On partnerships and mourning…

Subtitle: things about which I worry as parenthood bears down upon us, part I.

I once heard of a study indicating that relationship satisfaction fell when a couple got engaged. This makes sense to me. Previously cute behaviors are suddenly viewed through the lens of forever and become less cute. Eventually the couple’s perspective recovers and those behaviors, while not enjoyed as much as during courtship, become something you live with and adapt to.

But what happens when after a few years in, the adaptation feels too one-sided? I’m guessing most people in a modern relationship struggle with this. How much compromise is too much? When are higher expectations good (and when are they just wishing)?

I’m sure you’ve heard about the slew of studies indicating happiness — with life, not just relationships — plummets when one has children. This makes sense to me, too. The day-to-day frustrations of life skyrocket, I’m guessing, as one has to deal with the bodily functions and general wellness of another human being, all while trying to navigate existing relationships with adults. Oy. That said, we’re counting on the peaks being higher to make up for the valleys being deeper; we’re looking forward to having a little companion as we explore near and far.

And in keeping with choosing ease (and my multi-year resolution to not lose my shit), I’m trying not to worry about my relationship with my husband, but sometimes I can’t avoid our issues.

Here’s one: since we moved in together, we’ve struggled to find a mutually comfortable time to talk about important things. In previous relationships, these chats about life and the future and decisions happened at night, in bed, before wrapping ourselves around each other to sleep for the night. My husband, however, hates to be touched while sleeping, claims to lose all brain function after dark, and finds most of the topics on my “must discuss” list too stressful for night time chatter.

Mornings are out, daylight hours are out, and we’ve already cut out bedtime, so… dinner! We’ll talk about important stuff over dinner!

(We’ve been through this before, though, so my hopes for this plan are pretty low. We do eat dinner together every night and when at home, in the dining room facing each other with the TV off, but small talk is easier on the digestion than big talk.)

Inevitably I end up crying in frustration, angry that it always comes to this: me pissed off and insisting we finish the d*mn conversation before I explode; him annoyed that I’m losing my cool and wondering why I can’t just be nicer. I remind him I’ve tried to gently approach the topic three or four times and been put off. He tells me he didn’t realize it was so important to me (until I cry, apparently).

Bright side: we have a fairly consistent process!

But this is not a dynamic that bodes well for the rough transition in our very near future. So now what? I get used to the feeling of frustration and learn to diffuse it on my own, for one thing. We teach babies to self-soothe; it’s time to force the same expectation on myself. Plus, you’d think I’d learn by now that pushing him so that I’ll feel better fails, but I keep doing it.

More importantly, I let go of the wish that we could lay around and dream together like we did when we were dating. I don’t think I’m alone in having to let go of this kind of stuff, nor am I the only one who’s had to adjust expectations for this relationship because it’s not like that relationship. My husband won’t snuggle while sleeping. I have a friend who’s ex used to read to her in bed. Even my husband finds himself wishing I was a little more willing to follow his lead, like his ex-girlfriend.

The process of letting go and mourning previously held expectations in marriage seems to continue through the marriage. I wish we talked more about mourning productively, not just when faced with the death of a person but when it’s an idea or a hope. I think we’d all be better off if we were more able to mourn — and thus transition — gracefully.

In the meantime, we’ll go back to chaperoned discussions with a therapist because admitting defeat in something that seems so basic is better than actually failing at marriage.




3 thoughts on “On partnerships and mourning…

  1. I really like this post. With schedules and chores and the baby (but even before the baby), we didn’t really have enough time to discuss the big things–or even the small things. Instead of my husband walking the dog alone at night, one of us slings the baby and we ALL go. It’s a win-win-win-win. 🙂 The adults get a little more together time, the adults + dog get exercise, and the baby loves it. But your post has encouraged me to bring this up to my husband. That we need a more scheduled time to just talk. Thanks for that.

  2. You’re so right in what you said about mourning things other than deaths. A book I read in my 30’s that really helped put this into perspective was Necessary Losses by Judith Viorst. Highly recommend.

    I followed you back in the day on Wedding Bee and rediscovered you here. Love your writing. Best of luck with the kiddo!

  3. This, this, THIS.

    I always do this. Try to bring stuff up that I think is *really* important to talk about… and then by the time we actually “discuss” it, in reality, I’m yelling and crying and frustrated that he doesn’t care about my feelings. And he feels attacked and surprised and wonders what on earth I’m talking about.

    Sometimes I think back to the very first weeks that we were together, when everything about our relationship seemed so easy. Sigh.

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