Merely being a living, breathing human in this gloriously fallen world is a task in itself. Yet throwing in living in partnership, both people attempting to authentically with full desire even more daunting. Marriage is grueling, at times feels like an impossible invitation to the heights of Heaven and the depths of Hell. Yet one of the best ways to make your marriage pliable is the art of “seeing” the other. Now, this is much easier said than done.
One of the most common complaints from both Christy and I in our own marriage is not actually seeing each other and feeling alone in the amount of “invisible” work that we each do. Therapist Anne Stoneson defines invisible work as “tasks or obligations that others take for granted or fail to understand.” (It’s important to note that women often bear the majority of invisible work in their home and in society as a whole.)
Here is an example of how this plays out in our own home. Let’s say I am seeing clients all day. I come home after a long day of intense presence, hearing story after story of harm, abuse, and violence. When I return home, I am proud of my exhaustion, the feeling of a job well done, I have made good money, provided for my family, I have impacted lives for the Kingdom of God, I have fought against Evil and lived to tell the tales. I want to be seen for my good and holy work! When I open the door, the kids are screaming, my wife exhausted and annoyed as she tries to prepare dinner. I get a cordial greeting but she just wants a break, to take a shower, and wash the fresh smell of baby excrement off of her clothes. I do not get seen the way I am looking for. But here is the kicker, neither does, Christy. She desperately wants to be seen for all her hard work taking care of the kids, keeping them alive, feeding them, and cleaning and managing the house. She wants to know her hard work is seen and appreciated as well. Christy also works outside the home as a therapist a few days a week. So when I am home taking care of the kids while she is counseling, I do the exact same thing! I am counting down the minutes so that I can have a second to myself, to go to the bathroom without my children watching me. I so want her to see that I have worked hard and not take for granted my work. She so wants to be seen for the hard work she has done with clients, fighting evil, and providing financially for our family. Christy and I often joke that we would rather be working with clients with intense stories of sexual abuse than working in the home all day. Not that it is not a joy that we get to be with our amazing children, but our work with clients is celebrated, honored with being paid, the joy of helping another while cleaning my 4th poopy diaper and stepping on legos just doesn’t affirm me the same way. The truth is both jobs are difficult, and both deserve respect, deep gratitude, and appreciation. It’s vital for me to offer Christy what I long for her to offer me, and visa versa. I can feel my needs much quicker than I can see and appreciate the needs of my partner, and I must be aware of that, as that can cloud how I engage. Rather than staying rooted in my resentment that my needs aren’t being met, can I see and hear how I can better meet her needs. Here are a couple of helpful categories that will help both partners as they try to see and honor each other more fully.
Speak Gratitude, Often
Brene Brown states, “In 12 years of research, in all that time, I have never interviewed a person who describes themselves as joyful who did not actively practice gratitude. . . . Practicing gratitude invites joy into our lives and when I say practice I don’t mean merely an attitude of gratitude or feeling grateful, I mean practicing gratitude. These folks shared in common a TANGIBLE gratitude practice.” This is one thing that I am really trying to integrate into my own life. I can be a bit of a curmudgeon at times, my wife the eternal optimist, thus we clash at times, she needs to be more honest, and I do not need to see the worst is every scenario. Part of me taking responsibility is beginning to practice gratitude. I have set it as a daily reminder in my phone, and I will verbally say out loud the things I am grateful for on that particular day. I have also implemented a gratitude night once a week during our family meal. This spiritual practice is already helping me see my wife and be more thankful for her role in my life.
Invite, Do Not Demand
This is the sentence our marriage therapist said to us in our session this week and it has stuck with me. I so desperately want to be seen because of my own wounding that I project that onto my wife. Now this need is not all bad, it just is, how do I INVITE her into my need rather than demand that she meets it? I can get mean with my demands, but inviting her into my heart and story is a brave act of vulnerability that promotes intimacy and connection.
A Note For Men
A quick note for men who are trying to engage this dynamic in their own marriage, what we as men must be aware of inside ourselves is our own socialized “sexism” that I do not project onto our partner. I have done this to Christy, time, and time again. At times as men, we don’t even realize how much we have internalized messages of patriarchy that make it easy to “expect” things of our spouse more than we do ourselves because of her gender. For example, since she is a woman, she should be doing more of the housework and more of the childcare duties. When I come home from work do I have extra energy toward her when things are not what I expected or hope for? It’s humbling to admit that many days of the week, I unconsciously believe that she should be doing more around the house than I. Yes, for me to be more of a safe man I must own my own sin of “sexism” that I project onto my wife. If we truly are egalitarian in our approach to marriage it needs to be equal and I cannot project damaging stereotypes onto my wife because of what my own sexist upbringing taught me about a woman’s role in the home. I must continue to repent and face the ways I perpetuate gender discrimination in my own marriage and in my relationships.