My husband made an offhand joke the other day about how I don't do anything to help him or for him.
I, of course, immediately spiraled into a defensive tailspin and started listing off all the things I do every day for everyone.
He doubled down and said, "Yeah, but those are for the family. Not for me."
So, I did the only mature thing possible in such a situation: I went on strike. I told him that I would not be doing ANYTHING for him so he could see just how much I actually do. When I folded his laundry that night without thinking, I was so mad at myself I almost messed up the whole pile. (Yes, reader, I am a child. No need to tell me.)
Was it a healthy, mature reaction? No. But my feelings were hurt and I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Most days, I spend almost all of my time doing something for someone else. Shuttling kids. Cleaning. Making dinner. Working. There are very few moments I take for myself, so to have someone tell me that I'm not doing enough, was basically enraging.
My strike lasted a few days. And sadly, besides the inadvertently folded laundry, I actually didn't have to change my behavior that much. As badly as I didn't want to admit it — and believe me, I really, really didn't want to admit it — I began to wonder if my husband was right. Had I somewhere along the line in our 16 years of marriage stopped doing things for my husband simply because I loved him?
So, I changed my tactic. I called off the underwhelming strike and decided instead to go out of my way to do nice, specific things to help my husband or to show him I loved him. I texted him to see how a big meeting went. I bought food to make a dinner I knew he liked. I sent him lunch at work. (OK, full disclosure, I was still mad and did this one just to make a point, but hey, he got lunch. Still counts. See note above about me being a child.)
The more I made an effort to think about him as a person separate from our family, I realized that I don't go out of my way very often for him. I used to. I would find ways to show him I loved him every day by lightening a burden, doing something thoughtful or simply prioritizing time with him at the end of the day.
This week as I re-focused on my spouse, I found that the more I did for him, the more he did back. He brought me dinner from my favorite place. He checked in with me during the day. He even gave me a back massage one night that was more than a cursory pat on the shoulder.
These may not seem like huge things, but to me they were. I didn't even realize we had fallen out of the habit of seeing and treating each other like a friend and a romantic companion rather than just a spouse or a parenting partner. We lump each other in with "the family" so we feel like we're serving and showing love to each other because we're both constantly working hard to keep our family clothed, fed, loved and financially stable.
But this week, I stopped to focus on my husband as a person. I realized it's OK to step away from "the family" for a minute every now and again to tap into the love I have for the man that's been my partner in this adventure from the beginning.
And that means more than folding laundry or making meals, it's finding small ways and moments to tell him, "Hey, I know we're busy, but you're still important to me. You matter. I see you, and I want to make your day a little better."
How do you let your spouse know they still come first?