By: Elise Ashlock
I remember the day we announced our pregnancy. After many years of dreaming, hoping, and praying that someday it would be my turn, I was finally hugging my mom, and hearing her say through tears, “My girl is going to have a baby.”
I couldn’t have known then that she wouldn’t be with me the moment our precious son was born. Or, that over the coming months I would be more isolated than ever, and face challenges in my marriage that I never imagined.
Due to COVID-19, staying healthy meant staying home. As a teacher, my work abruptly ended for the semester in March. I was isolated with nothing to do but plan for my baby. My husband worked from home already, but as a freelancer, his opportunities significantly decreased. We found ourselves in a pressure cooker of sorts, trying to make sense of our new life, and wondering how it changed so quickly.
In times of stress, my husband and I are complete opposites. I go into hyper drive, pressuring myself (and those around me) to accomplish more, while my husband feels he is at capacity and shuts down.
I was creating deadlines for us to finish the nursery, getting the house ready for family to stay after our son was born, and cleaning constantly, all while fighting with my husband because he wasn’t joining me. I remember thinking, “If he’s not helping now, why should I believe he’ll help when the baby comes?”
The most gut-wrenching moments were accompanied with side-by-side reels playing in my mind of how I thought it should be, contrasting starkly against our painful reality. I always thought we would be dreaming about our future together, setting up the baby bed in bliss, and cherishing the last few months before our first baby came. Now, I can see now how those expectations could overwhelm. Then, I was just hurt and angry.
On a tearful Thursday morning we finally told each other (and our closest friends) the truth. We needed help. My best friend recommended marriage counseling, and although we were both truly terrified, we went.
I thought we might walk in, tell our story, and the therapist would say we were too broken, that there was no coming back from the months we had just lived through. My husband’s fear was that expressing his needs would only make things worse. But, I am so grateful to say that none of this came true. While it was never easy, therapy changed everything for us.
Here are a few things we’ve learned:
- Certain repeated behaviors always lead to broken relationships: Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (Look up Dr. John Gottman to learn more!).
- No one can hold your unmet expectations. I often believed that if my husband loved me, he would know what I needed without me expressing it. However, people in healthy, long-lasting relationships are clear about what they need, how they feel, and who they are.
- In a stable and happy marriage, for each negative interaction, there are five positive interactions (The Gottman Institute). This is a big focus for us. Now, my husband and I focus on physical touch (like back rubs and hugs), spending relaxing moments together (like taking walks and cooking), and saying thank you every chance we get.
- Continually asking, “What do you feel and what do you need?” is vital. Checking in with the other person, really listening and responding to what they say, makes a massive difference in daily happiness and connection.
Our baby boy was born this October, and we are grateful. Grateful that we know how to better communicate our needs, understand each other’s stress responses, and show love in specific ways. My husband is an incredible father, and I know now that much of our conflict came from not seeing each other clearly. Now that we do, I never want to take that for granted.
We are still seeing a therapist. We are still healing. And we are still together. If you are struggling, it’s okay to admit it and ask for help. In fact, it just might change everything.