I am a sucker for a good love story. I love a happy ending when the girl gets the boy of her dreams or vice-versa or the girl gets the girl of her dream, or the boy the boy of his dreams. I am, of course, an equal opportunity love story junkie.
The problem with most love stories is that they end at the "and then they lived happily ever after" and we just assume that this is exactly the case. That love conquers all and it is all they need to keep them happy and together until the end of time.
Imagine if we could see the rest of the story. What happens after the Beast turns back to the Prince and he and Belle start having babies. Or after Ariel loses her fins and becomes human to be with Eric and then decides to take a job that requires her to be away a lot. What happens to all that fairy tale love when reality sets in?
In the past six months it has become painfully evident to me that I am in a phase in my life where I am starting to see the statistics about marriage play out around me. I don't know if it is the 'seven year itch' phenomenon or the 8, 9, 10 or 12 year itch... it just seems to be happening more and more. Every couple is different and has their own struggles to overcome, but I do see a little bit of a recurring theme in a lot of relationships.
It sounds so bloody cliché, but having kids really does change your life. And until it happens to you, it is hard for anyone around you to really "get it". Everything for the next few years (read FOREVER) is all about the kids. This is not all terrible, it is after all, what you signed up for. You and your partner created these little humans together and now it is your job to love and provide for them. Your focus gets easily pulled to nurturing these new relationships with your children and it can be a steep learning curve to figure out how to love them, love yourself and love your partner all at the same time. Life is about growth and development and it is not only our babies who are doing the growing. We are too - as parents, as partners, and as individuals. If we don't recognize this growth, if we stop paying attention to our life partners, a vital connection can be lost. And then, one day, there is a very sobering realization that we don't recognize the person sitting across the table from us or even the person (ourselves) looking across the table anymore.
I am a huge proponent of the attachment theory of parenting and how important it is for our babies to have that strong sense of attachment and bonding with us from the get go. Dr. Gordon Neufeld, and many others who study human psychology and development, say that attachment is THE most significant and pre-eminent need of human beings. Connections and a sense of belonging are what make us human. And if we lose those connections in our most important and intimate relationships, if we try to replace them with things or focus our connections away from our partners, we risk losing those relationships altogether.
If life and the kids and the laundry and the yard work and work work and Facebook time and gaming and working out and taking everyone to their activities and whatever else you've got going on, is taking up ALL OF YOU, it is doing so at an expense. We may think that that expense is being tired all the time and not having time for ourselves, let alone our partners, but I am telling you now, that NO, that is not it. The expense is the subtle, slipping away of trust and confidence and the very foundation that supports our relationships.
It is very easy to fall into patterns of behaviour when our babies and toddlers are small and require so much from us. We have a schedule for naps and for feedings, a routine for bedtime, a weekly colour-coded calendar full of music/swim/parent&me/gymnastics/art classes. Not to mention all the rest of the work that needs to be done at home, at the office, at the home-office or what have you. I don't know about you, but I remember so many days that I would forgot to even feed myself, let alone have a conversation or a meal with my husband. Being an attached and connected parent is a wonderful thing, but if you don't continue to nurture the original connection and attachment that MADE your child(ren), then where does that leave you?
I just finished reading Brené Brown's book, "Daring Greatly". In the chapter about Debunking the Vulnerability Myths, one paragraph really struck me. In it Brené talks about the betrayal of disengagement:
"When the people we love or with whom we have a deep connection stop caring, stop paying attention, stop investing and stop fighting for the relationship, trust begins to slip away and hurt starts seeping in. Disengagement triggers shame and our greatest fears - the fears of being abandoned, unworthy, unlovable. What can make this covert betrayal so much more dangerous than something like a lie or an affair is that we can't point to the source of our pain - there's no event, no obvious evidence of brokenness. It can feel crazy-making."
My husband and I have always had a little bit of a relationship radar in place that lets us know when life is getting the best of us. I am pretty sure that everyone has some kind of early warning system in their own relationship. It all comes down to how much or how little attention is paid to it. The increased bickering, the loss of physical connection, the muttering under the breath, being super sensitive to every little thing said to each other - these are the warnings that we can sometimes overlook or not really think too much about, but this is just a small list of the tiny betrayals that can build on each other. And if no one is paying attention to the physical, intellectual and emotional needs of their partner (I think I'll call that P.I.E.!) than going through the motions of a marriage or life partnership will never leave anyone feeling fulfilled. Every little hurt starts to adds up and disconnection is the sum result.
We've all heard it said before, love takes work. It is a choice we have to make every day. It takes a fair amount of vulnerability too. And for a lot of people, accessing that vulnerable place in themselves is a major hurdle. It's a risk to say to the person you are supposed to be totally in love with that something is off. That THIS, the way things are RIGHT NOW, is not working for you. We'll do a lot to avoid these kinds of conversations and our fears only serve to push us further away from each other. We work more, take extra shifts, spend more time on Facebook/Pinterest/Twitter. We become obsessed with perfection and our focus becomes on how we look, how the house looks, and how the world sees us. We drown our fears in booze or food. We live with what Brené Brown calls "scarcity" and become governed by self-talk and thoughts of never being "enough" of anything to anyone. It's the mother of all shame spirals and the only way out of it is to face those fears, be your most vulnerable self and start paying attention.
For me, that meant finding a good therapist to help me face my own negative self-talk and the ways that I avoid my own vulnerability. Jane* has made me realize that I can choose to change the way I think and I don't have to revert to my default avoidance setting of "fixing" everyone else's lives around me and ignoring my own problems. It has also meant having some very honest conversations with my husband and of us sharing our greatest fears within our relationship with each other. Trust me, this was not an easy task for either of us, but I truly believe that it has made all the difference. We are both more aware and focused on making sure that we are both getting our fair share of the P.I.E. more so now than ever before.
I said it above, but it bears repeating:
Attachment, connection and belonging are the pre-eminent needs of all human beings.
We are all doing our very best to ensure that we are nurturing that kind of relationship with and for our children and most of us are getting pretty good at this attachment parenting stuff. We need to remember that we too are humans and have those same basic and vital needs. To satisfy them within our significant and intimate relationships, we all need to remember to keep working on our ATTACHMENT MARRIAGE-ING and keep the focus on our own happily ever afters!
P.S. You all know how much I love Pink and she always know exactly what to say way better in song version...