Imagine that kids are ivy and a your relationship is a brick wall. The ivy grows on the wall and it all looks beautiful, but look a little closer and the ivy is slowly but surely undermining the solid structure that once stood. Ivy can have a devastating effect on bricks and mortar, no matter how strong it once stood and the arrival of kids can really put even the best of relationships under serious strain.
When it comes to my own relationship, all I can say is that it’s been tough. It’s been rocky and stressful and at times it’s seemed impossible to see a way through. There are times when we’ve felt less like the brick wall and more as if we’re just banging our heads against one over and over again. We can pinpoint the arrival of the kids as the moment at which it started to break down – for a number of reasons – and now, we stand at a point where we have to do something to stop us sliding to a point of no return; a point where our default reactions are often resentment and anger rather than love and trust.
I could easily launch into an attack on my husband and all the little, shitty things he does that drive me insane, because that’s what we do, isn’t it? As mothers we bond, often in a lighthearted way, over the consistent infractions our husbands are guilty of – the dirty plates on the counter above the dishwasher but never, infuriatingly, in the dishwasher; the stand off between them and the vacuum, or the mop or the iron; an ignorance of the emotional load. I’m guilty of it as much as the next person. It’s very, very easy for me to see exactly what he does wrong, when he’s thoughtless, when he behaves badly or unkindly and give me an hour and a bottle of wine and I can list them all fluently and, I wouldn’t be wrong. He isn’t perfect and sometimes he does get it very very wrong, but if I want to make it better is it enough to list his shortcomings and ask him to change?
What I’m realising thanks to a shit load of therapy (traditional, paid-for therapy with a qualified therapist as well as wine-fuelled therapy with some of my girlfriends) is that that’s only half the story. There’s two of us here which means the narrative runs both ways. It’s easy for me to rattle off all the things that he’s done to allow our relationship to slip, but how easy is it for me to identify and take responsibility for the things I have done? It’s not just me that’s feeling unsettled, unfulfilled in this relationship and if that’s the case, what is it I’m doing that’s making it difficult for him? If my husband woke up one morning and was magically my perfect husband doing everything I asked and wanted and hoped for…would we be happy? Well I might be, but he probably wouldn’t be.
As women and mums we often take comfort in each other’s relationship sob stories. We surround ourselves with them and use those shared experiences as a way of validating our feelings. “If all my friends feel the same way and think the same things, then I must be right.” But I’m starting to realise that if our husbands sat down and talked about us the same way, they’d experience the same thing. They’d all nod their heads as one of them spoke about what a controlling nightmare his wife is and the others would be muttering things like, “It’s exactly the same in our relationship.”
I’m starting to be able to identify what I do that makes my husband unhappy. I’m starting to be able to take responsibility for it and try to change it. I’m at the beginning of the process and I’m definitely not nailing it but even just recognising the need for me to focus on, and take responsibility for, my own negative behaviour rather than be so fixated with his has been a huge step.
I think we can all get into the habit of treating our partners badly. Sharon Horgan says in Catastrophe, “I’d never behave in the real world like I do at home,” and it really struck a chord with me. I’d never treat my friends like I sometimes treat my husband. I’d certainly never speak to them the way I speak to him sometimes. It’s possible that I’m just a mega bitch and it’s just me but if you’re struggling in your relationship, perhaps take a minute to privately, quietly and honestly think about what you do that could be damaging the dynamic.
Because here’s the kicker: even if I was convinced that my husband is the root of all the problems in my relationship, I can’t change his behaviour. I can beg and ask and demand but that’s not going to work until he recognises it and changes it himself. So in the meantime, I’m going to work on what I can control which is my behaviour, my choices, my reactions and responses and see how that goes. I suspect that as soon as I take responsibility for that and make my own changes, the improvements will start.