Oh, sister. You give and you give and you are so tired even your eyebrows seem to ache. You are juggling but instead of china plates it is your relationships in the air. The people you love and care for. You catch each one, give them another boost but it’s relentless and before you can shake your arms out, there’s another one to catch. A relentless cycle of breathing life into the friendship with your sensitive first born, your wild-spirited second born, and this grown person you vowed to love and cherish.
And on the truly exhausted days, the one you can’t catch is the one who needs you least.
You cast your eyes across the horizon and see that the other couples you began with are getting sparser and sparser. Each year another separation, a relationship laid to rest.
Some partnerships are forever, and some for a moment in time. Wherever there has been true love, there has been life. And, also, sometimes partnerships are begun with someone who is toxic. Some mothers move on as an act of honouring themselves.
But if you are reading this, you know your journey isn’t in the leaving, but in the staying.
You want to save this.
I have a theory about motherhood. It’s our vision quest. A soul-wrenching journey of growth and healing that moulds us into a wholly different person.
I’ve heard that every cell in our body regenerates on a regular basis, so that purely on a visceral level, each 7 years we are made entirely new. I can remember telling someone when I was pregnant with my first child, age 27, “I haven’t changed a DOT since I turned 20. I became ME then and here I still am.” My daughter is seven now. And I laugh because I am 100% a different person to that pregnant woman telling a friend she never changes.
Our vision quest turns us inside out. Gives us a pair of Truth Spectacles to peer into our childhood, our experiences, our belief systems. We are broken by sleep deprivation and self doubt, and then we are put back together by the love our children give us. And, oh, the healing love we have for them. A love so intense at times it has felt like every regenerated cell is vibrating. Only to then be stripped empty by surprise rage or grief or the dull, repetitive mundanity of every day life with kids. We have questioned everything, dismantled the status quo. We have read all the books and listened to all the podcasts. We have wrestled with our old patterns. And we are slowly, slowly – some days failing completely – changing EVERYTHING for our children, we are building a new world for them by our kindness and empathy.
We are monks of the highest most saintly order! We are legends to rival King Arthur and his sword! Every one of us should go down in history as the woman who did what was required of her. Who accepted the quest and lived.
Yet here we are, opening the curtains, brushing oats off the sofa and looking for a pair of tiny matching socks. And all around the home is a fizz of tension, abrupt words, rolled eyes, barbed comments and more nagging requests, and only a small number of these directed at the children.
Some mothers end up at the top of a mountain, looking back down the path at a partner that doesn’t seem to have changed at all. He’s still back there, doing the thing he does, the way he always has done, being the person you first got with. While you, you are unrecognisable. Even to yourself.
I was talking to a friend about this, a husband and dad to a family living this cutting edge respectful parenting life, about how few fathers really step up to the game. How they become passive supporters, or outright naysayers, of the progressive journey the mother wants to take them on. He suggested it’s because the quest the fathers go on is totally different. Society, for the most part, raises men to believe their quest is a material one. So when the babies are born, instead of diving inward, our menfolk dive outward into work, into providing safe shelter, enough food for the table. They become single-minded about being the provider. And don’t leave enough room to do the inner work required to be an empathetic parent. I see this pattern all around me too. How many men become locked into this role. Even though this is not what 2018 requires of them.
(A boring note: I can be deeply honest and real here, cos we’re friends right? Just kidding. That’s not why I am being this direct. It’s because I am writing from a good place, having been in a tough place. I have sat on this post for a long time, not wanting to hit post in case I jinx things. But I believe the opposite is true, by posting something honest and compassionate I am putting more honesty and compassion out in the world, rather than inviting pain and tragedy.Tim and I have been on our unique quests. And we had a hard year last year. The hardest yet. It really bit us on the bum. But we did a lot of things, which I’m gonna raise, and ultimately we decided that we are going to rest in each other. To involve each other, share our insights, to quest together
So I hope this post is helpful. Also, forgive my use of gendered pronouns. I realise this is exclusionary of me, but I wanted to reflect the many conversations I have had specifically with heterosexual mothers about this, and I don’t want to presume that any of this is the truth for same-sex partnerships. And by “marriage” I mean “long term partnerships.”)
1- Often we tell ourselves we’ve got nothing in common any more when the reality is we’ve probably got more in common now than we did at the start- it’s just we don’t have all those lusty hormones floating round our bodies anymore, the lack of which makes things feel very stark. The kids are an enormous shared interest, but also the things you once loved to do together are possibly still there, it’s just you have no chance or will to do them together. Acknowledging the shared interest and all the reasons you do want to invest wholeheartedly into this relationship is an important first step. But alas… the chemistry….
2 – Sometimes the chemistry can be raised from the dead. I think 1) sex and 2) gratitude can go along way in bringing back the chemistry that once danced between you. So book sex in, if you can. Get it on Wall Calendar. But also I think there’s another kind of magic that can happen in a later phase of long term relationship that’s even better than that lusty magic of the beginning. And this is the magic of being truly known by someone and it’s the magic of knowing someone will stick with you through anything.
In my experience of sitting in circle with other women, the real powerful stuff is not around “getting” each other’s story, it’s not cos we all hear each other and go “oh yeah I agree” the power is simply that we are hearing each other. We are sharing from the heart and someone is hearing us. I feel like that’s the epitome of humanhood. That authentic connection. It doesn’t need agreement, just honesty and the ability to hear. Is there a way you can begin a practice with your partner where you sit and hear each other? Where you share feelings with non judgement, where you tell your stories to each other? You might use a talking stick even and set a boundary “let’s have a circle, we just share and listen, no feedback, no solutions, just stories” Solutions will come later.
3- Obviously for you to tell stories you need time together. I think this is what makes it SO HARD for families with radical mamas. It’s not actually about the dad being against it, it’s about him being left behind. His inner child is hurting, feeling all the rejection he’s ever felt in his life but at the hands of his wife – the person he moved earth to be with. He feels jealous that the kids get so much energy from you, that they take up all your time, that you find so much meaning in relationship with them and not with him. He can’t help these feelings, but he can’t even articulate them because they sound so awful and pathetic. So instead he makes barbed comments about the way you are doing things with them. Or he is rude to you. Perhaps there is a meanness there. A quick pointed finger.
The healing for all of this is time together. He needs to know you prioritise him, that you actually want to hang out with him. And us mamas need to keep reminding ourselves about the meaning of this long term relationship, instead of thinking “gosh it’s like having an extra child” we need to remind ourselves of the honour of deep, life-long sacred union. I believe marriage (or long term partnership) can be utterly world changing because it demands such an incredible amount of vulnerability and deep, committed knowing of another human.
I have spent some time with this idea lately. It has re-energised my passion for our sacred union. Our marriage is a place we can face our full selves, shadow and all, and know we belong. It can go deeper than Moon Circles and therapy, because it involves connection on every level: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual. By nature of being together for so many hours we are asked to go deep in a way no relationship can even touch on.
Brene Brown says
People are hard to hate close up. Move in.
Do this in full knowledge of your reason why: your union is a sacred expression of your self.
4- Ah, but the time thing. How can you get this time? We need to sail the seven seas to find it. Put on our thigh high boots and pirate hat and – wait, this is not what you think. Do what you must do: Call on family members. Organise child care swaps with friends. Take a night a week. A day every month. Put a film or audiobook on for the kids so you can do something you love to do together in the evening. Ask questions of each other. Get new knickers and delight in sex. Get some stuff from the Gottman Institute . Our last date together was an Airbnb voucher and doing the Gottman lovemaking course it was great! So nerdy. Super basic. But it provoked heaps of conversation about sex which we hadn’t had for a while.
5- Lastly, your job isn’t to enlighten your partner. That is not a burden for your shoulders. Your job is to heal and grow and to love your partner as they are. It is a strange thing, but the more healing you do, the less you will need to try and force your partner onto their healing journey. The more you grow, the more able you will be to see that the things that frustrate you in him, are probably the things you find frustrating about yourself, or at the least, somehow shining a light on an insight you need to grasp. So keep questing, but alongside your quest keep offering the most unconditional love you can give. Keep yourself warm and open to your partner, invite him into your journey, tell him your awkward realisations, but do it without judgement or expectation of him. Trust him, trust the idea that his enlightenment is alive, if invisible, and trust that your relationship can thrive even when one of you lags behind.
8 extra resources that could be helpful
The work of Byron Katie – one of the most powerful free resources I have found about self-inquiry, belief systems, hard relationship, frustrating situations. If there is something constantly driving you to frustration about your partner, this process can be life changing. A path to personal and couple joy, if ever I’ve known one.
There is an entire course by Marshall Rosenberg available on Youtube. Marshall Rosenberg is the founder of Non Violent Communication – an incredible communication process to bring healing and peace to situations of conflict. This is the most useful tool for when you have strong feelings about a partner’s behaviour or belief system, how you can begin to raise these issues with true understanding.
I will always remember my divorced friend saying that if she knew the amount of labour – emotional work, logistical organising, constant constant effort- it took to both divorce and then raise kids together, she would go back and put the effort in to stick together. Even 10% of the effort of being divorced would have saved her marriage.
I’m breathing out a prayer for you as I type. It is that you might be able to set down one of those china plate relationships you are juggling. That you might instead feel your partner rise, that you might feel him stand alongside you, a juggling duo bringing life into the relationships with your children. Know that your union is worth saving, that time might be the only thing it needs. It’s not unattainable. It’s there in front of you, if you reach. Particularly now you’ve set down the heaviest one of those plates. I see you guys, resting together in self-compassion, taking anew these steps along this path of sacred partnership.
PS Thank you for reading. If this is helpful please do share it.
PPS I have a Patreon page for people who want to come more on board with my writing and video making.
PPPS I talk a bit about my own quest here