My husband stood in the doorway looking at us, and I’ll never forget what he said…
“You’re lucky that baby is so cute, because he’s ruining our marriage.”
I was sitting in bed feeding our third son and I wasn’t just tired, I was weary in every cell of my body. During the day, I was hauling older kids to school, activities, and practices while single-handedly keeping the household running smoothly and all the humans cared for and fed. During the night, I was up with a baby who never slept longer than an hour and a half.
My immediate reaction to that sentence was a flash of anger. Are you freaking kidding me? You want MORE from me?! You’re a grown man. Take care of your damn self for a little while. I don’t have anything else to give.
But I also felt the truth of what he was saying. I knew our marriage wasn’t actually being destroyed but I saw how abandoned he felt. I did what so many of us do when we’ve got a child that needs us or a sick parent we need to care for or we’re consumed with something we have no control over, like depression.
I left my relationship on default.
I assumed it could run smoothly on auto-pilot for as long as I needed it to and that my husband would be fine going through life without my love, attention, and support while I took care of our children and tried to take care of myself.
That might have worked for a little while but it clearly wasn’t going to work much longer. Though it seems so benign in the moment, daily neglect will do damage in the long run. Once he pointed it out, I could feel the distance that had grown between us and the intimacy that had been slipping away. Arguments happened faster and took longer to resolve. Silence had become the norm rather than the exception. We were co-parenting but we weren’t connecting.
I’m grateful for that unforgettable statement, because it was a wake-up call. Even though I felt like I had no energy left, if I was honest, I hadn’t made him or us a priority at all.
Here is what I wish I had said months before he felt he had to sound that alarm. “I’m coming back. Please be patient with me. I have to take care of this thing over here right now but I’m coming back to you. My heart is here. I am with you.” And then, I wish I had tried a little harder. I wish I had known how dangerous it is to leave a relationship on default. I know there were small ways I could have shown up better. Even if I had been incapable of giving anything, I could have done it with love and reassurance rather than being dismissive and irritated.
I learned two very important life lessons in that moment.
- Daily neglect will ultimately cause damage to a relationship.
- Reassurance and love are the bare minimum when you can’t give more.
We were able to get our marriage back on track, but for a lot of clients I work with, the relationship is set to auto-pilot for too long and things get much worse. Humans can only take abandonment or rejection for so long before there is big trouble.
We can’t avoid those sections of our lives when we have to care for someone else or ourselves as the first priority, leaving less attention, time, and energy for other people, but we can do it with grace and a promise.
I’m coming back.