10 Ways to Build a Better Relationship
1. Don't Hide
I've learned to lay bare the dialogue that breaths beneath the surface of the half-truths that I tell. Whether I think I'm being self-sacrificing (by not bothering him with my murky feelings), merely polite, or simply too weary to take the time, I only do him a disservice when I hide. Because how will he know who I am at the end of all of this glorious madness...if I don't let him into the secret places now?! And, part of that challenge is reciprocal...it's hearing his inner dialogue too. And, that can be paralyzing if I'm unprepared; threatened by his candor, frightened by his humanity. A sinking person clinging to a sinking person...well, it's easy to succumb to despair. But, with practice, it has only proven to be healing. Giving an ear to all of the self-talk he'll illuminate has been my bridge across the waters of his own self-doubt; to be heard above the churning below. It is in these moments I'm able to break through and affirm him...with my whole soul.
Oh, love...I'll give you my honesty in return. I won't shy away from your candor; recoil at your honesty. I'll reach for those admissions: touch them and know them and feel them shake me to my core as well. I'm learning to quell my desire to fix, cover up, and soothe. I know now that I need just to relate. Here is where we find ourselves standing together...the ground more steady and sure than it felt to us before.
2. Gifts of Time
Lately, we've both taken to giving gifts of time; to breath, to seek solitude (even 10 sacred minutes), or to steal away for some respite. And while on the giving end, though I'm just aching to steal my own time, I practice giving grace. Because I'll need it when he gets home. When I see his resolve start to erode, his patience start to melt...instead of sighing and playing the martyr, I respect his cues. Because I desperately want him to read mine with as much respect. Becoming well-versed in his vocabulary of needs has only deepened my understanding and empathy, because it's not so easy to dismiss his stress or his fears when I know the very heartbeat of each one.
3. Meet Each Other Just Where You Are
One of the richest ways we've woven love into our marriage during this season is by meeting each other just where we are. If we're feeling swallowed up in sadness...the other has practiced the response to crawl into that space with them. Press your skin to their skin and feel their breath. Know them in their deepest pain. Listen to their worst self-talk, so that you can advocate; to hold the mirror that does not distort how lovely they are. I found I was only covering the pain with an ugly tarp when I pulled my husband up from the depths with a jerk and a tug, "Come on. We've only got today before you go back to work...let's make today lovely." I lost the ability to see him...to see the mapping of thought and process and consideration that innervates just under the skin of what I see from the outside. I'm a consummate optimist but my husband is not. And what I can self-will, he cannot. No remedies or quick fixes will do. So, as I've practiced entering his world, I only find that his soul is more tender and loving than I knew before. The gift is truly mine in waiting for his own timing to process grief...because he has always emerged grateful + humble when unhurried.
4. Join Him in What Feeds His Soul
Share your energy with what lights his interest ablaze. Seeing his soul engaged this way...for me...has been something truly holy. It's meeting him in new ways; and acknowledging that he is more than the routines of tantrum-tolerating, toddler-wrestling, diaper-changing, bed-cleaning, and dish-washing. I also see this as a way to have a healthy emotional life apart from being a father or a mother.
5. Notice him
Practice seeing him...pointing out what moves him, what you find so entrancing. Remind him. That he's still wildly interesting...that you're still madly in love with him (sometimes I just need to remind myself because I can get so caught up in all of the tasks of mothering)...that he's likely going through a rough transition just as I am. There are so many facets to him...but it's easy to forget to seek him. Ask him the hard questions. Dive deep and risk the discomfort. I've found that sometimes you have to let the storm shake you...because it will naturally sift you of that defeating self-talk...and ultimately bond you one to another.
6. Foster intimacy
Seek it out. Weave it into your love-communication. Not just sexual intimacy, but the deeper gift of emotional intimacy. Tell him your stories. Your wild dreams. The things that move you so.
Like small, seemingly inconsequential stories. Yesterday, I watched a man walk beside my house. He gingerly stepped off of the sidewalk, bordering the road and his car door. I was distinctly aware of the matching couch cushions piled two by two on each leather bucket seat. His car was in loving condition; worn but radiant...the hubcaps glistening in the sunshine, the tires neatly painted white in an arch around the center. He lowered himself with effort onto his cushions, as I imagined a grunt escaping from his chest. He was unaware of my gaze...as he reached for the cushions beside him and patted them lightly. Then, as if in a loving benediction or ceremonial pause, he then looked to the right and back...placing his hands on the wheel and drive carefully away. I had these small tears collecting in my periphery...as it dawned on me that the elder-care center is just a block or so away.
7. Stop Your Chores & Just Be
Get lost in each other. Reminisce. Laugh until your soul catches fire. I am too often preoccupied with tasks. And, granted...so is he. But, he has this way about him that I so wish I could implant within myself. His arms always find me...while at the sink or the table or swaying with Fern on my hip. His eyes follow me...and I love how he 'sees' me when I'm lost in laughter fits while playing with my son. He doesn't care as much about the crumbs at the foot of the highchair...or the leftovers still sitting out on the counter...or the train track assembled as a hazardous maze near the front door. And, for that...I love him. Because he can be still in these moments of perilous parenthood...and simply want me. To miss me. To find me.
8. Hibernate just *a bit*
Some days you need only to be refueled by each other...not by a social engagement. I mean...he's ten times more social than I am...but even he knows that at times, we need stillness and rest within just each other's arms. Even if it's been days since we've left the house and our emotions are running wild. Build a fire, curl into one another, or read aloud as if there is a magic way to slow down the day with your words.
Find each other in all the old familiar ways. The ways that made you spark and dance. Relive the firsts and reimagine their glimmering newness. Create new words for what he means to you now. Kiss lightly and follow it with the prose of a wordless sigh. Let him feel you soften in his arms. Linger just a bit longer and turn his attentions. Let him rest in the comfort of you. And, love. Love the way you used to love...the way that swept you underneath the waves of wild abandon. Getting lost in only the span of one minute can direct the tide of an entire evening. That is the magic within deep love.
10. Don't Fake it!
Not any of it. If you can't be in the moment, then step away. Fall into his arms and throw your arms out in weakness. Lean into need. We're so enamored with independence these days...it's like a mantra that we believe we must embody in every moment. We're walled-in; a nervous and jittery fight or flight sequence. But, need is so healing. To be met in our need is transformative. It softens us through. And, in a world that can be so jagged and sharp...we need each other deeply.
Written by, Heather Gemmer