If there is one persistent conflict in my marriage, it’s a division of labor. And I am absolutely guilty of keeping score. I often find myself frustrated by carrying the domestic load–cooking, cleaning, laundry, diapers–and I forget about the world of other chores my husband manages behind the scenes. Becoming a stay-at-home mom made things harder because it became even less clear which tasks were part of my “workday” and which should be shared, especially when my duties extend well past 5 o’clock.
With the pandemic, things have become even more difficult. We are fortunate that my husband is able to work from home, but the lines between work-time and home-time are perpetually blurred. Add in the fact that we have distanced from most of our family and friends and haven’t been on a date outside of our home in 6 months, and it feels as though we are both overwhelmed around the clock, 7 days a week. I have been frustrated, feeling that he wasn’t doing enough to help out around the house, and knowing that I was asking for too much–both of him and myself. I have been angry. Often.
Quite by accident, I stumbled upon 3 simple things that have truly improved my marriage these past few months.
The first, a cup of coffee.
I have never been a coffee drinker, but with 2 kids and quarantine, the tired caught up with me. During one particularly difficult week, my husband started pouring me a cup of coffee when he would make his own and brought it to me wherever I was playing with our kids. The effect was simple but profound. Starting the day with someone doing just ONE thing to take care of me did my heart and mind a world of good. In return, I started delivering my husband’s lunch to his home office on his particularly difficult days. And with that, we got back to taking care of each other.
The second simple thing: a whiteboard.
After my first child was born, I kept a whiteboard on my refrigerator only big enough for a 3-item To-Do list. The idea was to give me only 3 things to accomplish each day while I was learning to care for a newborn. A month into the pandemic, and I started keeping a whiteboard list again to help me prioritize and plan my day. I fill it out each night before bed with the next day’s plan. It’s become a wonderful communication device–my husband can see what I’m trying to accomplish during the day and helps out when and how he can. Either I don’t have to ask because it’s already written down (win!), or I can make more specific requests without too much thought when I need help (as opposed to my usual and not particularly helpful, “I need help with EVERYTHING!” response).
Finally: a crossword puzzle.
I needed a quick and easy mental outlet that had nothing to do with kids or housework, so I started doing the crossword in our neighborhood paper during lunch. In between chopping food into bite-sized pieces for my little ones, I filled in a few clues at a time and tried to finish one puzzle each week. For my birthday, I received a book of crossword puzzles as a gift. My husband got into it, too. We keep a crossword and 2 different-colored pens (one for him, one for me) on the kitchen table and work at each puzzle a little at a time. The colored pens add in a bit of competition between the two of us, as we can see who figured out the most clues. It has been a wonderful way to work together and compete a bit and gives us something to talk about besides work and kids.
If, by chance, you have also found yourself struggling in your marriage; if you have also found yourself overwhelmed and angry, I hope you’ll experiment with a few simple ways to restore yourself and reconnect with your partner. Find a simple way to take care of one another, a way to date for just a few minutes at a time throughout your week. For us, it has been well worth the effort.
Hang in there, Mama!