Doing the work of relationships

Every day when I wake up, I try to take a moment to remind myself about how incredibly lucky I am.

I tend to get caught up in my grump, or in the anxieties that swirl around inside my head. I forget that I am lucky, and I forget how incredible the people who support me are. I have recently been especially bad about this; I’ve let those thoughts drive the train of my behavior, right off the tracks into DisasterTown.

So there’s this thing about my marriage; it’s imperfect, and always under construction. Like anything under construction, sometimes it’s rough, but the intent is to make something better. Relationships are a two-person endeavor; it takes work from both parties to maintain and improve our state of being, and that work is not always divided evenly. Maybe your partner always wants you to do the dishes, or hates to drive on the freeway. Maybe you need a lot of help figuring out how to communicate effectively, or with managing your depression. The need that is pressing today may be in the background tomorrow, and forgotten a year from now. Working on a relationship is not like working on a house, even remodeling a house you’re living in. The work is never done, and there’s very little of it that someone else can do for the two of you.

Over the last couple of years, some people have said things to me that indicate that they think the distribution of work in my marriage to Carlos is unfair, that I am putting his needs ahead of my own, or that he does not do the work to take care of me. I find these accusations particularly infuriating because they come from people who have made a determination about what I need without talking to me, and about Carlos’s behavior without talking to him.

Here’s some truth: in the course of our relationship, Carlos has done most of the work of taking care of me, and of us. I don’t just mean the “pay the bills” work, but the hard and dirty work of knowing your partner and making a life together successful. For all the times that people have preferred to hear things from me over hearing them from him, he is the one of us who puts his shoulder to the grindstone of emotional intelligence and communication. I told him that I was going to have a baby with him, and he said “OK,” and I told him that I wanted him to marry me. He took a deep breath and said it again: “OK.” Every time that someone says to me, “how did you end up with him?” I (try not to) scream, “I picked him and he said yes!”

This conversation that keeps happening, about whether he values me, keeps making it clear that I am not doing enough to show that I value him. The best piece of relationship advice my mom gave me was this: you never know about a relationship that you’re not in. So, to the haters, I say: You don’t know. And to the non-haters, I want to say this: I am incredibly lucky, to have found a person who wants to grow and learn and live with me, as I actually am, and only asks that I do the same for him. I wish that those conversations about whether he was taking care of me had included a question about whether I was taking care of him, too.

In our interviews with people about their relationships and communities, it’s a question that we don’t ask often enough: how do you take care of your partner, and how does your partner take care of you?

One thought on “Doing the work of relationships”

  1. Nail and head. There’s always that implication that someone asking/commenting/#justsayin’ about your relationship has your best interests in mind, and I choose to believe that people are largely “good” and do have similar intentions.
    Some of the comments and questions I’ve received seem to come from a place where the commenter is projecting what they think would make them happy if they were me.
    But like you and C, life is so much more complex than what can be observed and shared with even some of the people closest to you.
    It’s a great question – how do my person and I care for one another?

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