About two years into our marriage, I was not a happy camper.
I was frustrated working two jobs–one as a part-time night-shift nurse in an area that I didn’t have a lot of passion for and another job from home–and in caring for our two young daughters who arrived within two years of each other in our marriage.
There were things about my life that I longed to change, but didn’t know how.
I was overwhelmed with a lot of things at home and in work and felt trapped by circumstances that felt out of my control.
And like a lot of cliche mothers, I was pretty exhausted by the demands of being the primary stay-at-home parent, all on top of my night shifts as a nurse.
In short, I was a miserable, overworked, grumpy woman. But instead of changing my circumstances or evaluating myself and my own life, I did what a lot of miserable, overworked, grumpy woman do–
I took out my frustrations on my husband.
Doesn’t he understand how overworked I am? I would think to myself. Can’t he see that I need a break? I mean, do I really need to explain to him how hard this is?
I would hear of other wives whose husbands made them spend time on themselves; one husband forced his wife out of the house for a mani-pedi, another insisted that she have one night a week to herself.
I would burn with jealousy, simmering in my own discontent while I wondered why my husband couldn’t do those things. I mean sure, even though he had never been the type of person to plan things, even though I was the “planner” of the relationship, couldn’t he see that I wanted him to plan something nice for me once in a while?
My self-destructive thinking sent me in a downward cycle of negativity for a long time. I was distraught and depressed and I felt like I shouldn’t have to spell it out for him–obviously something was wrong with me, so why wouldn’t he try to fix it for me?
I had fallen prey to the myth of the romantic comedy version of marriage–the myth of the Prince Charming.
For some reason, I expected my husband to change from the person he was while I was dating him to someone who knew, instinctively and explicitly, what it was that I needed to be happy–even if I didn’t know what I needed myself.
I expected him to sweep me off of my feet, to toil on ceaselessly with his own work, yet bow down at my feet, because after all, wasn’t I the one slaving away caring for our children? Didn’t every blog and article I read tell me how hard child-rearing was? Didn’t I deserve to be the having-it-all martyr here?
My friends, my thinking was toxic–and it almost destroyed my marriage. It got to the point where we were cold, steely-faced strangers in our own house, barely saying words that weren’t full of bitter resentment or ending in exhausting fight after fight.
It all culminated one night, after a particularly exhausting overnight shift that I worked. I hadn’t been able to sleep the next day and we were supposed to go to a family party that evening. I was so tired I felt sick and almost delirious and, of course, I was frustrated that my husband expected me to go. Couldn’t he see that I needed to rest? Why did he always put everyone’s else’s needs before mine? He doesn’t care about me at all!
Finally, after yelling at him for things I am ashamed to admit that I still, to this day, can’t remember, he exploded at me.
“Chaunie, find your own happiness!” he yelled.
And then he walked out of the door.
I sat, curled up like the pathetic shell of a wife that I was, too stunned to move. Because, by golly, he had hit the nail on the head. After everything and all of my immature pouting, he really did get to the root of the problem.
I wasn’t happy. And I expected him to fix that. Because he was my husband. And that’s what husbands do, right? They are the Prince Charmings that sweep us off of our feet and make us happy forever and ever. The End.
Except that it’s a complete myth. My husband couldn’t make me happy–only I could do that.
So, slowly, like a reformed addict, I started to change my ways. I stopped thinking that just because I was doing the brunt of the childcare that I deserved some kind of special martyr-like accolades. I asked how his day went instead of immediately sighing and complaining about how awful the kids were that day. I made an effort to appreciate his efforts. I started pursuing my dream of becoming a writer. I stopped expecting him to know what I needed and instead, when he came home from work, I would hand over the kids and tell him I was going for a run. I made time for the things that I needed to feel fulfilled as a woman and a wife and stopped punishing him for things that were entirely out of his control.
And wouldn’t you know it, when I stopped expecting him to be the Prince and solve all of my problems?
He suddenly looked a lot more charming.
Image via J & J Brusie Photography