What is the most important relationship in your life? For me is the one I have with my husband and it has been that way since we found each other and starter dating in college close to a decade ago. As my “number one” he shares all my ups and downs with me; when I’m cracking up as well as when I’m cracking down on him for not helping me put the laundry away; when I’m full of tears of joy as I find my belly inhabited by a baby and also when my tears are sad as I long for the important people in my life who live faraway.
He’s the one person who has been there through every milestone of my adult life. Holding my hand as our babies came to this world, cheering me on as I made the decision to stay home with them. We are so intertwined that I’m guilty of taking his presence in my life for granted many times.
About a year ago, between organizing activities for the children and making some time to hit the gym, I found myself listening to a, somewhat eye-opening TED Talk from Esther Perel: The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship. I found it intriguing and many of the things she said were so true to my situation then, that I didn’t stop with the TED Talk and checked out her book on the topic too: Mating in Captivity -Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic.
The chapter on parenthood and how it sometimes creates a wall between you and your sexy-prior-to-children-playful self was just what I needed to read in so many levels. First of all it made think about how the fact that you married someone for life doesn’t automatically account for making this person happy every day for the rest of your life. If you worked hard on your relationship when you were courting and dating them, then you have to work even harder when you have a household, a routine, bills to pay and children to look after. The fact that we both wear a ring that bonds us together doesn’t mean that we are now exempt from flirting, from making each other feel special, sexy, wanted. It made me realize of how important is to take those 5 seconds aside from my day to send him a loving text, to give him an unexpected kiss, to slip a little note in his jacket.
Secondly, it help me be least severe with me as I understood that motherhood with all its wonderful responsibilities is hard on every woman, not just on me. Even harder in this generation that wants to have it all. Success in every way: as a mom, as a career woman or a stay at home mom, as the home scheduler, as the perfect lover. We put so much pressure on ourselves and for no reason. Nobody is expecting of us as much as we are expecting of ourselves.
Perel said something that hit me hard: We see having a “tidy household as a symbol of successful motherhood.” So we are sleep deprived, moody and tired trying to entertain preschoolers while making a fabulous dinner from scratch and making the house look like a photo in an interior design magazine. And perhaps we do this, or at least it was in my case, because by having order outside, we attempt to bring peace inside. The truth is that none of that ever gave me as much joy as just laying in bed with my cubs and my husband doing nothing but tickling each other. I knew I needed to give up that need of having the perfect-looking house if I ever wanted to get rid of the stress that was preventing me from spending at least 10 minutes of happy conversation with my husband at the end of the day.
Lastly, the book or rather the chapter about the challenges that parenthood brings to your sexual life (or even just your life as a couple), helped me see that I was not the only one feeling like I was failing my husband. Furthermore, it opened me to spend more time with him just being him and I, not a tired mom and dad. Even 10 minutes a day dedicated to our marriage and nothing else, allows me to finish my day with a smile and to start the next feeling happy.
I have to say that finding Perel’s work was serendipitous but the steps that my husband and I have taken to get closer and to continue dating each other have been purposeful. We invest in the most important asset in our household: our love for each other and for our children. And we do this by making sure we have a budget set aside for the sitter, we spend time with each other but also with friends, we each have activities that we do on our own to recharge when we are very stressed out and I have learned to listen to the people around me who tell me that is OK not to excel at everything in life.
At the end of the day, nothing matters more than that special relationship with the man I love and the children we have together.