The Message From My Husband That Shook Me To The Core — And Made Me Become A Better Wife

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The Message From My Husband That Shook Me To The Core — And Made Me Become A Better Wife
Love

If your marriage were breaking down, would you know it? I didn't, and I learned the hard way.

My husband came home from work one day and handed me a book about improving our marriage and strengthening our commitment. A female co-worker had given it to him to pass on to me; I've never met this woman.

This isn't a good thing, I thought. What has my husband been saying about me, and who has he been talking to?

"Am I really that bad?" I asked, looking down at the book as my lips began to quiver and mascara ran down my cheeks. Without hesitation, he replied, "Yes." I realized that passing the book to me was his cry for help. Maybe the last one he'd deliver. I suddenly felt sad, scared and very, very sorry.

You see, for the past decade or so my husband has been hinting that he feels he's not a priority in my life. My response is the usual set of mantras that the children will be young only once, there are four of them and only one of me, he should help more around the house, and so on. I am a wife and mother (and of course that makes me a nurse, cook, housekeeper, and much more). And I hold down a full-time job outside of the home, to boot. My schedule is packed; I realized long ago that something had to give. So I pushed my marriage aside, assuming that my husband would be there until death (or child-rearing) do us part.

As a human resources professional, I don't like the term "constructive criticism." I prefer "constructive feedback." I asked my husband for the latter, starting with the main reason I suck as a wife.

"You don't budge from your iron-clad schedule, and you're not capable of being spontaneous," he shared.

Um ... he’s right, I had to admit to myself.

The only way I can manage my overwhelming number of responsibilities each day is to worship a schedule. Every moment of every day follows an agenda. On the rare occasions an undocumented event sneaks into the day, I write it down after it happens, then I cross it off. Okay, so I have a problem.

"I can be spontaneous. I just don't have time to pencil it in," I announced to my husband without any irony.

He shrugged, "See what I mean?" He added that I can't ever just sit down and relax. Even when I take "time out" to watch a movie with him, I'm still ironing or mending clothes, folding laundry, clipping coupons, or sorting mail.

He's right about the movie thing. I'm all about making productive use of my time. I can't just watch a movie knowing that I can get something else done simultaneously. Perhaps I'd be able to squeeze in some free time if only I didn't have to waste five or six hours sleeping each night.

Next, my husband accused me of putting the kids' desires first and placing his, well, nowhere. "Every year when the boat show comes to town, you plan something that the kids want to do instead. I'm just going to go by myself when it comes back," he asserted. I pictured him driving there alone, purchasing one ticket and walking around looking at the boats, having nobody to “ohhh” and “ahhh” with. 

"You allow no time for play," he added, "and especially no time for playing with me." Right again, I thought.

And then there's sex: it's virtually nonexistent in our house. How am I supposed to raise a family and get enough rest to be energized for sex? Every day I try to insert "rest" in my handy-dandy agenda, but it always gets pushed back to the next page, and before I know it, the year is over. Reading, coloring, and putting puzzles together with my kids are welcome breaks from the daily grind, but they're just not the same as relaxing in the bathtub with a glass of wine and an Anita Shreve novel illuminated by candlelight.

By the time I have the luxury of going to bed at night, I'm so exhausted I can't even take off my mascara. Sex doesn't even enter my radar. The only thing I want at night is uninterrupted sleep. Before kids, I often initiated sex. These days, I'm a lot less inclined make the first move.  

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A friend told me she envies my husband's yearning for my attention. She also shared her usual gripe about her husband going out with "the guys" two or three times every week, along with his several vacations without her and the kids each year. Where is the middle ground between her marriage and mine? I can't help but feel ungrateful because I bitch that my husband needs and wants more attention than I have been giving him. He is a genuine family man who doesn't ask for much, but right now he's asking for me. He needs a wife, not just his children's mother.

That said, my husband really hit the ball home with his last comment. "You're still my best friend."

Gulp! I'd never realized he considered me his best friend. I was touched. Absolutely touched! Being labeled BFF is a huge honor. I didn't even think that guys did that. His best friend is me! But I am a lousy one. I thought about how good it would feel to call him my best friend too; I envy couples who can say that about each other.

I suddenly became a woman on a mission — to bring out the positive attributes in our relationship (of which I know there are many) and to ditch the negative. Could I erase a decade of nagging, whining, complaining, and blaming my husband that my role as a working mother is so difficult, and still end up on top (in or out of the bedroom)? Last time I checked, the answer was, "not on your life, babe."
          
I know I'm the source of my own misery because I rarely ask for help around the house. Sometimes I drop hints, but for the most part I try to do it all with disastrous results. I'm maxed out, overburdened and underappreciated. My husband knows I have trouble asking for assistance, so why doesn't he offer? (And no, asking if I need help unloading $400 worth of food from Costco as I am carrying in the last 40-pound box doesn't count). 

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Nevertheless, I listened carefully to my husband's cry for help.

The day after he gave me the book, I called him at his office during my lunch break. I told him that I love him, find him to be the most handsome man in the world, and that his smile still makes me melt. I could hear the skepticism — then thrill — in his voice as we spoke.
          
"Okay, fess up What happened?" he asked.
          
"Nothing. What? I can’t call my husband on a whim and tell him how much he means to me?" I responded.
          
"You seem to have forgotten that we've been married for 15 years. I know you better than anyone. What happened, and how much is it going to cost us?"
          
Despite his initial cynicism, my husband came home from work that day with a bottle of my favorite red wine, along with the receipt from the ATM machine and a bag of chinchilla food. Evidently he heard me mention that morning that I was low on cash and Maria was low on food. The bottle of wine must have been an additional token of appreciation for the call. I didn't ask for any of it, but needed it all. I thanked him, and it felt so good to express gratitude instead of fret.

We sat down in the living room and talked for a few minutes, then got up together to make dinner. We made our dinner, for each other and for our family. He helped me prepare the meal because he wanted to, much unlike the scene in The Breakup when Vince Vaughn did not want to help Jennifer Aniston wash the dishes. That short call I made during my lunch break sure went a long way.
          
Our connection was still there — what we had before we were married was still alive.

His dry sense of humor surfaced. I took a moment to look at his dimples and know that my eyes sparkled when I zoomed in. I noticed that a few gray hairs have sprouted and wondered how long they've been there, why it took me so long to notice. He is one of those men who definitely gets better with age, and I'm lucky to have him. I had been guilty of taking my husband's love and presence for granted. I say that in the past tense because I have no plans of going back to being my old self.

It's scary to realize that I came so close to losing him. I'm grateful that he made the first move rather than suffer in silence until he couldn’t take it any longer. He may never have forgiven me if it had gotten to that point, and I would have been too busy to notice until it was too late.

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My best friend and I share a set of wedding bands, a bed, dreams, joy, tears and thoughts of what our lives will be like after our youngest child grows into an adult. We're in for the long haul — till death (not child-rearing) do us part.

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