My wife and I are currently remodeling our home, and I’ll be honest, I think my wife and I have argued more during the past few weeks than ever before. And that includes those particularly harried few months after we had our first child.
We’ve been married almost 14 years. We both work full time now, which is also a new development. After we get home from work, we turn to our “second jobs” — pulling out carpet, moving boxes and furniture, and painting. All while trying to get our three kids to finish their homework, take a shower, and stop fighting.
Weekends bring more of the same.
My body hurts, and it seems like every time I start one project, I find something else that’s wrong and have to fix that thing too. There have been a million setbacks, and it feels like we’ve been moving/remolding for ages, with no end in sight.
I never realized how stressful a situation like this could be. I didn’t realize how it would cause our children’s grades to slip at school, or how it would counteract our four-year-old’s routine, causing her to not sleep through the night like she used to and then to be extra moody and clingy during the day.
But most importantly, I didn’t realize how much stress it would place on my marriage.
Last week, after Mel and I had been arguing off and on most of the evening, I realized I couldn’t remember the last time we had kissed. To put this into prospective, we usually kiss every day. I make a point of it. We are one of those cheesy couples that send “I love you” text messages once a day. We are the couple that casually grabs each other’s butt in the kitchen. These kinds of casual but regular displays of affection are necessary to living with each other without wanting to kill each other.
So after years of learning how to get along, it felt so strange to stand in my kitchen and look at the mother of my children, the woman I love more than anyone else in the world, and realize that we hadn’t shown any signs of affection recently. There’s something about stressful times that can make two people not want to look at each other, let alone touch.
We had both been working hard on all levels of the remodel while also managing our family and work duties. We hadn’t slacked off; no one had done anything wrong. And yet, for the past several weeks the two of us had been bundles of stress and exhaustion, and naturally we took all those emotions out on each other.
And as I looked at Mel, still in her work pants and collared shirt, a little paint in her hair from touching something in our son’s room, I didn’t want to kiss her. I didn’t want to hold her. I didn’t really want to talk to her. And when I think back on that moment, I realize exactly how consuming life stress can be, and how it can come out sideways in your marriage.
So I paused for a moment. I took a deep breath, and I put it all aside. I put all those feelings of stress and frustration away, and I dug deep inside to unearth the love I felt for my wife. Then I approached her and said, “Can I kiss you?”
She looked at me for a moment. She let out a breath, and I knew that she was struggling with the same feeling I was. I knew that she still loved me. But in that moment, I don’t think she felt a thing for “us” because there just wasn’t room for it.
She closed her eyes and leaned in. There was something about the familiarity of her touch, her lips, the smell of her hair, that seemed to let the tension we’d been carrying ease like letting air our of a tire.
“I know this has been stressful, but I want you to know that I still love you,” I said.
She said it back. We both apologized even though we really didn’t have anything to apologize for. All of it was so simple and so familiar, but in the heat of the moment, it took a lot of effort. Then we went back to work, only it felt different now. I could think clearer.
Everything we’d argued about had nothing to do with us, and everything to do with the situation. But that didn’t keep us from taking it out on each other.
They say marriage takes maintenance, but no one ever really tells you what that looks like. And when I think about that, sometimes, in those really stressful times, it’s best to humble yourself and offer a hug and an apology, even when you really don’t want to. It’s the gestures that make a marriage work, and in this situation, we both needed to pause and remember each other in the chaos.