My wife, Katie, and I have three daughters: One is hers, one is mine, and one is ours. Izzy has karate twice a week; Ellie has softball twice a week, and Everly is about to start soccer. And there’s homework, and laundry, and cooking, and cleaning, and pets, and more laundry, and that bathroom renovation that I’m finishing up.
Does this sound familiar?
This is our stage of life, and I’m all for it, but we still have a marriage to keep alive and well. And having been through a divorce, I know for a fact that marriages don’t stay healthy on autopilot. We can talk about the big picture – unconditional love, forgiveness, avoiding resentment – but sometimes you can only wrap your head around this week. In light of this, here are four relationship practices you can employ this week to keep things healthy.
I have a friend who recently took up a new workout program. After a few weeks, she told me she was going to give it up. She has four kids, and that workout time after work meant her husband was home with the kids, cooking dinner, driving them to practices, school bingo nights, and whatever else. I said, “Yeah but, he’s not the kind of guy who keeps score. He’s not tracking all the things you do for yourself, so he can cash it in later. Take the time, do the workouts. He can handle it.”
This got me thinking: Maybe sometimes we should keep score, but in a positive way. Too often I make mental notes of gestures not made, of labor that I put in to get a house project done, or of the time that my wife gets with her girlfriends while I’m home with the kids (which is sparse anyway). But none of this breeds gratitude or affection.
Lately, I’ve been trying to keep score in the positive; for me, that means keeping a list in my phone of the seemingly mundane stuff my wife does that I may otherwise not notice. We have an even division of labor in our house, but still, I could say thank you a little more often.
I’m out the door at 6:45 for work, which means my wife gets our three girls ready for school everyday. Add to list. When I came home yesterday, the kitchen was spotless. Add to list. We have a 130lb dog, and when she started to stink last week, my wife bathed her. Add to list. We both take care of the kids, cook, clean, and bathe the dog, but a division of labor doesn’t negate acknowledgement of the other person’s efforts.
This week, keep score: make a list of the chores your partner does (even if you do them too), and at the end of the week, say thank you.
Ask This Question
Early in our relationship, Katie and I went to couple’s therapy. We had each been through a divorce; we each had a daughter, and we wanted to make sure that this new relationship was healthy.
We told the therapist that we felt like soulmates, and she said, “Sure you feel that way: This is new. But once the newness wears off, you’ll see that soul mates aren’t found, they’re made. Grow together, be open to feedback, love each other intentionally – that’s how you make a soulmate connection.” This response annoyed me at first because I felt like it was undercutting the magic of our connection. Now we have three kids, busy jobs, karate practice and softball games. And yeah…I get her point.
Katie and I have found that an easy way to reinforce that soulmate connection is to ask this question: How can I love you better this week? And then take the feedback. When I ask Katie this question, she always has an answer. Sometimes it’s something simple: Could you watch Bridgerton with me after the kids go to bed? Sometimes it’s an ego check: I feel like you’ve been trying to solve my problems for me, and I really just need you to listen when I’m frustrated. And sometimes it’s positive feedback: I loved when I tried that new hair style last week, and you said I looked beautiful. Could you tell me that a little more?
In sixth grade, I went on my first real date with my girlfriend (we saw Flubber, and it was amazing). The best part of the date? We held hands. Remember when that was a thrill? Here’s the thing: It still can be.
My wife and I hold hands everywhere we go; hell, we even hold hands in the car. We’re not a couple who has to be touching at all times, but there’s an intimacy to holding hands that draws us together.
Hold your partner’s hand.
My wife isn’t down with Tiffany; she doesn’t want a lot of jewelry. She’s more interested in cheap, cute earrings from Target, a new scarf, or the occasional Nutrageous candy bar (remember those?).
It’s easy for guys to think that we need to drop big bucks to please or impress our partners, but there’s truth in the aphorism: It’s the thought that counts. This week, spend fifteen bucks or less on your partner. Get them their favorite candy bar and a pack of their favorite pens; get a small bouquet of flowers and a bottle of the flavored creamer they love; get something just because you love them. No pomp, no expectations, just a gesture that says you know them and you’re thinking of them.