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Seven years into parenthood, I finally woke up from my "You can do it all" coma to realize I didn't have a cape stored underneath my sweatshirt. What I did have was a ton of field-trip permission slips, grocery receipts and one stale bag of pretzels. My husband, Rex, was spending a lot of time in the office, leaving me to fend for myself at home with two rowdy kids. My life was rapidly spiraling away from me and into a messy "Take care of everyone else and, sadly, you're not doing it very well" vortex. Here are the steps I took to reclaim my marriage (and sanity), and how you can do it too:
Admit When You Need Help
When I realized I wasn't getting enough support from my hubby on the home front, I told him that I needed him to help out more. Sometimes our spouses don't realize when we're overwhelmed, so it's important to vocalize these feelings instead of assuming that they should automatically know when we're struggling. Rex really stepped up, and now he makes the effort to come home early when he can. My part of the bargain is to not complain the second he walks in the door. (I give him at least a minute.) If I've had a bad day and there's a frustration that I just can't seem to shake, he listens to me vent. Show your partner how even small changes, such as him asking how your day was, can make you feel more connected.
Accept That Your Spouse Isn't Perfect
I'm beyond elated that Rex saw my distress and proved himself to be the amazing husband I knew I had married. But what if he had said no? What if he had sat cross-armed (as he has done in the past over other issues) and said, "Sorry, I just can't help right now." What would I have done?
It is crucial to realize that just because our partners might be unable to make that switch the moment we need it, it doesn't mean that they will never make that change, especially if our request is reasonable. In my case, I wasn't asking for boatloads of cash or vacations in Maui. I needed some more time for myself...a companion to lean on. Give your husband the time (and the chance) to give you what you need. Sometimes certain things don't come as naturally to him as it does for you, and vice versa. For example, Rex has asked me over and over again to be more cautious with my spending, but to this day, I still go over budget. Accept that your partner has weaknesses and help him overcome them.
Make Time to Reconnect with Yourself
Ultimately, regardless of how Rex would have reacted to my plea for assistance, my backup plan was to take care of myself anyway. I would put the kids to bed earlier, I would trade more with friends, I would pre-pack meals for school lunches—anything to give me a break at the end of the day. Scheduling time to recharge your batteries can often prevent blowups from even occurring in the first place. Clear your calendar—even if it's just for 15 minutes—to care for yourself. You can't focus on improving relationships with loved ones until you feel complete on your own.
Remind Yourself Why You Got Married in the First Place
Marriage is a constant give and take: It means accepting the lovely, along with the ugly, parts of our spouses. I'm referring to minor squabbles that perhaps the two of you have fought over like cats and dogs since the honeymoon ended. We all have them.
Maybe our spouses will change, maybe they won't. But the backup plan is to change what we can. I can change my way of looking at the bad stuff and focus on all of the positive aspects of my life with Rex. Remember that man you married years ago and how much he loves you despite your flaws. Revisiting the past can give you perspective on challenges that you face in the present-day.
Additional reporting and editing by Stefania Sainato
Photo: Christina Reichl Photography/Getty