My husband and I didn’t notice that we were ignoring each other. Somehow in the past few years, we had slowly drifted apart until we were completely disconnected from each other.
It’s like when we brought our 12-year-old dog to her recent checkup; as she stepped onto the scale, we were shocked to find that she had somehow gained 30 pounds in the last couple of years. Of course, my husband and I knew our dog had put on weight, but it had happened so slowly that neither of us had noticed how unhealthy she had become.
The same thing was happening in our marriage. These slow changes just sneak up on you.
People used to call my husband and me a sweet nickname: “America’s Sweethearts.” When we met eight years ago, it was literally love-at-first-sight (something I had never believed in before it happened to me) and we’ve been inseparable ever since. We are well-matched: We love the same foods, read the same books, and listen to the same music. More importantly, we share a similar vision for our lives. Together we’ve had many great adventures, like when we lived out of our pick-up truck and our three-week honeymoon road trip.
After our first child was born, we bought a foreclosure that was almost uninhabitable and fixed it up ourselves. But being parents and working hard to keep up with our mortgage was sapping the energy from our marriage. In the past year, since our second child was born, we’ve only been on two dates.
One day, sitting at the breakfast table, I mentioned giving my husband a kiss. My 4-year-old giggled. “You and Daddy don’t kiss!” he said, as though that was the most ridiculous thing in the world. That’s the moment I realized that my husband and I had become more like roommates than a romantic couple.
Our daily routine leaves little time for romance. I don’t see my husband in the mornings. He gets up early to take our son to school and then heads straight to work while I take care of the baby. In the evenings, my husband comes home in time to eat dinner (unless he has a late meeting, then he misses dinner altogether). The next few hours are a flurry of eating dinner, playing with the kids, bath time, and bedtime routines.
Somewhere in there, I would clean up the dinner mess, throwing most of the dishes in the dishwasher and quickly washing the pots and pans by hand. My husband always offered to help clean up, but I told him, “Doing this is relaxing for me. You should play with the kids since you haven’t seen them all day.” It’s true; I had so little alone time that I would volunteer for dish duty just to have a moment to myself.
By the time the kids were finally in bed, we were always both so tired. We would just barely have enough energy to retreat into our devices or read a book for a few minutes before falling asleep ourselves. We were often too tired to even stay awake and watch a show together.
Then the dishwasher broke.
As we went about our usual evening routine, I was overwhelmed by the mountain of dishes I now had to wash by hand. Again my husband offered to help out. “No, I’ve got this,” I responded, but when I looked back, I saw that the counter and the sink were completely filled. There were so many dirty dishes that when they were washed, all the clean ones wouldn’t fit into the strainer. They wouldn’t even fit on the counter. I would have to wash some, dry those, and put those away and then repeat and repeat again.
Agreeing to accept help was hard. I’m the stay-at-home parent. I don’t earn a regular paycheck or leave the house to go to work. I feel like doing more than my share of the daily household chores is a small way that I can contribute to our family. But, those dishes were piled so high and the day had been so long.
“Yeah,” I admitted, “I could use a little help.”
I stepped out of the kitchen and joined my husband and children playing in the living room. Then my husband and I gave the kids a bath. Afterward, I nursed the baby to sleep while my husband brushed our 4-year-old boy’s teeth and read him a story. Once both children were tucked into their beds, instead of ducking our heads into a device or a book, we headed into the kitchen to tackle the dishes. I think our cozy bed was calling to both of us, but instead, I picked up the sponge and my husband picked up the dish towel. I washed the dishes while my husband dried and put them away.
At first it was all business as we silently decompressed. But then we started talking about what had happened during our separate days. That conversation shifted into another and another. We were smiling and laughing together. Instead of feeling exhausted, we actually felt energized.
As I finished rinsing the last plate, I looked over at the dish drainer. It was empty and the counter was spotless. While I had been washing, my husband had been keeping a perfect pace with me. We still make a really good team.
America’s sweethearts were now bonding over dirty dishes. Doing a chore together isn’t as romantic as a seaside vacation. But in marriage, things are rarely picture-perfect. When you spend your life with someone, it is easy to think that person is always going to be there so you don’t really have to pay them much attention. It’s easy to take their love for granted. I’m learning that in a strong, long-lasting marriage, you have to adapt to your circumstances and find a connection despite all the trials of adult life.
The next night, we did the same thing: waited until the kids were in bed and did the dishes together while catching up about the day. Then we started a 1000 piece puzzle and stayed up late making jokes and telling stories. My husband and I were finding each other again and falling in love all over again. As we continued to make time for each other, our newfound romance started to come out in our other interactions.
My husband and I are becoming pros at finding the little moments to reconnect with each other. Yesterday, while driving home from the science museum, both kids fell asleep. My husband started streaming ‘90s music over his phone and plugged into our car’s sound system. We have always been too embarrassed to admit we still like these songs. But alone in the car together, we sang every lyric at the top of our lungs, reminiscing about our separate but similar teenage lives.
My husband and I have rekindled our marriage. We are no longer just acting like roommates. We are two adults in love with each other. Our lives together once again feel like an incredibly journey.
Our 4-year-old has even stopped squealing when he sees us kiss.
Also published on Scary Mommy.