PAIL posted a news item today that has a lot of people talking. I read it first thing this morning, and it struck a chord with what Dr. Dan told me at our last session. The point of Giuliana Rancic’s comments to US Weekly* was the theme of what Dr. Dan stressed with me, and what I brought home to my husband later that afternoon. Our relationship, B’s and mine, is #1. For every decision we make, we must ask, “how does this affect our relationship?” As I stated last week, if I had been following this sage advice for the last several years, many decisions would have been 10 times easier to make than they were, and most arguments would have been resolved much more quickly.
I’ve never been one to think that children should come first in a marriage. I was raised by parents who were fiercely devoted to one another, even though they fought like cats and dogs. I remember asking my dad one night before bed, “are you and Mommy going to get divorced?” They had been in a really bad place of constant fighting, and my older sister and I were becoming very concerned. I think I was 6 or 7 at the time. My dad’s response is not what many parents would have responded with. I remember it to this day, and it’s (usually) been central to my own relationship. My dad did not say, “no, I love you kids too much.” No no. He said, “no, I love your mother too much.”
Have you any idea how that one little answer put our minds and hearts at ease? I remember feeling the tension leave my body after he said that. I believed him – I knew he was telling me the truth and not just saying something that he thought I wanted to hear. I kissed him goodnight and fell asleep happy, and I remember NEVER worrying about them getting a divorce again. My older sister remembers this all very clearly as well (we shared a room and she was in the twin bed next to me when I asked my dad this).
I try very hard to put our marriage first, but I fail miserably. B and I just talked about this the other day. He works his tail off for our family so that I can stay home with Matthew. I work my tail off at home with Matthew from 7:00 AM until bedtime each night (8:15 PM) with the only break being nap time (1.5-2.5 hours) – and during that break I do laundry, or dishes, or pick up the house, etc. before I actually take a break. By the time B comes home, he is spent, and I am spent. I am so tired from being in “mom mode” for the past 13 hours that I just want to be left to myself. B is so tired from being in “work mode” for the past 13 hours (he gets up super early to work before going to work, and then works into many of the evenings as well) that he just wants to sit in the quiet. We usually plop down on the sofa and decompress – separately.
This is not good.
We’re working on this. We’re talking about it. We’re fixing it. What we have been doing is putting our child first, ourselves next, and each other last. This is absolutely not OK with either one of us, and I’m so glad we talk about it as often as we do. We are not living the model of marriage that we want to be living, and we’re both to blame (but I do think that I am more to blame, because I can be too much like my mom at times and just totally withdraw).
Over the last several weeks, we have both been making an effort to put our marriage first. We send nice texts back and forth throughout the day, and skype/chat online when there’s a chance. B leaves notes for me on the counter if he heads out super early, telling me to have a great day and that he loves me. B works from home more often than he used to in the mornings so that we can have breakfast as a family (this is AWESOME and I know that we are so very fortunate that this is possible!). I ask B to meet us for lunch and he most certainly does if he can. And the most important change is this – after Matthew is in bed, I come out of his room to find my husband sitting at the table waiting for me, often times with a dessert and/or tea, and we sit down and talk to one another. We focus on one another. We ask about each others’ days and challenges.
Every time I go to see Dr. Dan, he has some wonderful tool/tip to share with me that will make our relationship stronger. He will grab his clip board and sharpie and I get excited – because I know that he is going to give me some wonderful little nugget of advice that is going to keep me on my toes once I get home to B. Most of the tools that Dr. Dan shares with me are immediately brought home and shared with B – and this one that I’m going to share with you is one that B and I discussed at great length the day that I got it (at my very first session).
This is the triangle of marriage/relationships. Before Dr. Dan presented this to me, he asked me what my perception of marriage was and I said, “the 7 year itch.” Surprisingly, he said, “that is true, and here’s why.” He then drew and walked me through this triangle.
When you first meet one another, you start at the lower left point of the triangle and move upward, usually quickly, up the side of “feeling and passion.” This is the phase of your early/new relationship where you can’t get enough of each other, you want to be together ALL.THE.TIME. You then come down the “thoughts and intimacy” side of the triangle (intimacy being closeness, not sex) and this is where you really connect with one another and decide if being together is what you really, really want. You then turn the corner into “behaviors and commitment,” and this side of the triangle is where you focus your time and energy on paying the bills, going to work, raising the kids, etc. Getting around the triangle takes about…. 7 years. This is why people refer to the “7 year itch” of marriage.
When you round the triangle clockwise in full (usually within 6-7 years of knowing your spouse), you are looking for passion and feeling again – but it’s not necessarily there because you’ve been spending several years just tending to your responsibilities. This is why people cheat and have affairs – because they want the passion again but don’t know how to get it with their spouse.
What you need to do when you get back to the lower left point of the triangle is turn around, and go counter-clockwise backwards. In other words, you need to focus on thoughts and intimacy to reconnect with one another. Once you’ve done this (and this is VERY hard to do because you’ve heard each others’ stories, you’ve created stories together, etc.), then the “passion and feeling” will return and it will be wonderful and easy. Working your way UP the thoughts/intimacy side of the triangle is truly an upward climb (hence the ladder in the photo) and takes a lot of work – it takes a LOT of reconnecting.
Reconnecting is what B and I are doing right now. We are both committed to this. We are both making GOOD efforts to reconnect with one another. Reconnecting takes more than a weekly date night – it takes daily work. Some days, we aren’t able to do it – we just aren’t. Some days, there’s just no reconnecting. But most days, there is. Most days, we focus on our thoughts and intimacy and really build our team and make it stronger.
I don’t know how any couple can do this – can build and keep a strong connection – when putting their children first. I just don’t. Dr. Dan has stated this to me time and time again, and it makes me feel great that I’ve known this and believed it all along, and just needed reminding. I’m so glad that my dad taught me this at the tender age of 6 or 7. And I’m glad that B and I are teaching our children this right now. Our children won’t have strong relationships themselves unless they have a strong relationship at home to look to.
Marriage first, children second. Of course Matthew’s basic needs (food, water, shelter, cleanliness, health, etc.) always come first for both of us – ALWAYS. But that’s not what Guiliana was talking about. That’s not what my dad was talking about. That’s not what Dr. Dan talks about. The spousal relationship must always come first so that a strong, loving foundation is there for our children, and for us, to feel safe and secure within.
“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage.”
Words to live by!
* I do not pay attention to US Weekly, or any other celebrity gossip column for that matter, so this “story” was not on my radar until PAIL put it there. Yes, I live under a rock, but I prefer it that way 😉 Of course, I am not passing judgement on anyone who does enjoy celebrity gossip – I enjoy a nice long line at the checkout counter at the grocery store once in a while so I can catch up on it too!