There’s nothing like death to appreciate life. And there’s nothing like watching the heartbreak and the disintegration of a friend’s marriage to appreciate your own.
Relationships are hard work, and they can take even more work once kids come along. Work that no one has the time or patience to do.
Over the last year I have watched my friend’s heart unravel. I’ve heard all the small ways a loving relationship can turn into a painful one. It’s been hard to witness, but it’s made me take a serious look at my own marriage. It’s helped me to appreciate what I do have, but also to pay more attention to the details that matter.
I would much prefer she wasn’t going through this at all, but it has taught me some important things. They are simple and obvious, but sometimes get missed in the chaotic mix of work and family life.
#1. Laughter is the best medicine
There isn’t much laughter happening in my friend’s home right now. When life is stressful it’s harder to laugh at the small stuff.
But seeing the humour in life is what keeps humanity going. Laughter helps to expand that narrow pinprick of anger through which you are looking at the world. It gives us more perspective and everything becomes lighter.
Lucky for me, my husband thinks he’s hilarious. And while dad jokes aren’t always my cup of tea, if I take a breath and allow myself to laugh, it dissipates my anger immediately.
#2. Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless
So said Mother Teresa, but you don’t need to be a saint to be kind.
When I talk to my friend, the thing that strikes me most is how deliberately unkind her husband is to her. I think it hit me hard because it’s the smallest thing that every relationship needs.
And yet I’m guilty of not being kind. I’m not unkind, but seeing the impact of this treatment on my friend, I realised the difference deliberate acts of kindness can make.
Saying hello and giving my husband a hug when I get in the door. Asking how he’s feeling and listening to the answer. Getting him a drink without being asked to. Asking if he’d like time out with his friends.
Sometimes my “to do” list fills up my brain so much I can’t see the space for anything else.
But kindness doesn’t take time or planning, it just takes a little bit of thought.
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#3. Appreciate the small things
There’s a lot of things that my friend is going through right now. Along with all the emotional sh*tstorm of a relationship breaking down, she’s carrying the majority of the child rearing and domestic duties.
Housework, as I’ve said before, is an invisible form of labour. No one can see all the work you do because it’s all been done. They don’t see the piles of washing or the mess, and when you are doing endless amounts of domestic chores resentment can build up.
Resentment is more toxic than anger. It’s a slow simmering feeling fueled by being unappreciated. It has the ability to kill kindness, desire, even (ultimately) love. And it’s a very easy thing to avoid.
All it takes are a few words. “Thank you” can go a long way – particularly when you take the time to truly appreciate what you’re thanking someone for.
It could be a hot meal at the end of the day, or clean clothes folded neatly into your drawer. It could be putting time, effort and love into raising your children.
Two simple words that will act like pouring water on that simmering anger.
#4. We all need to be touched
It’s well-known that most humans need to be touched. It’s an inherent part of who we are, and if you have chosen to share your life with someone – touch is a part of that.
I’m not talking about sexual touch (though that has it’s place too), I’m talking about connecting with each other through affection.
My friend had not been hugged by her husband for two months. Two months!! It doesn’t matter if you have children who smother you in hugs and kisses – our partner is our rock, our base. We need their affection just as much.
I’m a hugger from way back. My kids can’t get away from me. But sometimes I forget how good it feels just to hug my husband, to give him a good old pash before he leaves for work. Even holding his hand as we walk down the street.
You don’t need to schedule hug time (reference from Trolls, people) to give someone the comfort of touch.
#5. Taking real time for each other
It’s inevitable that growing older, having kids, doing “life” changes us all. But sometimes it pays to remember where it is that you both came from, and if you have children together - chances are it came from a place of love.
Remembering what that was like sometimes requires more than a couple of hours at date night.
Recently my husband and I went away for the weekend. It was the first time we’d gone away together without the kids in four years. I wondered whether we’d even like each other.
As the time slipped by, we started to feel out a space where we were only responsible for ourselves. We didn’t need to worry about anyone else - and we started to relax. We started to remember what it was like to be a couple again.
We went to dinner, and while date night dinner is normally done and dusted in one hour, we spent three hours eating, talking and laughing. I had forgotten that his repertoire extended beyond dad jokes, and was delighted to realise that we did actually still like each other.
It’s really not hard to make your marriage a happy one.
I’m sorry it took my friend’s pain to help me see that, but I’m determined not to let it go to waste.
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