As a marriage author, educator, and mentor, I talk and teach about marriage 24/7. But behind the scenes, I talk and walk not only marriage but also motherhood (including grandmotherhood) 24/7. But how can that be? Isn’t it impossible to wear both hats all the time? I used to think so.
I remember, for instance, whenever my husband asked me to accompany him on a business trip, or even on a date, I felt it required all kinds of gyrations to line up the second-string mommy-substitutes to cover home base. The whole process was always excruciating to me, because I was sure not only that I was indispensible to my children (as in “What would happen to them if something happened to me?!”) but also that no one could execute the requisite duties of mother and homemaker as well as I could. And that included my husband.
I regularly critiqued or shut out my husband from childcare responsibilities and decisions under the guise of concern for him and our children—even as I sagged like an outclassed weightlifter and decried to myself and to my friends how little support I was receiving from the partner who I wouldn’t let partner.
Because, really, who has time to partner with someone else?
Parenting is a busy business that leaves one little time or energy for that kind of thing. I was so busy, so spent; I rarely took off my Super Mommy cape. I can see myself now: wrinkled cape catching in the car door, tumbling into the toilet bowl, lifting or swirling dramatically when I felt the need to fly off the handle.
I couldn’t have come across as very attractive back then; yet, as I recall, it was my husband’s fault there was little romance in the relationship. (Who gave him permission to cast off his Super Husband cape anyway?)
When did my attitude toward parenting and partnering change? I’m not sure the exact day, but I do know why: tough times…really tough times. As is often the case with a crisis, my priorities necessarily shifted, and I began to see the interplay between my husband, our children, and myself in a new light. With time, study, and introspection, it became clear that although raising children optimally was a beautiful and honorable thing, it was not meant to be a one-sided arrangement, and it could not be the only, or even the ultimate, expression of my womanhood.
Equal, if not preeminent, was my responsibility and opportunity to purposefully craft a relationship with my husband of legacy proportion—a partnership, a romance that would immeasurably impact our descendants in the first generation as well as all those to follow.
This meant of course reorganizing my life—learning a whole slew of new skills focused on marriage that would help me become a bit more dependent (a more willing partner), so that my children could become more independent.
I had to learn, with the help of exemplars and mentors, that balancing motherhood and marriage isn’t a matter of two tributaries coming together to create a river. Instead, it’s about recognizing my marriage as the river itself—the mainstream into which and from which all family relationships flow. Watching my husband, for example, mature into his best self under my appropriate influence—and observing his loving response to me because of that—had far more impact on our children’s happy maturation than all my cape-swirling and lone weightlifting ever did, no matter how well-intentioned.
Yes, it took a while (and a near-divorce), but, thankfully, I finally comprehended the most important secret to a thriving family: a thriving marriage. It was only then that I could begin to reap the stellar benefits that come from a healthy, happy marriage.
Here are the exact five steps I took long ago to improve my relationship with my husband, and, consequently, with our children as well:
- Analyze with intent where you and your husband stand in the quality of your relationship. Where are you now in comparison to where you expected to be at this stage of life? Would you classify your marriage as troubled, good, or great? Where will your current relationship dynamics lead you to years from now? Where will they lead your children?
- If you think there is more trust and intimacy to be had (even if you’d classify your marriage as satisfactory), ask yourself how important experiencing that new level of love is to you. Since the only aspect of your partnership that you have control over is yourself, how much of your heart, your time, your energy, and your resources are you willing to restructure or reconsider? How much is experiencing a new level of love for your spouse worth to you?
- Begin a quest for information and mentoring. Develop a hunger for information while realizing that significant, lasting change rarely happens in isolation. Researching the experts is helpful, but bonding with living exemplars/advocates who will be there for you for as long as it takes is a must when it comes to something as uniquely complex and personal as marriage. Connecting with a community of like-minded women who believe in marriage and in your marriage is also a major plus. That is why I founded Wife for Life University, which provides women worldwide with real marriage mentoring, education, and a community.
- Patiently apply the principles you are learning (along with the strategies, attitudes, and behaviors) bit by bit, one by one, line upon line. Though you need to live in the moment to enjoy life, the long-range vision of what your marriage can become must be your ever-present guide. Expect both breakthroughs and setbacks. The secret is to keep going.
- Keep a journal of your progress. Include the triumphs as well as the frustrations so you can purposefully build upon or correct them. Your written reflections will be invaluable not only to you in the present, but they have the potential to educate, reinforce, and inspire the marriages of your posterity. (Marriage and motherhood win!)
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Image provided by author; graphics by Anna Jenkins.