For my birthday in February Shawn and I took a trip to San Diego. It was our first trip together in two years—long before his heart, and our world, stopped. We thought we could use the time to recharge, to reconnect, to remember what it’s like to be someone other than Mom and Dad.
But what happened on that trip was this—we didn’t remember. We had lost our footing in feeling comfortable as a couple. We (mainly me) had no idea what to do without our little people around to distract us. So I just scheduled a lot of activities and excursions—if we were on the go maybe we wouldn’t feel the gap in our marriage. It was awkward, and exhausting, and on the last day I let my depression get the best of me and didn’t even leave the bed.
I returned home anything but recharged, and very, very regretful.
I regretted the fact that I let a prime opportunity to reignite our marriage slip away. If I couldn’t do it in sunny San Diego, it surely wasn’t going to happen at home, in the middle of preschool purgatory. It had been years since our last getaway and who knows when another one would come. We don’t have the time, or resources, or babysitters to be jet setting every week.
But a funny thing happens when you open yourself up to the universe—when you’re honest about where you’re at and what you need. Because very soon after the San Diego disaster, Shawn came home and said his boss had fought for him to attend their annual President’s Trip—a reward trip someone in Shawn’s position isn’t usually eligible for—but because of his hard work, an exception had been made.
We were going to the Dominican Republic on the company’s dime.
Let me stop and say this: the things that annoy me the most about my husband now are the things that attracted me the most at the beginning. And isn’t that always the way? After a life of inconsistency, I had found the most stable and consistent man. I call him my “floater”—he’s just happy where you put him. He’s happy to let me lead, and plan, and be the spotlight seeker while he fans my flame from behind. He is a man of few words, but when he speaks his words matter. He cleans my car every Sunday, and washes every dish, and hangs every frame, and steps in where it matters most when his wife checks out and refuses to be talked to or touched.
But I wasn’t seeing any of that anymore. All I was seeing was someone on mute. Someone who would never be the life of the party—and never fully know me.
When Shawn’s heart stopped, the predictability I so desperately craved was ripped away. And in defense, I put up a wall. No more getting close to a man who wouldn’t be with me long. So the Dominican trip brought worry rather than excitement. I saw what happened in San Diego, and what had really changed since? We were still so disconnected. And in my mind a secluded beach with no distraction would only further that. What would we even say to each other? You see, if you want my intimacy, you have to reach my mind. And as I’ve said, my husband is not a conversationalist.
But on that trip—somewhere between the surf, and sun, and sipping fruity cocktails in a cabana chair—something shifted. I saw what those alleged annoyances offered. What people with less talk and more meaningful walks can do. We were given this chance at paradise because of Shawn’s loyalty, and hard work, and yes, his steadfast consistency. And I began to realize that if his boss could acknowledge and reward those traits, so should his wife.
We didn’t say a lot on that trip, but instead of becoming annoyed, I accepted it. I accepted that there’s power in the silences of marriage, in the small moments. That’s where intimacy hides. It hides in the hundreds of breakfast meals you’ve shared, and the bedtime routines, and the looks you exchange from across the room when your kids are driving you crazy. And before you know it, you have shared history. You have stories that simply cannot be separated. All of those minute moments you’ve disregarded add up, and you are suddenly someone’s air—usually unnoticed, but so necessary to survive.
When Shawn got sick I obsessed over all we lost, but he didn’t react that way. He carried on without complaint. He just got up, and lived some more, and provided for his family without missing a beat. It was his crisis, and yet his number one priority was to bring me comfort—and put gas in my car.
Turns out, I’d trade the life of the party for that any day.
So what I’ve discovered is this: the consistency never left, it just took a different shape. And as with any marriage, the person you committed to in that chapel may morph over the years. They may become a pale comparison of the man or woman you once knew, and thank goodness for that. Life gives you opportunities to let the old fall away and the good to stay.
We just have to readjust the lens in which we see our spouse through at times.