feels as though Mothers bear the brunt of life. You're figuring out how to mother, and how to integrate mothering into your life as a professional. It's hard.

I agree with Rachel. Find something for you, even if it's once every week or two. For me, a little pampering or just spending time alone in a book/coffee shop will do it. Whatever fills your cup, do that. You'll be a better Mommy and wife if you do, I promise.

Inkling said...

This. This is why I thank God for you. In your own struggle, you share and we learn. And I am so incredibly grateful to have found your blog all those years ago. I'll be praying for you to be able to keep on dying so that you can find that life you know is there to be had. And because of you, I'm learning to do that too.

Mizasiwa said...

I feel for you!! As a teenager and young adult I always wondered why so many couples divorced when there kids were young - the simples answer, becouse its harder than anything you have ever had to do with somone else in your life. I know we have been through tremendous turmoil and very nearly did not come out the other side but our belief that HE was looking out for us was what brought us back together! Even now with our oldest 6 and youngest 4 and my husband losing his job last week and me very newly minted in another new job the stress is getting worse. Our son has started a new school and he is fragile and this all moulded together makes for short tempers and tears. I know that its really hard for me to be strong but I have to be for now. I recommend some way to find the funny side of being awake at 5 in the morning (or any other early hour time) as this will help A LOT also the sleep deprivation is the worst (even worse than a sick crying child) as it is a silent sneaky thing. I know you will both figure something out - Pray together whenever you can even if its just standing over your son in the kitchen at breakfast time....know that I will be praying for you all!

Mariellen said...

What an amazing, beautiful, heartfelt post. Keep the lines of communication open, and keep talking. And keep being you.

I, the world's best lily-gilder at times, have had to learn this: making compromises about what and how things get done does not necessarily mean your standards have slipped. I know that might sound like a nice piece of rationalising, but when I think of it as prioritising what's important, it becomes easier for me when faced with hard choices. In the end, what will you regret in 5 years time? Only you and your family can answer that, not BH&G or a top designer job spec.

Hang in there, I'm rooting for you.