Marriage - it's bloody hard work isn't it? Nobody tells you that of course, well maybe they do but you're just so loved up that you don't hear them at the time and suddenly your years down the line niggling at each other over who's turn it is to empty the dishwasher.
I'm not going to lie, our marriage went through an incredibly rough patch. It was horrible and nasty, unkind things were said by both of us, we shouted, we slammed doors, we ignored each other and we planned lives that didn't involve the other one of us. But one evening as we sat apart on the sofa watching tv, he reached out and took my hand, something that hadn't happened for quite a while, at first I wanted to resist the closeness but I relaxed into it and after a few minutes he pulled me close and put his arm around me. We stayed like that for ages, neither of us speaking, both just watching the television and both realising that we had too much together to throw it all away. It was my fault that things had started to go wrong. I was bored of the routine of our lives, I was tired of constantly cooking and cleaning and making all the plans. I wanted to be showered with love and affection and made to feel special. Ultimately, I wanted to be a Disney Princess, not every day but at least some days would have been nice. So I started to pick at the seams of our marriage, I complained about things that annoyed me, I compared our relationship to those of our friends and I wished for a life that I didn't have. I almost killed my marriage.
A year later and things are a lot better. We're not back at that early stage where you are madly deeply in love with each other and nobody else in the world exists - we've got kids, there's no hope of having enough spare time to feel like that! But we are back at the stage where we appreciate each other. We are grateful for what each of us brings to the marriage and we are a team again. Instead of focusing on our individual lives we are making decisions together, we are working through problems together and we are spending time together. It's not all love hearts and romantic gestures, we still argue over things but they are the right things to be arguing over, not silly, unimportant fights that are caused just for the sake of it and the fights are sensible disagreements, not screaming abuse at each other or walking out of the house because we can't get our own way. We have learnt to listen to each other's opinions, to 'fight right' and to compromise wherever possible and it feels good, it feels like we've grown up and reached a new point in our relationship, a happy place that makes me glad to go home of an evening.
The second month of my Happiness Project focused on our marriage and I entered this month with a little trepidation. Was it going to bring back those feelings that I had a year ago? Was the stress and emotion that I had done so well to overcome and move on from going to come tumbling back into my life again and make me question my decisions and were the goals this month going to highlight issues that had been pushed to the side or forgotten and put our marriage back in jeopardy?
Gretchen Rubin entitled month two of her Happiness Project Remember Love and at first I almost scoffed at this. Who needs to remember love? It's obvious right? If you're with someone it's because you love them. But it's not as clean cut as that. Quite often people stay together because of extenuating factors such as children or because they can't afford to live separately. Is this what had happened in my marriage? Had I stayed because of the kids? A year ago I thought that was the reason I stayed, but as I worked through my goals this month I understood that I had stayed because I wanted to, because I had married my 'one true love' and because there was nobody else that I wanted to grow old with.
I knew that in order to give my marriage the best possible chance of survival and for us both to be happy some things needed to change and month two's goals gave me the opportunity to make those changes. I wasn't sure if I would be able to keep it all up, I was worried that I would get resentful that it was me putting in all the work and that I would simply get bored of trying, but in the end it made me feel good to be able to show Mark that I was committed to our relationship and that the past was most definitely in the past.
It's very easy in a marriage to get bogged down with all the crappy stuff and I found myself often getting annoyed that Mark hadn't done certain jobs around the house, jobs that I thought were obvious and I couldn't see how he had overlooked them. I would nag him about them or just completely lose my head and shout and scream about the fact they hadn't been done. So the first of my goals was to quit nagging. Instead of asking repeatedly for Mark to do things I simply did them myself, or just ignored them until such time that he noticed that they needed doing. I thought it would wind me up having to take on extra chores or to walk past the same things day in day out and notice that they still hadn't been done, but it had the opposite effect. I felt happier because although I had had to do various jobs myself it still meant that they were done and I was able to tick them off of the 'To Do' list. It also meant that I suddenly noticed all of the things that Mark did without me asking or nagging, for example he would put a load of laundry on if he was working from home, or he would clean up the garden behind the dog - something that I hadn't noticed that he was doing and was very grateful that I didn't have to do! Things were getting done every day, but because I had been too busy focusing on all the things that were annoying me I had missed seeing that they were being done and I made a point of thanking Mark for all his help each day.
One of my worst habits is to 'expect praise' and this was a tough one for me to break. The husband of one of my friends will regularly post on Facebook how amazing his wife is because she has cooked an awesome dinner, or she's achieved something at work, or cleaned the house before he came home from work etc. It's lovely that he does that for her, but I found that it would wind me up because Mark never did that for me. I wanted to be praised for cooking a nice dinner or for spending the day cleaning the house from top to bottom. I didn't just want him to say 'well done' to my face, but I wanted him to announce it on social media too, I wanted it sung from the rooftops just how amazing I was! Ugh, what an idiot I was, Mark has never been one to announce stuff on social media so why on earth would he start doing it now? It was during a conversation about his day at work that I realised that he actually does praise me a lot, just not to my face. He was telling me about a conversation with his boss and that his boss had asked about how my new job was going and I was astounded. Not only had he taken the time to talk to his boss about me, but he had told him what a great job I was doing and how much I was enjoying it. The fact that he had taken the time to tell somebody who had only ever met me once about my job was all the praise I needed, it proved to me that he was more than aware of what I was 'achieving' and he was telling people about it in his own way and I haven't once expected praise since that conversation.
The only goal that I probably haven't done as well at is 'no moaning'. I have got a lot better, but every now and again my fibromyalgia pains get too bad and I get a little whiny about it. I'm a very needy patient when I don't feel good and Mark is the complete opposite, he prefers to be left alone until he feels better. So when I'm not feeling great and he doesn't coo over me or bring me a blanket and sit with me, I get grumpy and I moan about the lack of compassion. I forget that he has cooked dinner and done all the clearing up so that I don't have to or that he has walked Chester to give me time to relax. I have stopped moaning about other things though, I rarely call him at work to moan about the kids' behaviour anymore (is that because they have become better behaved or because I am getting more sleep each night now and can deal with it better? I'm not sure, I think it's a combination of both.) and I don't moan at the dinner table about having had a rubbish day. We often do 'Day High, Day Low' while we are having dinner and each person gets the chance to talk about something really good that has happened and something that was a bit rubbish too. When it gets to my turn I try to choose something really trivial as my Day Low so that I'm not sounding like I'm moaning so much, so I might say that my Day Low was not getting to watch a programme on television rather than that I had a really bad day at work. It's still a slight moan, but come one, nobody has a perfect day every day!
The last of my goals this month was to Give Proofs of Love. This wasn't about showering Mark with gifts nor was it about public displays of affection but it was about finding different ways of showing him that I love him. Mark is impossible to buy gifts for but I bought him little treats throughout the month, for example they had Galaxy cookies on sale when I was doing the grocery shop so I bought them rather than the kids' favourite for a change and he loved that little touch. I gave him time to watch Game Of Thrones while and I put my book down in bed to snuggle up and watch a movie with him instead of reading. I also made a point of being more affectionate towards him as this was something that we had stopped doing when things had gone off the tracks. So I made sure that I gave him a hug when he wasn't expecting it, or held his hand when we walked the dog (much to the disgust of the kids who apparently found it embarrassing to see their parents hold hands!) and I made sure that I said 'I love you' every night before I fell asleep.
I have finished the month feeling happier than I had expected to. I am content, I am secure in my marriage and I am ready to face whatever the future holds for us. I will continue to use these goals each month to remind myself what a good thing I have and that it is important to work at it, because the minute you become complacent you let doubt and insecurity creep in and I don't need either of those things in my life. What I do need is my husband who loves me so much more than I ever realised or gave him credit for and I will prove to him every day that I love him just as much.
My motto for my Happiness Project is There Is Only Love and this month proved that.