A couple of weeks ago I had to work really late at a Leadership program my department was in charge of facilitating. At 10:00 PM when I turned onto our street I could see a light guiding me home…our external garage lights. Andy had left them on and it warmed my heart. It was just a small thing. It was something no one else would notice. It was something that wouldn't matter to most. However, to me, it meant that sometime before he went to bed he was thinking of me and watching out for me (and the van). Our new minivan barely fits into the garage. The first few entries I had near-misses with the mirrors on both sides. And at night it's really hard to see upon entering. So if I go out and know it will be dark before I get home, I try to remember to turn on the external garage lights. This is not something Andy ever does. So when I pulled into the neighborhood completely exhausted I realized that navigating into the garage was not going to be fun since I hadn't flipped the lights before I left in the morning. But he did it for me.
Relationships are interesting. The focus of this writing is marriage and specifically my relationship with Andy. This is not to judge other people and how they make their relationships work. This is not a guideline for others. For me, this is a documentation for my kids. I want them to realize someday that this is something Andy and I put a lot of focus on – how we interact with each other while raising our kids.
Andy and I were raised in very different environments. His parents have been married for 30+ years. Although his mom is educated and had a career, she stayed home during most of his childhood. On the other hand, my parents divorced when I was five after 10 years of marriage. However, I was fortunate to have both parents remain a part of my upbringing. My parents kept their issues between each other – my sister and I were not dragged into the middle of anything. My parents were always able to be in the same room and be cordial to each other. This is still applicable today as they are brought together again more often now due to their grandkids (births, baptisms, birthdays, etc.) It's definitely something I appreciate now that I am older and understand things a bit better. And my mom did remarry and I had a great stepdad and got to watch him raise my brother with her until he passed away a few years ago.
So I think that Andy and I have been able to take "nuggets" from our parents in order to create what works for us. That's my hope for our kids. Who knows what the world will look like years from now when our kids find someone to spend their lives with in a relationship. My goal is to do our best so that they see/observe/experience more "nuggets" to take with them than to leave behind. There are 5 main areas that come to mind when I think of our relationship.
Open Communication and Trust
I list this one first because to us it's the most important. Andy and I probably share a little too much information with each other, but it works for us. We talk about absolutely everything: work, finances, the kids, sports, our family and friends, the past, our future, the news, world events, things that are bothering us (big and small), etc. It's not unusually for us to talk 1-2 times during the work day. Even my mom knows that when she says, "And don't tell anyone…" that really means, "And don't tell anyone but Andy…" We trust each other, and probably because we do tell each other everything and keep each other updated on things. If Andy wanted to log-in to my hotmail or Facebook accounts, he has complete access to my passwords and vice-versa. However, we are not the type to "check up on each other". We just don't have anything to hide. But, there are definitely times of the year when things (credit card statements and email accounts) are off-limits due to gift-buying, etc. I'm guessing my hotmail messages between me and my girlfriends wouldn't be that interesting to him anyway! Although he does have fun hijacking my FB account from time to time.
Respect and Recognition
For us, simple manners are essential. Yep, I thank Andy every time he takes out the trash. If I forget right then or don't notice immediately, I make sure I mention it later. And he thanks me for cleaning up the kitchen after dinner every night. There is nothing like feeling appreciated. I never want Andy to feel like I take him for granted. "Please", "thank you", "I really appreciated it when…" are common at our house and it goes both ways. And now it's nice to see our girls do the same without being prompted. There are also times where a small surprise will show up – the CD I really wanted, but didn't purchase for myself or the car wash and gas fill-up I had done while I was using his vehicle. Little acts of kindness that still show each other we care. A card or a note out of the blue. Small things with big impact.
Kids and chores. These things both suck a lot of time and energy out of you. One is definitely more rewarding than the other. In our house the responsibilities are pretty much split 50-50. I will say that right now this is because we are both working parents. I could see this shifting if I was home more. Andy helps a TON at home. Both of us get the girls ready in the morning, but he is the king of baths at night. Baths are much more fun with daddy in charge because then they include bubbles, boats, ducks, mermaids, etc. Plus, I apparently get water in Stella's eyes as she constantly reminds me. So I usually get kitchen clean-up duty instead. There are certain items that tend to fall more on one of us than the other – he does the trash, yard work, house stuff, etc. and I do the laundry, grocery shopping, etc. We definitely divide and conquer. I have the most respect for single-parent households or those that have one person constantly traveling for his/her job. I'm not sure how they do it all alone or while the other one is away for work!!
Andy and I still find a way to sneak in our personal hobbies, etc. These things are important to us – keeping the things we enjoy in our lives even if the other person isn't involved. For example, Andy's cycling falls into this category. Although it has definitely dwindled since having kids, I still feel it is very important to get Andy on his bike whenever possible. I don't resent the 1-2 hours he goes out on Saturday and Sunday mornings to pedal, pedal, pedal. It's his time and recharges him. And he never complains about my monthly Girls Night Out events or all the crafting I do – our dining room currently looks like a hair bow/headband factory.
Date Night/Kid-Free Time
This one takes more effort. For us this doesn't mean having to get out of the house. When the kids go to bed we could easily go off and do separate things the rest of the evening. However, we make the effort to actual spend some time together – talking, watching TV, etc. Does this happen every night? Nope, but most. Since the girls go to bed pretty early right now (by 8:00) we will sometimes do what we have to/want to until 9:00 and then regroup together for an hour before heading to bed ourselves. And we are really good about scheduling dates. Sometimes it's as simple as a lunch date during the work week (sadly it does require an official Outlook meeting request to get it on the calendar). We are also fortunate to have relatives and friends that will watch the kids for an afternoon or an evening and we also have a great "pay" babysitter for weekend nights. We try to go out every couple of weeks on our own and we also send the kids to grandma's overnight every once in awhile. Andy and I would like to get-away more, but we've had to rethink a few weekends away due to my pregnancies and other pop-up illnesses. Still trying to reschedule a weekend trip to Chicago that was canceled when I was pregnant with Stella and got the flu!
All in all, this is only a small part of what makes us work. There are plenty of things I'm sure I've left out. Basically, I feel fortunate to have found someone that is willing to work at this relationship with me on a daily basis. Yes, it's challenging at times and we find ourselves losing the battle against the chores, kids, work, and even each other. But then we refocus on us and recharge because it is so worth it.
So each night before I go to bed I thank my lucky stars that people can say, "See, he's her lobster".