When Your Wife Says This, It’s Not A Good Thing (Trust Me)

I was a guest on a podcast a while ago where I was given hypothetical phrases from my wife, and I was supposed let them know how I’d respond. Naturally, this was a situation where I was asked to speak for all husbands, a place I’ve found myself in a number of times since I became a dad blogger. And while I do feel like I’m a pretty good man and a loving husband who is trying very hard to push for egalitarian relationships and equal partnership, the sad reality is, there are times that I, like most men, am a little clueless. There are times when I can’t see something what’s right in front of my face, and there are times when I sit stupidly at the table, lost in my own thoughts, as a child screams in the background, my wife elbow deep in making dinner and looking at me like I’m a sack of useless human garbage.

Case in point: the host asked, “What is your response when your wife says, ‘Never mind. I’ll get it.’”

With a straight face and honest conviction, I said, “Check.”

“Check?” she said.

“Yeah,” I said, “Check. As in, done. Problem solved. Mel handled it, so now I can work on something else.”

It was the sounds from the host that really gave it away. It was one of those painful sounds, the sound a person makes when someone unwittingly did a bone-headed thing. It was in that moment I realized I’d been doing something wrong for literally years. Is “wrong” the right word? I don’t know. Because I hadn’t done anything malicious. I hadn’t committed a sin or a crime or anything like that. I wasn’t going to jail.

What really was happening was me not understanding what my wife was actually saying. Which isn’t really wrong, per se. I don’t think there is a right and wrong here. But it was a source of tension that my wife hadn’t outwardly expressed to me, and as I sat listening to the host school me on what I ought to be picking up on, years of my wife saying “never mind, I got it” flashed before my eyes, and I realized how oblivious I’d been.

This all came to a head later that day, after work, as Mel was working on dinner, and I was putting my lunch dishes in the washer. I turned around to ask how her day was. She made this hard eye contact, one hand on her hip, and said, “Are you going to take out the trash?” She paused for a moment. Then she said, “You know what, never mind, I’ll get it.”

It was then that I realized she’d listened to the podcast. I smiled. She didn’t. Then I took out the trash.

And you know what, at this point we’ve been married for 14 years. We have three children and a mortgage and a minivan. We’ve lived in three different states, and while I feel like I know Mel pretty well, somehow, after everything we’d been through together, I’d missed this one. She must have said something to the tune of “never mind, I got it” a million times, from everything from getting the oil changed in the car, to changing light bulbs, to wiping a child’s butt. And every time I interpreted it as, “Check.” I never once saw this as a call to action. I never once saw this as her saying that she was fed up with waiting for me to get it done. I never once saw this as her telling me that I needed to get off my butt and handle it because it was something she really needed me to handle.

Does this make me a bad guy? I don’t think so. I hope not. In the grand scheme of marriage and family, this is a pretty small thing. But that’s the funny thing about being with someone for 5, 10, 20, 40 years, little things start to add up, and suddenly you find yourself cluelessly sleeping on the sofa, the whole night tossing and turning because you’re not sure what you did wrong.

Are there things I’m still missing? Probably. Could this be an issue of communication? Most likely. But that isn’t the point. The point is to realize that if your wife is saying something to the tune of “never mind. I’ll get it,” it’s not a good thing. That’s my pro tip for the day.

And while this might seem obvious to most readers, this is the reality of marriage, isn’t it? So much of it is trying to figure out your partner’s phrases and non-verbal cues. It’s about trying to understand what they are really saying without saying it. And while it would make more sense for us all to be open and honest with the person we love the most, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes we get tired of bringing it up. Sometimes we realize it would just be easier to do it ourselves rather than get into one more argument.

But right there, that’s where things start to fester, and suddenly a little thing becomes a big thing that might very well cause a separation. So much of communication in marriage comes down to sideways glances, rolled eyes, and saying something that really means something else. And the real test is taking a moment to sit down and ask yourself, what is my partner really saying?

And well… now I know.

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What They Really Mean By ‘You Marry Your In-Laws’

Like most married couples, my husband and I have a lot in common. For one, we share the same values we want to pass on to our kids. At 38, we’re spiritual but not religious, outdoorsy but not thrill-seekers. We’re also both control freaks (but only I will admit it). We’re self-aware, care too much what others think and are generally the by-the-book types. In many ways, we’re practically the same person.

So when we got married at the age of 30, with the wisdom and hindsight gained in our 20s, I figured the meshing of our individual lives would be relatively smooth. Now eight years and three kids in, I’ve come to realize that all we have in common doesn’t guarantee that one of us won’t stare at the other at 1 a.m. as if they’d just landed from Mars.

It’s taken me this long to understand the root of most of our differences. Although we come from the same ethnic culture, a factor some might say makes marriage easier, we grew up in very different family cultures—family culture being the habits, behaviors and pet peeves a family share.

One of the earliest signs of these differences for me came when I noticed that while my in-laws keep most, if not all, opinions to themselves, my family is overly generous with theirs. Where I went to school, who I married, whether to be a stay-at-home mom, my choice of friends (did I mention I’m 38?) were all topics considered up for discussion. This, of course, I believed was normal. Even worse, I believed that it’s how you show love. How else would one know you loved them if you didn’t take their decision of whether to breastfeed personally? Silence meant indifference and we are never indifferent.

My in-laws obviously aren’t indifferent to their children. They’re not monsters! They just generally exercise more self-control than my family and wait for their kids to solicit their advice—a concept that would probably confuse my parents. If their opinion wasn’t explicitly sought, my in-laws would listen, nod and move on with their day. You can imagine which one of us lays out a 6-part action plan for how our 6-year-old should deal with a classroom bully and which one offers little more than an “uh-huh.”

If self-care was a sport, my family would be drowning in Olympic gold. I can’t remember a time I laid down on my parent’s couch when my mother didn’t rush to cover me with a blanket. If I so much as sneezed, I was immediately waited on and catered to as “the ill one.” Soups, teas, snacks would flow in my direction for the duration of my illness. This continued into adulthood. When I developed chronic shoulder pain from carrying my kids, my sister suggested I get a professional massage at least once a week. She was not joking. Although warm and nurturing, this resulted in a very limited threshold for discomfort in our family.

On the other side of the spectrum come my in-laws. Massages, for instance, are viewed as almost unnatural. “What do you mean someone puts oil all over my near-naked body and rubs it?” At nearly 70, my mother-in-law will clean the house, buy groceries, cook, play piano, go for a long walk, do yoga and maybe also some knitting and then refer to that day as a lazy one. When she had a foot injury, she tried to heal it by “walking it off.” This may explain why after a weekend spent enjoying downtime with the kids, walking on the beach and watching some late-night shows together, my husband usually falls into a semi-depression Sunday nights for having just had an “unproductive” weekend. I, on the other hand, feel no such shame.

Because a sneeze rendered me ill as a child, I now have no issues admitting weakness. If I have a headache, I take a Tylenol. When I offer the same to my husband, he takes offense to it. He is also puzzled by the offer, as if his brain can’t make the connection between the statement “I have a headache” and my offer of Tylenol. They do not get sick. They walk it off. My mother-in-law, as I type this, is recovering from what was finally diagnosed by a doctor as pneumonia, which she has been self-treating with ginger and lemon teas for almost a year.

“I’m not sick,” she would say for months, “I just have a stubborn scratch in my throat.” Now that we have children of our own, I enforce a jackets-on policy all winter long while my husband seems perpetually oblivious to the seasons. When they’re sick, I set them up on the sofa with a blanket and their favorite show—the ultimate R&R formula—much like what my mother did with me. My husband gets home from work and convinces them a bike ride is what they need to fight the flu.

Along with being extremely productive people, my in-laws are also great at managing their finances. My family, on the other hand, is the if-there’s-money-in-the-bank-you-spend-it types. While the concept of “savings” did not enter my consciousness until years after I started working, my husband was able to make his first investment after graduating high school! He had been saving for years at that point. A few months ago, I was leaving for a trip and my mom was helping me shop when I explained that I needed a pair of shorts and didn’t have much time to find them. She then spent ten minutes trying to convince me to buy the beautiful coat she was holding “for the airplane.” I again explained that I was in a hurry and had absolutely no need for a new expensive coat, but that argument would just not register. She couldn’t make the connection between “I don’t need a new coat” and my refusing to buy one.

My in-laws may be great at managing their finances, but the same cannot be said of their possessions. I found their reluctance to part with any and all objects they’ve accrued over the years to be fascinating. My family, again, is the opposite. I’ve “lost” many an old pair of pants to Goodwill that my mother took upon herself to donate when I refused to give them up myself. The list of my involuntary donations has also included but was not limited to trinkets, art work, shoes, stuffed animals and musical instruments. Meanwhile, my husband, who’s still holding onto sweaters from high school, finds it endearing that most of his 45-year-old brother’s toy cars are still around for our kids to play with. He was also amused by the bottle of witch hazel we recently came across which had expired in May of 1982!

The differences you bring to a marriage can be frightening. But they can also be hilarious and that, to me, happens when they manifest themselves as pet peeves. Pet peeves are funny because they’re rarely rooted in logic and almost always elicit a reaction, which, of course, the person peeved is alone in thinking is warranted. They’re also interesting because you feel so strongly about them when they’re not genuinely your own. You likely internalized them from one or both parents early on in childhood. At least that’s the case for me and my husband. I was introduced to one of my husband’s pet peeves one day when he passionately reacted to our son simply resting his hand on a wall. Yes, it was a white wall, but I feel it necessary here to point out that his hand was squeaky clean. My son looked up at his dad in amazement, who then looked at me with back-me-up-on-this-eyes. I was too busy wondering who I married to help him. A couple of years later, I was having a lovely chat with my otherwise quiet, almost angelic mother-in-law when she leapt across the room and let out a high-pitched anxious warning to my nephew, who as it turned out, was resting his hands on her white wall. And there it was, I found the source at last.

My family isn’t immune to inexplicable pet peeves. One that my husband finds especially amusing is that we have unofficial assigned seating. So, when we, along with our spouses gather at my parents’ house a once week, we all sit in the same spots we’ve been sitting in for years. But when my husband joined our family, he gave it little thought and sat in the closest vacant seat, a safe move considering the absence of name cards on the sofas! He happened to sit in my mother’s spot though and was met with an eerie silence and a serious lack of eye contact from the entire family. To this day, he occasionally sits in the wrong place just to throw us off.

Differences in a marriage can be scary, but they are a blessing. They’re a constant source of entertainment in what otherwise can be a monotonous life. They’re also a daily exercise in compromise and, at times, tolerance. I find the balance they bring to my family to be crucial, especially for our kids … because when they notice that their mom is fuming because someone parked in her spot while their dad calmly waits, whistling while looking out the window, they, I hope, will land somewhere in the middle.

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The Basic Things That Become Super Sexy After You Have Kids

In the early days, relationships are simple. Or at least it was for us. Our relationship was long distance for years. We were there for each other through the hilarity of learning to drive — yea, we were late bloomers — and even our first jobs. We might have been poor as hell, but one thing we never struggled with was intimacy and romance.

But when we had kids a few years later, things got tough. I’ve heard plenty of couples share similar stories of hot and steamy pre-kid sex lives that have crashed and burned as their family grew.

It seems if you’re not careful and intentional, you’ll watch as one-on-one intimacy evaporates completely.

TLDR: sexy makes kids, but kids kill sexy.

The good news though, is that kids don’t need to kill sexy because a shortage of child-free moments has had an unintended effect on the way I see my partner. We’ve been married for half a decade and our thresholds for sexy have significantly decreased. Here are a few things that are suddenly sexy when you’re married with kids:

When they make dinner for you — and then feed the kids

Is there anything better than coming home to a hot meal after a long day’s work? Yes! I’ll tell you what’s better. Being at home all day with the children and having a partner who comes home and feeds the children for you.

It’s enough to make you “lose it” — in a good way.

A well-deserved apology

A lot of us have committed our lives to some stubborn individuals. I’m one of those people. We’re both bullheaded. I never back down from a fight. As a result, it’s rare that one of us directly apologizes when we’re wrong. But few things cause a tingle in my nether region like when my partner is up front and admits that he was wrong or misperceived a situation. Bottom line: maturity is sexy.

Planning Date Night

There are a lot of criticisms on the interwebs about how one partner is more likely to make an effort to plan dates in another. I won’t point any fingers about who that person is in my relationship, but I will say it’s not me. When McHub takes the time to schedule and plan dates for us it reminds me that he sees value in me even though he’s been with me a long time. Which, of course, gives me a reason to jump on him later.

Encouraging a break

It warms my heart when my husband takes the time to consider how much I’ve had to deal with while in mom mode and uses it as an opportunity to suggest I hang out with friends. The support and understanding I need access to a healthy social life make me feel considered and loved.

Checking in on our day

Being home with the kids drives me absolutely nuts some days. And there are plenty of times when I feel like my husband takes for granted just how difficult it is to keep my sanity and my job while full-time mothering. But lately, he’s been showing intentional effort to check in and see how my day has gone with the kids. Don’t get me wrong, they still drive me batshit bonkers. But knowing he cares about whether they’re stressing me out makes me feel a tad bit better.

Playing with the kids

I do most of the groundwork of child maintenance during the day. And unfortunately, they still expect the world from me — even when Dad comes home. The days when he comes home and he’s visibly tired but still takes a moment to interact and play with the children make me so proud to have chosen him as a partner.

Massages

Do I really have to explain this one? Who doesn’t love a good round of consensual touching?

When they initiate relationship “check-ins”

I have a lot of free time so I think about our relationship a lot. That causes me to ask lots of questions and conduct relationships “State of the Unions” to check in and see how we can improve.
But on the rare occasion he takes the time to ask the questions and initiate the relationship maintenance, I feel great. And frisky as hell.

Taking candid photos of us with the kids

Remembering that I want to be included in family photos doesn’t happen as frequently as I would like. But when he takes the time to take pictures of me with the kids without being prompted, it makes me smile.

Knowing they’re in it for the long haul

By far one of the sexiest non-sexual things I have experienced while married with kids is the reassurance that he’s in it for the long run. Getting married young is hard; having kids young is harder. Naturally, we have hard times. But the fact that he makes a daily intentional commitment to be here with us makes me love him more than anything.

As weird as it sounds, finding more non-sexual things sexy leaves me with a lot more non-traditional aphrodisiacs than I would have ever expected. Who says romance dies when you’re married with kids? You just gotta be creative and learn to listen and look for the new signs.

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My Husband Is A Better ‘Housekeeper’ Than Me

My friends think my husband is the perfect man. And, in some ways, they’re not wrong.

“Liz’s husband is the type of man who unloads the dishwasher, unbidden,” my best friend once lauded him. Indeed, he is the sole keeper of the dishwasher, loading and unloading it daily, without complaint. He takes out the recycling and the trash, including emptying the diaper can in our daughter’s nursery and enduring its gag-inducing odor. Sometimes, when I’m watching TV, I hear the dulcet whirr of the vacuum cleaner in the next room. He cleans out the fridge as soon as he notices so much as a speck of mold. He grocery shops and cooks marvelous meals.

Were he a CrossFit enthusiast, he’d be a candidate for the book series “Porn for Women,” which features handsome, muscular men—often shirtless—performing household tasks, accompanied by quotes like, “As soon as I finish the laundry, I’ll do the grocery shopping. And I’ll take the kids with me so you can relax.”

Unlike other wives I know, I never have to nag my husband about household chores. He just does them.

So, I’m the luckiest woman in the world, right? The thing is, sometimes living with this angel of domesticity makes me feel like a big fat failure.

Somewhere deep down, I believe should be the “housewife.” More specifically, my idea of a good mother is an overburdened housewife. I read so many stories about how mothers still bear the brunt of household chores, even when both spouses are working full-time. Since my husband and I both work, am I getting off easy? I contribute to our household in plenty of ways that don’t involve scrubbing or sauteeing, but somehow I still feed bad.

When I was growing up, I was not neat, and my family did not teach me how to clean. My father collects stuff of all kinds, and he would freak out when housekeepers rearranged his things. So, typically the house was in disarray.

My mother was more interested in her career as a painter and intellectual pursuits than in keeping house. (To her credit, she took care of me and my brother part-time for our entire childhoods.) As a result, mounds of dirty clothes accumulated in the laundry room.

My husband’s family, on the other hand, didn’t order takeout as frequently as we did or have a housekeeper. I’ve never seen my mother-in-law leave dirty dishes in the sink, as my mother frequently did.

Six years ago, for The Christian Science Monitor, I wrote a paean to my mother, praising her for finding time for her own pursuits, even if it meant putting off some household duties. Her behavior was a kind of feminist manifesto, I wrote—not modeling how to be a perfect housewife.

New York had recently run a cover story titled “The Feminist Housewife,” which cited a survey from the Families and Work Institute, in which women said that they detested housework and wished for more free time. Yet, when the women got more free time, they cleaned.

“Psychologists suggest that perhaps American women are heirs and slaves to some atavistic need to prove their worth through domestic perfectionism,” the reporter, Lisa Miller, wrote.

After my daughter was born, I suddenly began to identify with these women who feel guilty for not cooking or cleaning enough—in spite of admiring my mother’s unconventional approach.

I work as a freelance journalist, and I stay home with my daughter part-time. My husband has the same dual setup, and outside of that, we are good at splitting the child care. But, when my daughter was a newborn and I was taking time off of work, I cleaned obsessively during her naptimes and at night. I tried to cook more often. I bragged to my new mom friends about how much laundry I did.

My identity as a writer seemed to disappear. I didn’t give myself so much as a few moments to read or write in my journal.

And, I took for granted my own contributions to our household. Tucked away in my home office, I manage our finances, sort the mail and pay the bills. I buy our health insurance (my husband and I are both self-employed), a daunting task that requires hours of comparing plans. I pay our taxes. I’m the researcher—of travel, child care, you-name-it. Between our wedding and our baby, I’ve written more than 125 thank you notes (I worship at the temple of Emily Post). These are important tasks and things my husband isn’t good at.

There are also some household duties that are my responsibility, including laundry. I grocery shop and cook a couple of nights a week. But, I often fall behind on folding burp cloths and onesies, and I’m typically the one who suggests ordering takeout.

Most of my contributions aren’t things you can see. They don’t involve reaching to the back of the fridge with a soapy sponge, or carrying a heavy trash bag down two flights of stairs. Even though my husband always thanks me for what I do, I know he sometimes resents that he does the physically demanding work. He has joked with my brother that he is the “custodian” of our family (a fancy name for a janitor).

My therapist suggested that I need to accept my “21st century marriage.” Meaning, my husband does more of the cooking and cleaning, and I do the tasks that, in the past, were typically assigned to the man.

She also said, “As a new mom, you have a certain idea about what makes a ‘good mother.’ ”

I need to redefine “good mother” on my own terms, as my mother did. For me, that means working hard on my writing; I want my daughter to be proud of her mother’s professional and creative life. I’ve started using my daughter’s nap times to write, and finding other, less-precious time for laundry.

To accept my modern marriage, and my mothering, I need to stop apologizing for being a sub-par laundress and unreliable cook. I need to start really hearing it when my husband says “thank you” for making sure we pay our taxes on time. I need to remind myself of the unseen ways I contribute.

My new mantra is, “This family could not function without you. You are essential.”

Sure, my husband might sometimes resent that he does his work on his feet and I do my work from a desk. But is any marriage without resentment? (Hopefully, not too much.) I’m a perfectionist. But there’s no such thing as a perfect wife and mother.

So what if my husband is more of the “housewife” or “house-husband”? But, wait. Both of those terms are so terribly sexist. Why do we need to qualify marital roles by attaching one of them to “the house”? Both my husband and I make our household work, in different ways—ways that don’t need to be assigned a gender.

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Porn Has Changed My Marriage — For The Better

I was outside grilling shish-kababs with my husband while our kids were bouncing around like the jumping beans they are, when my phone buzzed with a text message from a good friend. “Call me. Jake and I are having serious issues.”

This friend is a bit of a dramatic, but still, I excused myself from the backyard cookout, dialed her number and waited for her to drop the bomb. While the line was ringing, all I could think was, what in the wide world did this sorry bastard do now? Am I going to have to open up the dusty can of good, old-fashioned whoop-ass on him? Dammit, I really liked him too. 

When she finally answered, her voice had just a touch of fury as she explained the events leading up to her and her husband’s argument. And when she finally gathered enough courage to spit it out, she told me, well, screamed at me, “I found porn in Jake’s browser history on his phone! Jake is watching porn!” She sounded as if the world had tipped off its freaking axis right then and there.

And I left the cookout — FRESH OFF THE GRILL SHISH-KABABS — for this?

For someone having no basis of being able to relate to her rational feelings, I did my best to somewhat comfort her distressed state. But at the same time, I gave her my honest opinion on the matter, and I can only imagine how she might’ve taken it to mean I was siding with her husband.

Because while I do understand how some women may feel betrayed by this, I just don’t feel this way. In this particular situation with my friend, she felt hurt because she was only three weeks postpartum, and she knew her body didn’t look like paid porn stars’ bodies usually do.

I know not all men are the same, but my husband is a very visual being. Meaning, he needs something to visually satisfy him in order for him to orgasm. Even when we are having sex together, it’s more pleasurable if it’s happening during the day or when the lights are on.

And when he has his sneaky moments of porn-gazing from time to time, he claims that’s because he cannot reach that happy moment by himself without watching something to help him do so.

Is he giving me excuses to justify his actions of watching porn? Maybe. But do I give a damn? Not at all.

In my experience, watching porn while in a relationship is not betrayal; it’s human nature. And to me, it’s not a slippery slope toward cheating. Why? Because my husband is not a cheater, nor am I. But yet, I still watch porn on the rare and horny occasion I need a visual pick-me-up.

I’m not going to lie and say that I’m itching to have sex every single time my husband wants to, and I won’t lie and say he has sex with me every single time that I get the urge. But our sex life is one of the healthiest things about our relationship. So why do I care if he tries some of nature’s Ambien in the bathroom before bed? To answer it bluntly, I don’t.

If I’m being honest, porn is what helped me come out of my shell in the bedroom. Growing up in a conservative church-going home like I did, I was taught to believe that premarital sex, masturbation, and watching porn were sinful.

So because of that, I had a really hard time opening up about what I wanted out of sex as an adult. And, to be fair, these issues didn’t just stem from sex with my husband — it was this way with every man before him as well. I wanted to ask for the things I desired in the bedroom, but I felt like a silly child on the verge of laughing for doing so.

But porn changed that for me.

I’m uncertain what happened to make my husband and me start watching porn together in the beginning. But when we did, I usually had the pick of the genre. And those porn searches became my subliminal way of telling him, “The sex is great, but smack my ass and toss me around a little, would ya?”

Since he’s taken heed to my sneaky clues, our sex life is not at all what it used to be… in a good way. Now, we are open and honest about what makes us comfortable and uncomfortable in the bedroom, and my subliminal messages aren’t needed.

I won’t solely attribute this change in the bedroom to the porn itself. After all, we both have grown quite a bit from the people we were when we first started dating (me, at a mere 19 years old). But I will say that watching porn together and being able to voice what I needed sexually, gave me a huge boost of courage. It was our “icebreaker,” if you will.

Looking back, I still can’t believe I was ever so shy around my husband during our most intimate moments. That seems so silly to me now. But if it weren’t for the boldness I felt when showing my husband what kind of porn I enjoyed, we might still be living a sexually unpleasing life together.

I won’t pretend this works for all couples, but it’s been just fine for us. It works because we’re transparent and continually open about it. If I wanted to search my husband’s browser history right now, I would find his porn searches undeleted if he’d been watching it recently… and I would not care, because there are no secrets.

I’m aware that porn can be a real addiction for some, and I’m not belittling the hold it has on certain relationships, but my husband and I aren’t addicted. It’s the release we go to individually when we don’t feel like putting forth the physical effort of having sex…. and that’s okay for us.

I know my husband. So for now, I don’t care if he watches porn in the bathroom on occasion.

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Why My Partner And I Make Sure We’re Affectionate In Front Of Our Kids

My wife was standing in the kitchen looking at something on her phone. I came up from behind, put my arms around her waist, and kissed her neck. She shivered slightly, then she turned around, and I did one of those dramatic dip kiss things you see in movies. She held onto my shoulders, laughed a little as we kissed. Then I pulled her back up, and winked, and then we kissed one more time.

It was then that I could feel someone watching us. To our right were our son (age 12) and our daughter (age 9) doing homework at the kitchen table. Norah smiled, like she often does in situations like this. When Mel and I show affection, she thinks it’s cute. But my son, well… he might as well have been looking at a gruesome car accident, his mouth open slightly, blue eyes ready to roll.

Mel and I have never had a formal discussion on why we are affectionate around our children, so I can’t speak for why she does it. But I’ll tell you why I do. My parents went through a pretty nasty divorce when I was nine. I don’t have a lot of memories of them together, and the ones I do have are mostly of them fighting. But I have this one memory of the two of them in the living room. My father was in tight Wrangler jeans and black socks. He wore a blue button up work shirt with his name below the right shoulder, his black hair parted to the side. My mother was in a green and flower print dress and also shoeless. They were standing back to back, and my father was running his left hand across their heads, trying to figure out who was taller. Mom was on her tippy toes so she could match my father’s height. He looked down, and caught her cheating. They both flipped around, and laughed, and then dad took her in his arms, and dipped her, dramatically, just like I did in the kitchen years later with Mel.

I was watching silently from the hallway, and I remember that I couldn’t stop smiling. I’m still smiling, right now, as I write about it. It was one of the most adorable things I’d ever seen, and I remember thinking that someday, I wanted a relationship like that. I’d never seen my father show his love for my mother in that way. And when I think back on that moment, I realize that it was this little glimpse of what a loving relationship ought to look like. It felt like this road map for affection.

It’s funny how a small moment like that can really change someone. My father died divorcing his fourth wife. My mother is on her third marriage, now. That memory is really the only one I have of seeing either of them show affection with each other, or any of the partners they were with later in life. And you know what? That’s sad. It feels like each one of their marriages were closer to roommates than loving, affectionate couples.

I don’t want to set that example for my children. I want them to go into a relationship expecting healthy playful affection. And it’s not only physical affection I want them to observe. I can’t remember my parents saying, “I love you.” I can’t remember them going out on dates, or my father bringing home flowers, or them going away for the weekend. I tell Mel I love her every day, and she says it back to me. We hold hands in front of the kids. I take my children with me to buy flowers for their mother, and I include them in the process. I talk to them about how important this sort of action is in a relationship.

My wife is a gardener. We moved into a new house about a year ago, and this spring I built Mel new garden beds. When I filled them with dirt, I dragged our son out to help. As we were shoveling, he asked me why we were doing all this when neither of us enjoyed gardening. I took a breath, looked down at him, and asked if he loved his mother.

He nodded.

“Good,” I said. “So do I.”

Then I gestured at the truck full of dirt, and the garden beds, and the shovels, all of it, and said, “This is what love looks like. We help the ones we love. That’s how it works.”

More than anything, I’m trying to give them the example that I didn’t have. I don’t want them to go into a relationship and not understand that love is a verb. Love must be shown through actions and words. I want them to expect affection from the person they love, and I want them to feel comfortable freely showing their affection because I know how important that is.

When my son watched Mel and me kiss in the kitchen, we didn’t explain ourselves. We didn’t tell him to get over it, or anything like that. Instead, I came around the right side of the table, and Mel came around from the left. We cried out, in unison, “Hug sandwich!”

Mel and I smashed him between us. Mel kissed his head, and he tried pushing us away, acting like he wasn’t enjoying all this affection coming from his doting parents. Then he went slack, and after a moment, he wrapped his arms around both of us.

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My Husband And I Are ‘Sleep Divorced’

The only time I sleep in the same room as my husband is when we’re on vacation or visitors have taken over our spare bedroom. It’s been like this for years. I didn’t know there was a term for it, but I recently learned that my husband and I are what some call “sleep divorced.”

It’s an ugly name for a beautiful, joyous arrangement. Well… joyous for me, anyway. Truth be told, my husband would prefer we sleep in the same bed. But I’ve been an unusually light sleeper ever since my first kid was born, and my husband’s snoring is so trumpetous, it peels the paint off the walls. This is an impossible co-sleeping arrangement.

My husband used to try to convince me to stay in the room. He’d say I could just wear ear plugs. I tried that, but it blocked out a whole 2% of the sound of his snoring (do those honestly work for anyone?). I tried wearing headphones with white noise, and that masked the sound of his snoring better than ear plugs, but it also blocked out every other sound, which made me too anxious to sleep. What if one of my kids woke up and needed me? What if the fire alarm went off and I didn’t hear it?

My husband tried various nose devices and mouth guards to help with his snoring. Convinced that sleeping apart would spell certain doom for our relationship, the poor guy was desperate for me not to leave the room. He had a hard time accepting that all I wanted was a decent night’s sleep. But we weren’t having less sex as a result of it, so who cared? We were asleep (or he was, anyway)—literally unconscious. What did it matter if we were in separate rooms?

Since sleeping separately was bothering my husband so much, I suggested he see a doctor to find out if a CPAP machine could help. Maybe he has sleep apnea and this could stop his snoring. Or maybe his allergies were making him snore and he just needed meds or there was some other solution we hadn’t come across on our many internet searches.

But, despite his willingness to try over-the-counter remedies, my husband didn’t want to talk to a doctor about potential sleep apnea—he said he didn’t want to wear one of those “mask-thingies” on his face all night long. So, until he could get past his discomfort with the idea of a sleep apnea mask, we were stuck in a heavy-snore situation, and I still couldn’t share a bed with him.

But, here’s the thing: Experts say there is no reason a couple can’t have a thriving relationship despite being sleep divorced. After all, who can be in the mood for sexual intimacy—or even just casual conversation—if they haven’t had a full night of sleep in weeks? I sure can’t do it.

If I’m not getting any sleep, every aspect of my life, including and especially my relationship with my husband, suffers. I’m not at my best when I’m overtired. I’m not even mediocre. I’m grumpy and short-tempered and generally unpleasant to be around. The bottom line is, I need sleep to function, and when I share a bed with my husband, I don’t get any.

And it’s not as if I’m unique in my needs. According to health experts, getting adequate sleep is vital to our physical and emotional wellbeing. Sleep deprivation can impair decision-making skills, reaction time, and even our ability to reason. It can lead to physical problems ranging from weight gain to heart disease to diabetes and can weaken our immune systems.

So, if the decision is between attempting to share a bed even though one partner isn’t getting any sleep or sleeping apart and allowing both partners a full night of solid rest… is there really a decision to make here? It’s obvious. Health should come first. This is a no-brainer.

My husband did eventually come around to the idea that sleeping in separate rooms was best for everyone. About a year ago, my daughter took a video of his snoring because she thought it was funny. She showed it to me and was laughing hysterically, and I told her we shouldn’t make fun of Dad’s snoring since he can’t help it. But when she mentioned to him that she’d gotten video of him snoring, he wanted to hear it. The look on his face when he heard himself was priceless. “That’s how loud I am? Holy shit, no wonder you won’t sleep in the same room with me! I’m surprised you even sleep in the same house!”

And so, we continue to sleep apart—the spare bedroom is always set up for me now, rather than my husband and I going through the same ridiculous dance every night where he asks if I’ll try to stay, I give in and say I will, then I lie down for an hour and listen to him snore while fantasizing about smothering him with a pillow. Ever since he saw that video of his snoring, he truly understands what I was up against when he was begging me to stay in the room.

The other positive outcome of the video my daughter made is that my husband now has an appointment set up in a few weeks to see an ear nose and throat doctor to get tested for sleep apnea. Who knows, maybe he’ll end up with a CPAP machine and we’ll be back to sleeping together after all. I hear those CPAP machines sound like white noise anyway.

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What I Didn’t Know About Marriage When I Said ‘I Do’

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I said “I do.” We’ve been together for just about 20 years. Two. Decades.

We met when I was only 22 years old. Practically a baby. I’ve never been all that good at math, but by my calculations, that means that in my life so far, he’s been in my life for almost as long as he was not.

I could tell you that it was love at first sight and talk about how he’s my best friend and refer to him as my “soul mate” and post photos with #soblessed. Except it wasn’t really love at first sight (at least not in the traditional sense) and #soblessed really just means #sofake and #ijustthrewupinmymouthalittle to me. And, okay, okay, so he actually is my best friend, but only if by “best friend” you also mean a best friend/partner/lover/supporter/confidante who still makes you get googly-eyed.

Our love story is as remarkable and amazing as anyone’s story. Which means it is totally unremarkable to anyone except us. Except that it is also completely amazing in the way that all love stories are.

The short version of our love story involves law school classes, burritos, some drinks, a late-night drive in a hatchback, and plenty of debates over what actually constitutes our first date.

The long version involves years of dating and figuring each other out, doing a lot of really stupid shit, falling in love again and again, and ultimately deciding that yes, this is the person. This is The One I want to spend the rest of my life with. The One I want to bicker with over the thermostat and research minivans with.

This is The One I want to share a life with.

Except, all those years ago, when we both decided that we were each other’s Person and that we had found The One, we didn’t really know what that meant. We didn’t really know what sharing a life with someone looks like.

Because how can you know what sharing a life really looks like when you’re a starry-eyed 20-something-year-old baby?

But here’s the really amazing and wild and wonderful thing falling in love with The One when you’re young (ish) — you don’t just get to grow old together, you get to grow up together.

You don’t just get to share your lives, you get to really do life together.

And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you realize that all those years ago when you decided that they were The One, you had no idea. No.Freaking.Idea.

Because growing up and sharing a life with them is even better than you thought.

All those years ago when my husband and I said “I Do” to all that life would throw at us we had no idea what that would really look like.

When we said our very traditional vows, we had no idea just how non-traditional our household would look a decade and a half later. We had no idea how much we would both change as individuals, or that (thankfully) we would change in mutually compatible ways as well.

We had no idea how much we’d need each other to survive things like miscarriages and Alzheimer’s disease. How no one else would understand the agony of losing a beloved pet — our first “baby” and a first anniversary gift to each other — or the heartbreak of watching your son cry on the baseball pitcher’s mound. How we’d spend hours — literally hours — talking about composting and the right way to fold towels (yes, there is a “right” way).

We had no idea.

And I still have no idea. I have no idea what else is in store for us. I don’t know how we will change and grow (especially considering we’ve changed so much already). I don’t know what highs we’ll share together, and what lows we’ll survive together.

And you know what? I’m glad we had/have no idea.

Because the adventure of it, this wild ride of growing up together has been one of the greatest joys of my life.

I don’t have any answers about what makes some marriages last while others don’t. Though I suspect it might be some combination of hard work, compassion and all that other stuff the “experts” tell you, along with a lot of love, a little luck, and hefty dose of something that can only be described as magic. As well as not being married to an asshole, and being coupled with someone with whom you share mutual respect and trust.

I don’t have special insight or advice, either, because honestly we’re still figuring it out too. While 15 years of marriage — and 20 years as a couple — feels like half a lifetime sometimes (because it literally is half a lifetime for me), in some ways, we’re just getting started. And let’s face it, we’ve got some more growing up to do.

What I do know—what I knew back then and still know now—is that there is no one else I would rather face this uncertain future with than him.

And that’s more than enough.

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This Is The Problem With Telling Ourselves ‘Marriage Isn’t A Fairytale’

Recently, a private moms group I’m in had a discussion about the difficulties of marriage. It was the first time we’d had such an open, honest conversation about it. Once a couple of women admitted they were struggling, the floodgates opened and everyone got real.

We learned that many of us are in the thick of major marriage problems. Some of us are ready to leave but haven’t told our spouses yet. Some of us have drawn up paperwork with our soon-to-be-former spouses, divided assets even, but haven’t yet told the kids. Some of us are in therapy, with or without spouses. Some of us came this close to getting divorced but sought therapy or found a way back and are now happier than ever.

But, regardless of anyone’s situation, the prevailing sentiment of that thread was, “Marriage isn’t a fairytale, it’s fucking hard, get used to it” with a side of “love ebbs and flows, hang in there, it gets better.”

This advice is solid and realistic. Of course we can’t expect marriage to be perfect. Of course our partners can’t fulfill our every need. Of course there will be ups and downs. Marriage is unbelievably hard and requires effort, humility, and compromise in order to succeed.

Sometimes we need to hear that we aren’t the only ones struggling. Sometimes knowing we aren’t alone is enough to renew our optimism or at least give us a little strength to continue doing the hard work.

But we need to add a caveat to the “marriage isn’t a fairytale” mantra, and here’s why: Sometimes the problems in a marriage aren’t normal. Sometimes the unhappiness will never go away. Sometimes the differences are insurmountable.

And when someone’s gut is screaming at them that everything is wrong, and the advice they constantly hear is, “Oh, that’s totally normal—after all, marriage isn’t a fairytale,” they might ignore their gut. They might stay in their marriage when they really, really shouldn’t.

I know this because I am in the process of leaving a 15-year marriage. I stayed too long. I was dissatisfied and uncomfortable, I knew something was irreparably wrong, but for years I accepted the reassurance that my feelings of wrongness were something every married person feels. I encountered this reassurance every single place I looked.

Granted, I’m a unique case. The primary reason I’m leaving my marriage is because I have come to terms with the fact that I’m gay. But back when this truth first started to make itself known, I was also in a place where I kind of didn’t like my husband. For a lot of reasons. We don’t like the same movies. I’m a book nerd, and he doesn’t read at all. He couldn’t care less about art, and I love it. Our senses of humor are totally opposite. These differences may seem superficial, but shouldn’t one enjoy hanging out with their spouse? I didn’t. I didn’t want to have sex with him, didn’t want to talk to him, didn’t want to go places with him. If I had a choice between hanging out with him or my girlfriends (platonic ones), the girlfriends always won, no contest.

Except, of course, I’m gay. Obviously, I would be unfulfilled by my heterosexual relationship. But there were much deeper problems—things that, looking back, should have been deal-breakers. My husband was and is a person I don’t respect. He was a cheap tipper, rude to service people, mean to the cat, irrationally stubborn, arrogant, bigoted, homophobic. He was nice to me and our two daughters but he was also all of these other things. And I was his moral compass, constantly counseling him on how to be a good human while telling myself, “Hey, this is marriage. He’s a good provider—you can’t have everything!”

I had read that “contempt” was the big ugly warning sign. If you felt contempt for your spouse, it meant you were already on a path to divorce. So I worked really hard not to feel contempt—sure there was something wrong with me for feeling it.

All of this only confused me even more about my sexuality. For years, I told myself my homosexual feelings were just my seeking a way out of an unhappy marriage. Marriage isn’t a fairytale, I kept telling myself. You’re expecting too much and it’s making you think you’re gay.

I shared my feelings of dissatisfaction (but not my sexuality) with a few close friends and googled things like, “Is it normal to dislike your husband?” Every time, I was reassured that what I was feeling was par for the course in marriage. Marriage is boring! Marriage is fucking hard! Fairytales aren’t real! I was supposed to put in the work to make things better. Do fun things to reconnect. Date nights! Exciting trips! Sex! (Even if you’re not into it because it’s paramount to “preserve intimacy!”)

I was painfully disinterested in my marriage and fighting my identity, convincing myself I was just an angsty housewife who wanted to try something new. I ignored all those red flags in my husband’s behavior that should have been deal-breakers whether I was gay or not. Because “marriage isn’t a fairytale.”

This message isn’t dangerous only to people questioning their sexuality. Some marriages just shouldn’t be. And there are plenty of marriages that are truly happy and fulfilling—not every couple ends up in the wasteland of “good enough.” My brother and his wife have been together two decades and are stupid happy together. Sure, they bicker and have their ups and downs, but it is very clear they are each other’s “person.” It’s real.

So, yes, we should accept that marriage is incredibly hard no matter what. Yes, we should do the work to repair what is broken. But we also need to ask ourselves whether the thing that is causing our unhappiness will ever change. For me, obviously, being gay isn’t going to change. This is who I am. But, even if I weren’t gay, my marriage still would have ended. I wouldn’t have been able to make my husband into a generous, compassionate person. He said many times during our marriage that he was happy he had me around to make him a better person. Looking back, this disgusts me. I didn’t sign up to be Jiminy Cricket.

When it comes to marriage, it is rarely a good idea to give blanket advice. Each individual has to analyze their own situation because they are the only ones experiencing it firsthand. Only they know the darkest, most private recesses of their relationship and all the tiny details that contribute to their sense of inertia or unhappiness. Only they can determine whether their situation can be altered enough to bring them back to contentment.

There may be no such thing as a fairytale, but there also isn’t any such thing as “normal,” and constantly espousing that a certain amount of discontent is “normal” can make people who are genuinely miserable in their marriages feel trapped and like something is wrong with them. We only get one short life. No one should feel compelled to spend theirs attempting to adapt to mediocrity.

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My Husband And I Are Finally Working To Share The Mental Load Of Parenting

Like most women, I have been thinking a lot about my own emotional labor and mental workload of motherhood and the toll it takes on me to bear the weight of it all in our household.

I grew up in the ’80s with a stay-at-home dad, which at that time was rather unusual. My dad was a bit rebellious and never really got around to settling down. At age 44, he married my mom and they had me. A Boston firefighter, he was injured when I was young and retired shortly there after. So at 52 years old, his primary job was to take care of me and my younger sister.

He bore the emotional labor of parenting. He drove us to and from school every day, listening to our endless school stories and friend woes. He took us to all doctor’s appointments, orthodontist appointments, and play dates. He packed lunches, made dinners, double checked that we had our homework, remembered our jackets and hats, and was our primary entertainer for the whole summer.

He made us toast and tea on sick days while we watched Live with Regis & Kathy Lee and gave us money to buy clothes at the mall. He signed us up for Girl Scouts, karate, and cooking classes. He remembered birthday parties and teacher’s names. He fed us countless snacks, ensured we always had our favorite cereals and broke up endless fights.

And he did all this without cell phones, the internet, and Netflix. I never recognized how exhausting that must have been. About a year before he passed away, I called to ask him.

“How did you do it all? How did you remember everything? How did you stay so calm?”

“There was nothing I would have rather been doing. That time with you girls was a gift. My happiest memories. But yes, exhausting…”

Since starting my journey into motherhood, I have been in that “primary parent” role. I stayed home with EJ for a couple of years upon returning from Ethiopia. I then took a career path that enabled him to attend school with me for a few years. For three years, we were even in the same building.  I was never “off the clock,” providing hugs, snacks and support whenever needed.

I did most of the appointments, handled the teacher meetings, play dates, and activities sign-ups. I researched and visited daycares and schools, desperately searching for the perfect fit. I spent hours discussing ADHD medications with his doctor, creating plans with his teachers, taking him to tutoring and OT, and worrying. I questioned everything I did and every decision I made. I felt like the keeper of all things. And I also felt like when things went wrong, as the keeper, it was my fault. The weight and responsibility…the anxiety. It felt like too much.

I spent years saying to Mike, “You should know what I need you to do!” Mostly in response to him asking how he could help me when I was feeling overwhelmed. Seeing my father do it all, I expected that all men knew the complicated layers of parenting and how they weave together. But the truth was I had taken on this role with such force and determination, that I truly thought only I could do it the right way. I didn’t always allow him in. He literally didn’t know what I needed him to do because I never involved him in the process.

I worried he wouldn’t do it right. I questioned the smallest of his choices, “Two cookies before dinner?” “Did you give him enough water today?” “Those pj’s were too hot for tonight!”

So I always just did it myself. And then started to do the big things myself.

And then got mad when I felt alone.

Coming to this revelation this past year has been really freeing. I think for us both.

We are completely different. Mike is never going to think, make decisions, or parent exactly like me. An introvert, he is always there and attentively listening but for a writer and fundraising, ironically, I am not always the best communicator. My expectations for him were higher than the ones I set for myself. I expected him to understand where I was coming from and what I needed without ever clearly articulating these things. I wanted him to step-in and get things done when I never really told him what those things were. I wanted him to understand my exhaustion, frustration, and anxiety when I hadn’t even explained what led up to it.

I finally realized that I needed to treat him like a partner in parenting. He wanted to take some of the weight off of me, but he he just didn’t know how.

“I need more help. I can’t do all the appointments, sick days, and dishes. I can’t be the keeper of all his information and decisions. It feels like it is too much.”

“Of course.”

Mike is never going to check and see if EJ’s clothes match, remember the socks he pointed out three months ago to order for his Easter basket, or worry about his water intake or body temperature with quite the same passion as I do. But he will create a work plan with his teacher, tackle the ups and downs of playing on a team, give advice on friendship, remember favorite cereals, order books for them to read together, and go to endless orthodontist appointments.

In an effort to get things done, the way I wanted it and how I thought best, I often excluded my husband. I will always be the “primary parent” by default and the emotional weight and worry that comes with that is exhausting some days. But as we work together to raise an empathetic, compassionate son, I can recognize the strengths that we both bring to balance the emotional labor of parenting.

And I try to remember these strengths when he returns from an orthodontist appointment without asking the questions we discussed and with no recollection of what was said at the appointment.

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