I’m frequently asked to speak at mommy groups – MOPS, Mom2Mom, and the like. Sometimes I speak by myself, sometimes with Ken. The topic is always marriage. We have an upcoming speaking engagement on December 5th and I’ve been mulling over what aspect of marriage to focus on.
As I was putting on some makeup this morning my mind drifted back to a time when I used to put on makeup every single day. I never used to go without. Ever. Those were the days when I worked outside of my home and putting on makeup and fixing my hair was as routine as brushing my teeth. If I skipped a day, I was usually home sick in bed. Makeup-less days were the very rare exception. Now, however, makeup days are the exception and bare-faced is the rule. When I started working from home full time I gradually put less and less thought into my appearance. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t suddenly become haggard, smelly, and unkempt. I just didn’t wear as much makeup. Gradually I only started wearing mascara. Eventually I only put on mascara if I had to run to the store or errands around town. Now I hardly ever do that.
I used to tell women that I had made it my mission as a wife to make sure that what my husband came home to (meaning me) was better than anything he could find away from home (meaning some other woman). I’d always put in extra effort just before he came through the door from a long day at work. Even when I had babies I would put on a non-burp-up spattered blouse, run a comb through my hair, add a dab of mascara, and quickly brush my teeth before Ken got home. Fortunately for me he usually called on his way home to see if I needed anything at the store (he still does 34 years later!), so I had time for a quick freshening up. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t do that anymore. Many times I am wearing the same yoga pants and t-shirt in the evening that I threw on when I rolled out of bed that morning! I think I’ve taken it for granted that Ken still finds me more attractive and desirable than anyone else out there. To put it simply, I don’t put too much effort into my appearance when I am at home.
A common theme among struggling marriages, especially in a marriage where one partner has strayed, is that they’ve come to a point of taking each other for granted. Both spouses find themselves not putting as much effort into their relationship as they once had. The scenario goes something like this: He is climbing the corporate ladder, staying late at the office, preoccupied when he comes home, too tired to put much effort into a relationship with his wife and kids, but he knows that some day all of his hard work will be rewarded with that promotion, bonus, partnership, or ____ (insert goal here). He takes for granted the fact that his wife and children will still be there waiting for him when his career is all that he desires. She works outside the home (or doesn’t), she drives the kids back and forth to all activities, attends school functions, shops, cooks, cleans, supervises homework, tries to spend time with special girlfriends, and has generally made a life for herself apart from her husband. She takes for granted that her preoccupation with the children will all be worth it when they get into the college of their choice, and her husband will be there waiting for her when the nest is empty.
But, what happens when he looks up from his life on the corporate treadmill and realizes he is lonely? His kids are busy. His wife has made a life of her own. Does he make the effort to create a new way of living with his wife and kids or does he turn to the woman at work that has a sympathetic ear?
But, what happens when she realizes that her kids are grown and no longer need her in the same way? Her husband is preoccupied with his work or his hobbies and it appears as if he doesn’t need her either. In her loneliness where does she turn? Does she do the hard work of breaking through her husband’s reserve or does she turn to the newly divorced father of her daughter’s best friend?
That is not a far fetched scenario. I’ve heard it hundreds of times. No exaggeration. Hundreds. So, getting back to my morning musings. Am I guilty of taking my relationship with Ken for granted? Am I too comfortable to put the effort into the little things that make a marriage special? Yes, I know how he likes his eggs cooked (over medium, with cheese, preferably on top of super crispy hash browns), but do I take the time to listen, really listen, when he is telling me about his day and not write a grocery list at the same time? Do I remember how much he likes me to snuggle up next to him while he is watching football, rather than sitting on the chair in the corner with a good book? Am I willing to once again put more effort into my appearance each evening before he comes home? Do I make him feel that he is more important to me than my computer, my To Do list, my latest interest, and (gasp, dare I say it) the grandkids?
I’ve got a lot to think about between now and December 5th. Will I teach one of the several topics that I’ve taught so often in the past or will I challenge myself as I challenge these young moms to stop taking their husbands for granted? Do I challenge them to stop being too preoccupied with the immediate needs of little children in order to focus on the larger picture of life after the little kids have become big kids and have moved on? Do I challenge them to stop and think about the criticisms that come so quickly from their mouths about his driving, loud chewing, mouth breathing (this is a HARD one for me, mouth breathers make me crazy!), snoring, wet towel on the floor, and the myriad of other small, inconsequential things that we deem important, but really aren’t?
This may seem one sided, the wife doing all of the work, but I assure you it is not. I cannot control what my husband does, but I can control what I do. If I want my husband to appreciate me, then I need to do a better job of appreciating him. If I want my husband to desire to spend time with me and become interested in my thoughts, dreams, and goals, then I have to do the same for him.
Ken and I have done a pretty good job so far of creating a very successful marriage. I don’t want to rest on that though. I have been guilty of taking him (and us) for granted. So, I think I will accept the challenge and change my ways. I won’t preach this message to other women until I am in a place of actually doing the things myself! That hand pointing at other women has four fingers pointing straight back at me!
Ken will appreciate the “new” me, I’m sure. He loves the old sloppy yoga momma, but I’m sure he’ll really appreciate the more attractive, more put together me he will see each night when he comes home. Plus, I’ve been noticing the more I wear yoga pants, the tighter my jeans are fitting. Hmmm, could it be comfortable stretchy knitwear and elastic waistbands are contributing to my mid-menopausal weight gain? Something to think about, but that’s another topic for another day.