Chapter Eleven: Appreciate the Gift
One day not long after the Bad Wife Blowout, Matthew did not eat lunch—and it showed. Arriving home after work, he greeted me plaintively. Then he promptly asked for some food.
“I’m hungry,” he said, dropping his backpack on the floor and circling around me to the kitchen. “I worked through lunch. What’s for dinner?”
“Hi, Hon,” I said. I followed him to the kitchen. “I’m not sure. I guess there’s not much. I haven’t made it to the store.”
This time, I wasn’t just apologizing to apologize, either; I really did feel bad. Matthew loved food, but cooking wasn’t my specialty. I’ve said many times that I could never cook again and be better off for it.
Mind you, it wasn’t always this way. When Matthew and I first got together, I enjoyed making him a well-planned meal. Doing so wasn’t a hardship, but one of the little pleasures of my day—a way to express love and be nurturing. After the baby was born, though, food preparation was no longer a productive break from my computer and a chance to do something nice for my partner.
Suddenly, it was just a damned chore.
And so, I slacked off. I cooked less often and less well, and asked Matthew to order out or cook for himself once in a while. Soon, he was preparing many of his own evening meals, and I was grabbing something quick for the kids and myself before he got home.
“No food?” he asked. “Nothing? Again? Hon, I am really, really hungry.”
“I know, Matt. I’m sorry. It was that kind of day.”
“It was that kind of day three other times this week.”
“Matt, come on. Don’t start with me. You can handle making dinner.”
“It’s not just that. You’ve been ignoring me. I’m sick of feeling like I’m last place.”
“Watch out. You’re reading into this. Not cooking doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”
“It feels that way to me.”
“I don’t know what to do about that, though, Matt. I can’t do everything, you know. Something has to fall off my plate. So to speak.”
Matthew didn’t respond. Instead, he grabbed his car keys and made his way to the front door in the kind of huff that has you defending yourself in your head for the next hour. He left without explanation, then returned with a pile of tacos.
By that time, I was mad, too.
“Was that really so hard?” I asked as I joined him at the dining room table.
“Well, it took forty-five minutes.”
I sighed. “Honey, look at me, will you? I’m exhausted. I’m done. I’ve been going nonstop all day. Every day feels like a marathon. What more do you want me to do?”
“I want food.”
I stopped eating my tacos. A hard wind filled my lungs, but I slowly let it out. Then, in that small moment, I made a big decision.
I decided not to be angry.
I took a deep breath, then another one. Then I drank a glass of water. A few tacos in, I managed a smile–a fake smile, but a smile nonetheless.
“Do you feel like I don’t pay enough attention to you, Matt?”
“Yes,” he said, exhaling a bit. “Or maybe, like you don’t respect me as much as you used to. Something like that. I don’t know.”
“I respect you, Hon. I do. I’m doing the best I can.”
He didn’t respond, and I didn’t go on.
That evening, we were quiet–both of us were quiet. Matt genuinely didn’t want to talk, and I was practicing my new non-defensiveness strategy. As we sat on the couch together, watching a movie, not touching, I realized something: I was okay.
So, Matt is mad at me, I thought, pretending to pay attention to the screen. What’s the big deal, anyway? I did what I could. I told him I cared about him. I stayed calm and didn’t make things worse. He didn’t want to hear my side, so here we are, on the couch. Kind of ignoring each other, but we’re still together. He’ll be mad for a while, but it’s okay. It’s okay.
For me, this was a revelation.
That week as Matt slowly regained a more positive perspective on our relationship and I continued to reassure him, I contemplated the lesson a bit further. I asked myself what the point of relationships are, anyway. Are they for making us feel good all the time? No, I realized. That’s not what they’re for. Relationships–marriages especially–are about growth. They’re about learning compromise and communication and hell, just being a nicer person. Would I really want Matt to do everything I wanted him to do as soon as I wanted him to do it? What good would a robot husband be to anyone?
Looking back on that week, I wonder if that was the time that I first knew–truly knew–things were going to be okay with Matt and I. Since having our first child together we’d learned a lot of lessons, but did any of the others affect my attitude toward Matt as completely? In any case, the change that happened inside me that week was real, and it really did take hold. From that time forward, whenever Matt and I disagreed about something significant, I remembered to feel at least a bit grateful for the struggle.
This is how I’m becoming a better person, I told myself. This is how. Only this. No other way.
Marriage is a gift, and challenges are part of the package. I see how being married is changing me, and I like it.
Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.