Blake and I have been married for over 7 years now. I don't want to jinx anything but things between us are better than ever. Somewhere in the last year we tapped into a deeper place, with more trust, less stress, and smoother sailing. There were times in the past that looked very sticky, and times where I really deep down questioned whether we had what it takes to last (although I never felt like I didn't love him.) We are two passionate people and have many opposing qualities which at our best compliment each other and at our worse turn the house into a warzone. Those times are terribly exhasting and unsettling for the children to say the least. But recently its come to our attention that those times have become something of the past. Even our disagreements now are strikingly milder. I ask myself why? Are we merely "older and wiser"? I have pinned down a few points that I think elevated our marriage to its new and improved higher love. ***insert Depeche Mode's Higher Love here***
Over a year ago, I attended a talk given by the author of Hold on to Your Kids, Gordon Nuefeld. His research on the well-attached relationship was focused on the parent-child kind, but the whole time I could not stop thinking about how it could apply to my marriage (although he did briefly cover that too.) At the time, I was pregnant, and still feeling sick everyday. I felt like my hormones were literally repelling me away from my husband, and we were feeeling desperately unconnected, which is an awful feeling when you are about to have a child with someone. One of Dr. Nuefeld's key points was what he called "collecting"--the (simple) act of connecting to someone when you greet and when you part in order to keep the feeling of love alive even when the person is not physically there to communicate it. In the evening, he suggested as an example, when you tuck your children in tell them how you will dream of them and ask them to dream of you, then in the morning greet them with a welcoming smile and ask them how their night was. Sounds ridiculously simple, right? But when I thought about our daily family interaction, there was definitely a lack of the basic nicities, such as greeting each other with a kiss when returning home. It's amazing how something so simple can get lost in the jumble of parenthood. I told Blake about this when I got home, about "collecting" as a means of keeping a loving connection going even when separated by these simple acts and it clicked for both us. It seems silly to admit that we since then have made it a point to kiss each other hello and goodbye--and since the "temperature" of our relationship has risen.
Another thing, that kind of sprung from the same talk and also other parenting changes that were inspired by close friends, is a turn to the more traditional approach to our household. Blake and I argued a lot, in front of the kids mind you, about parenting conflicts. We were constantly undermining each others parenting choices and we were not only flailing with the kids but flailing away from each other in the process. What seemed to work better, once we sat down (over and over again) about our parenting goals, and getting on the same page, we decided on a more traditional approach and that was then there really could only be one boss at a time. Obviously when I am home with the kids I am the boss, but when Papa is home especially on the weekends or when I go out, he's the boss and what he says goes, and we would mutually respect whatever rules were laid down when the other was away. When we are both home, it defaults to him, although he usually then respectfully passes the torch back to me and observes my call to see how it works. There is though, of course, a check system so that if we feel a rule is laid down unfairly or handled badly, we bring it up LATER, privately and explain why we think a ruling was faulty or how the situation could have been handled better. This is great because it leaves time for both parties to step back with clear minds (not be defensive!), and also to maybe point out a detail or dynamic the ruling party didn't see when they were in the moment. Its been better for kids to see us a united front and also we've come to see each others parenting strengths (instead of constantly focusing on our weaknesses and differences which we had been in the past) when backing off and letting the other see through a situation without interference. We're comfortable with this and most importantly its working, and helping us feel stronger as parents therefore stronger in our marriage.
The great heightener of our relationship though came from one particular event, and that was George-Ephraim's birth. I didn't realize how deeply a homebirth could affect our love for one another. I mean, I had already given birth to two of our children which were both by far the high points of both of our lives--as it is for most married couples who decide to have a baby. Any way it happens, whether drug-free or by c-section (even adoption I assume), the magnificent event is designed to draw couples closer. But after the seven hour labor at home, where Blake was by my side with no obtrusive interuptions, offering me everything I needed just by his presence and support, and him being witness to the birth of our baby boy on the very bed he was concived upon--It. Was. Incredible. The hours and days following the birth, Blake would say to me "Good work, Mama...." or "Mama, you did it!" and sometimes, while holding his newborn boy just "Thank you." Other times merely outloud to himself in awe, "You did it, Mama, you did it." I knew that I felt a tremendous sense accomplishment, but to have my spouse match me in enthusiasm was an incredible bonus, and the whole experience has still to this day been a boost to our marriage in that it again helped us each gain even more respect for each other. I know that it will be the type of feeling that when things do get tough (they always do, c'est la vie) it will be a memory and feeling that I can tap into to give me strength.
Having those defining moments to tap into when things do get hard...that is another thing I have learned about marriage. The main "tap" I have is our first months together, the swirling seemingly uncontrollable passion we felt for each other. How wonderful (and scary!) new love is! Here were two logical adults completely taken over by a force was beyond our resistance--I always said that despite Blake's and mine better judgement, falling in love happened to us, and we had no choice but to give in. It seemed a little nuts....me bringing home my heavily-modified piercer to meet my somewhat-conservative parents, the age difference just to name the biggies. Even Blake's sister, when he professed his newfound love, said "I give it two weeks...", words which she has since eaten, and we are very close. In the past, when I have wanted to throw my hands in the air and divide up the possessions, I have meditated hard on that time, that magical feeling that conquered all. The second defining moment, was Isadore's difficult first weeks, when she was in the NICU after planning a homebirth but ended up having her early at the hospital. It was the absolute opposite of the experieince we'd hoped for and when I gave in to the pressure and had the induction, Blake never blinked, he always trusted my decision. The first night, he went home to be with Mayan and I spent the night at the hospital with my newborn hooked up to machines a corridor away. He returned the next morning, cool and collected with a freshly shaven head, which was a very intimate gesture to me. The next 12 days were very difficult and could have been spent taking it out on one another by letting the fear and stress get the better of us, but instead we leaned. We were forgiving and patient and there when it would have been easier to just freak out. I will always be very proud of us for the way we handled that time.
Finally after, seven years and three babies, Blake has proven himself in one other way. He has been an absolute gentleman in one regard that is very, very important to women--he has always made me feel beautiful. My weight has fluctuated after multiple pregnancies, my breasts gone through a gamut of shapes and size while extended breastfeeding and never once, in a time of doubt on my (self-conscious) part, has Blake not reminded me that he thinks I am very sexy and desirable. Not one comment or raised eyebrow that has made me doubt my attractiveness to him. Bless, bless, bless this man. I don't know why it took this long, but now I really truly believe him.
People say that marriage has its ups and downs, that the climate varies from month to month or year to year, and that is certainly true. At times I felt like it may have even been hour to hour, and that is not a comfortable place to live emotionally. Manic would be a perfect word to describe certain periods of the marriage--passionate, tears-of-joy highs and broken-dishes lows--and even those times I respected that flow, because every year, when I looked at the bigger picture I always saw progress. ***insert The Beatle's singing "It's gettin' better all the time" here*** I could pinpoint the areas of growth (and use a highlighter marker to circle the areas that needed improving!) But things have definitely mellowed to a much more even keel. We both deserve that. After these many years, we've had the chance to show each other everything we've got, all cards have been laid out at one time or another. And it turns out we are totally fair, for lack of a better analogy, its a draw. We both feel incredibly lucky to be partners, and realize that it's not worth it to play against each other, but instead our strength lies in us being a team. And we're very, very comfortable with that.