love, writing, and keeping the pipes clean
We were in the middle of the dance floor, band in full swing, people dancing all around us when she stepped close to me, eyes intense, and said, “I love him. I really do. I love him. But…”
Meanwhile, I could see her husband in my peripheral vision happily dancing behind her, oblivious to the fact that his wife is clutching a final straw. Though her and I are about one conversation away from being total strangers, as we stood there together, woman to woman, an island in our own world, I saw clearly what she needed, knew well that look in her eyes.
It was the set look of a woman who has been in the trenches of raising babies for nearly a decade, a woman who is ready to bloom again, this time within herself. And she is trying to tell her husband this, trying to tell him that she wants to get back to nurturing herself, to nurturing their relationship, wants to evolve within her marriage and family.
She keeps telling him this.
But he is not hearing her.
He doesn’t understand. He adores her! He respects her! He keeps his head down and works his ass off to provide for their family! He is doing the best he can. What more can he do?
Pick his head up and listen. Be here now, not buried in work, but reveling in the family they have built together.
We fall in love and get married, our eyes fixed on each other, fixed on the excitement of building a life together. Then we have children and get down to the near-constant work of raising them. As we usher them into their first years of school, the dust settles a little and our gaze rises back up to meet those of our partner’s. If we have not cared for and fed our marriage, this is the time when we feel and see the consequences of it.
Like a garden, a marriage needs constant tending—pulling weeds, feeding it our attention and love. If we have neglected our marriage while raising babies, and if we care about this thing and still want to live ‘til death do us part, we must kneel down together on that dry, cracked ground and start the work of bringing it back, of tending to the earth and soul of our relationship. When our dreamed-about futures become day-to-day life, when there are no ice sculptures at the dinner table or honeymoon chocolates on the pillow, then the real work, the soul work, of a relationship begins.
Communication is the major artery of a marriage. If we don’t clean the pipes on a regular basis, flush out the grievances and hurt feelings and misunderstandings and resentments, these things build up fast, and relationships sag and grow tired under the weight of it all.
This woman to whom I am referring has seen pictures of my husband and I biking and traveling with our family, always smiling, looking connected and happy. Many people say they look up to us, to our relationship, and hope/wish they could have the same.
Well, these people have not seen us shut up in our closet, nose-to-nose, yelling to be heard. They have not seen the jar of peanut butter sail across the kitchen and explode against the back wall. They have not pushed the picture aside in our kitchen to see the fist-shaped hole behind it. They have not seen the tears or struggle or the nights spent up all night talking and mending. They have not seen the investment of time, heart, and vulnerability.
And they have not visited the pages of our journals.
These are not journals in the diary-sense of the word. They are workbooks, and within them, they hold our last straws, when verbal communication fails to break through. It is within these pages that we work to stay connected, to stay smiling on the inside, to hold up that promise we made to each other on our wedding day—to have, hold, honor, and love.
We do not have to be writers to keep a relationship journal. This is not about writing. It is about communicating, about working together to hear and be heard when tensions run high. And it is also about saving those moments that would otherwise be lost in the gray matter of our brains. It is about remembering and letting go, all at once. It’s about saying yes to the whole adventure—the joy and the pain, frustration and the comfort, the work and the play.
Because this life together? This is a soul adventure.
After ten years of marriage, here is a glimpse into the real work of keeping pipes clean, passion high, and love strong: