Remembering How To Love My Spouse Again

by Erin Tharp
Originally Published: 
A woman and her spouse and their two children walking over a bridge

A few weeks ago, I found myself checking out at a store in the mall when I looked around and saw them—a happy couple sitting on a bench outside. The man was looking at the girl with so much love that I couldn’t help but be distracted by watching them. He had just bought her a cookie, and she smiled as she savored the first bite. She offered some to him, but like a proper gentleman, he declined.

They were deep in conversation and didn’t seem notice me so I continued to watch as I paid for my purchases. At one point, he reached over and brushed a strand of hair from her eyes, and I swear, it was the sweetest gesture I have ever seen. As I gathered my things and started to leave the store, I stopped by the entrance so I could continue watching them—I was that in awe of the scene before me.

She was obviously telling him a story and not once did his eyes leave her face and his smile was proof that she must be very entertaining. The cookie she had been eating was forgotten on her lap, and once again, he reached up to touch her face, this time to brush a crumb from her cheek. It seemed that he was looking for excuses to touch her, that just being near her wasn’t enough for him.

Finally, I realized that I was intruding on their sweet moment and so I left the store. It was then that my husband picked the forgotten cookie up off our daughter’s lap, turned and saw me, and told her that it was time to leave because Mommy was done shopping.

As I joined my husband and our daughter, I couldn’t help but try to remember the last time he had looked at me the way he had been looking at her, with so much love. I honestly couldn’t remember. While we walked, I continued to watch the way he interacted with her, so patient and so kind, so unlike our own interactions with each other most days.

Our life, like so many others, had become a series of “Can you do this for me?” and “We have this tonight,” and “What would you like for dinner?” Gone were the days of long walks and hand-holding, for us anyways. They had been replaced with curt conversations, empty stares, and deep sighs that we both dispensed probably more easily than we should.

At that moment, I realized that our marriage had turned into more of the clichéd business partnership than a true love affair, and it would seem that he had given his heart to someone else. Instead of the standard office affair, though, my husband didn’t have a mistress. He had simply given himself over to a 5-year-old girl who had stolen my heart as well.

Don’t get me wrong, from day one I have told my husband that I expect him to love and care for our daughter in such a way that she will come to expect that kind of affection in her life and will never settle for less. I don’t resent my daughter, or the bond my husband shares with her, but as we continued walking, for the first time, I began to feel like a third wheel.

Like so many couples, I realized that we had fallen so in love with our child that we had forgotten how to love each other too. I started to think that while we were doing a great job of teaching her about how to love a child, perhaps we were failing at teaching her how to love a spouse.

I started to worry: What example are we really setting for her? Will she one day look back at our example and settle on a life that isn’t filled with joy in exchange for security? The thought of that breaks my heart more than thinking of the way my husband looked at me with so much disdain after a recent argument.

But what could I do? We got to the parking lot, and when we reached our car, he walked around and opened the car door for our daughter and then left me standing in the cold. It would seem that my husband did not share my inner turmoil and that he was oblivious to what I was thinking about.

I got in the car and sat in silence while my husband sang along to the radio with our daughter. After a few miles, he turned and asked, “What’s your problem?”

Forcing a smile I replied, “Nothing honey, nothing,” and began to sing along with them, which in all honesty is my typical response. Smile, try to forget, pretend to be content, and move on.

Yes, I realize this response is not helping my situation or the example I want to set for my daughter, but like a lot of people, I also hate conflict, especially when it happens in front of my child. So instead, that day I decided to accept that the way my husband responds to me is not intentional.

And that is why I decided to stay and work on our relationship problems. I choose to be grateful that I married a man who can love his child so completely. I know that some will say that I’m settling, but I don’t see it that way. Deep down I believe that if he can love her so perfectly, then he can also love me that way too. In the end, he probably doesn’t even realize I feel unloved or neglected, as I often keep quiet for the sake of peace, which is again my fault (back to that whole avoiding conflict thing). I’ve never actually told him how I feel.

Also, as a woman, I think I’ve fallen into the trap that a lot of us get stuck in. We try so hard to be the kind of wives and mothers that society tells us to be, but we never ask our spouses what kind of partners they need us to be. So that’s the first thing I plan on doing, asking him what he needs from me. The second thing is returning the favor and letting him know what I need from him, which is only fair, because neither of us is a mind reader after all.

I will do my best to be the kind of partner that I would expect my daughter to one day be. I’ll ask about his day, rub his neck when he’s driving us around, basically be more loving, and most importantly, I’ll try to look at him the way I want him to look at me. I think it will get better from here.

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