***Note, this post contains some adult-related topics. If any of my readers are underage or uncomfortable with that, please click away. Also, this post should not be construed as professional marital advice. In addition, any opinions in this post are entirely mine and haven’t been solicited. ***
I’ve mentioned several times that my marriage has been vastly improved over the last several months. But, I’ve really struggled with how to write about why. I’ve struggled because some of what has helped has been a different approach to intimacy, and I’m not sure how honest to be with that. Several of you know me in real life. A few of you are even my closest friends, and I don’t want to make you uncomfortable with knowing about what happens in this aspect of my life.
However, the change has been so dramatic…so profound…so positive…so overwhelmingly different, that I feel odd not sharing it. So, here we go. Warning, it’s going to be a long post. So, grab some tea and settle in.
McRuger and I didn’t know each other particularly well when we got married. From first meeting to marriage was 365 days. Which, at the time, didn’t seem rushed or hurried at all. And, from marriage to TTC (trying to conceive) was only about 6 months. And then it was into the roller coaster of IF and all of the hardship of that.
The first few years of our marriage were riddled with the highest of highs…coupled with the lowest of lows. I struggled with what my place was in our new city, my new life, and how to navigate living with another person full time. My anxiety, heightened by our IF and the meds which accompanied it, only worsened over time…and added a layer of complication to our new marriage. Not to mention, the stresses of being foster parents…
McRuger and I fought, not a lot…but enough. We couldn’t find the words to communicate and often our fights or miscommunications would roll over into the bedroom…not the best thing for TTC or a newish marriage. To our friends and family, we presented as if we were a perfectly in-love couple. Nothing felt profoundly wrong. It wasn’t enough for either one of us to leave or threaten divorce. Just a very low hum of discord.
Cadet’s first year was a real low-point for us. We were struggling with all the challenges new parents face…plus navigating adoption/MsJ’s issues/Cadet’s health. We had some good weeks, but they never lasted. Our s.ex life was practically non-exsistant. McRuger and I agree… we were on autopilot. We didn’t even know how to talk about what was bothering us. I don’t think we could even have verbalized it. In the back of my mind, I just thought this was what all new parents went through. To be clear, neither McRuger or I ever felt things were that bad. I thought McRuger was a good dad and husband…and he thought the same of me.
Once Cadet really started sleeping through the night (about 15-18 months) things started to get a little better,. although we were just starting down the road of “potential autism”. We started to talk more, and fight less. We also started having more conversations about our relationship. We even started having se.x more (yay!). But, there was still this low drone in the back of our relationship that something wasn’t quite right. We weren’t connecting as we had when we first were together. We spent a lot of time lamenting those “easy days” when we were first together. Even going on dates nights could be a challenge. We just didn’t know how to be a couple who was in love anymore. Even when doing stuff we both loved, we weren’t firing on all cylinders.
When we really started delving into Adoption #2, we talked about how we’d just have to accept that we’d have a hard time connecting until both kids were older. We’d put our marriage in the backseat for the kids. It didn’t sit well with either of us, but we didn’t know what else to do. We thought about counseling several times, but our problems didn’t seem big enough to warrant outside intervention. No one was cheating, or chronically ill, or abusive, or even particularly distant…our problems seemed small. Every couple has highs and lows, right?
It was during Cadet’s second year of life that I started seeing a lot of marriages failing. In the space of 12 months, I had 3 friends get divorced from their spouses…marriages that had seemed so strong, but had fallen apart, seemingly overnight. I also had several friends with marriages that were in rocky places due to various factors: money, addiction, infidelity, and parenting differences. These friends with troubled marriages just seemed to affirm that McRuger and I were in a low spot, but it wasn’t anything serious. We were loving and friendly to each other…just vaguely dissatisfied.
Things stayed like that until the middle of last year. Once Pumpkin was born, things got bad again. We were stressed, snippy, and generally unhappy. We weren’t fighting, but we were just surviving. It was a combination of lack of sleep, the stress of Cadet adjusting, and a lack of support from friends/family.
In the early mornings, while feeding Pumpkin, I started to read: books, blogs, really anything about marriage. How could we get back those feelings back that we had in the beginning? What was I (or McRuger) doing wrong? What was going on? Most of the books and blogs I read had the same suggestions: “go on date night”, “spend time doing fun things together”, “really talk about what you’re feeling”…and so on. Well, yes, thank you…we’ve been trying to do that, and it’s not working. Nothing really struck a chord with me. I think over the course of a month, I read 3 or 4 “marriage self-help” books, and the essential messages were the same…and unhelpful.
Sometime in December, I was having a really bad night of sleep. McRuger and I had been grumpy all day, and I was mulling our relationship over in my head. Just like those old days of IF, I hopped on my iPad and went down the rabbit hole of the internet…just looking for something. After a long click-fest of random blogs, book excerpts, and forums…I found a book that I hadn’t heard of called: The Surrendered Wife. It looked intriguing, so I did a little more reading about it. And, after not much more looking…I purchased the book for my Kind.le app and began to read. What I read shocked me.
Let me pause here. This book (and the so-called “movement” it created) has a good deal of controversy around it. When I discussed the premise of this book with various female friends, most of them looked at me as if I’d grown another eyeball. But, all that being said, the core principals of the book are:
Quoting from Wikipedia:
The “Surrendered Wives” movement is centered around six basic principles:
- a wife relinquishes control of her husband’s life
- she respects his decisions for his life
- she practices good self-care (she does at least three things a day for her own enjoyment)
- she also practices receiving compliments and gifts graciously
- she practices expressing gratitude (thanking her husband for the things he does)
- a surrendered wife is not afraid to show her vulnerability and take the feminine approach
Continuing in an abusive, alcoholic, or adulterous relationship is not promoted or condoned.
You can read the critiques/praises of this book all on your own. This post is about my experience with it.
Anyway, I was shocked by what this book suggested. Give up control of McRuger’s life? I’d always been the social secretary, wardrobe consultant, and primary planner. If I didn’t tell him about his doctor’s appointment, he wouldn’t remember…right? I needed to micromanage, because he wasn’t managing at all. I couldn’t just give those roles up! Our life would fall into chaos…wouldn’t it? And, what if I don’t respect his choices in life? What if I really disagree with a choice he’s making….shouldn’t I speak up? Isn’t this my life too?
A few nights later, after reading about ⅓ of the book, I talked to McRuger about everything I had read. I thought the author was totally batty…insane…off base… How in the world did she expect a modern (feminist) woman to “surrender” to her husband? Women have been fighting for generations to break the glass ceiling…gaining equal pay…the right to vote, and this author was asking me to back down. I was indignant. How could any woman think this book had anything decent to say? This isn’t the 1950’s! I’m not a Stepford Wife! I wasn’t surrendering to anyone!
McRuger listened, then he began to talk. McRuger and I had a very long discussion that night. He and I remember it slightly differently, but the realization we came to was that we were both struggling for control in the relationship. He often felt micromanaged and disrespected by my attempts to manage our lives. And I felt like McRuger often didn’t step up enough to help make decisions. We often found ourselves in these endless mazes of decision-making…ending up with fights and power struggles. Those power-struggles, we finally understood, were killing us…slowly, softly…in the background. No matter what, we couldn’t both be in charge.
The part that really gutted me was the fact that McRuger didn’t feel respected. Huh. Really? My husband, whom I love and adore, was feeling disrespected by my behavior? That’s not okay. Suddenly, the book made a bit more sense to me. I was micromanaging and controlling…and what was that getting me? An unhappy husband, and I wasn’t thrilled either. So, could I try surrendering some control? Would it really help?
Our conversation continued, and it turned to our s.ex. life…which neither of us were happy with. While, I won’t go into the details, McRuger told me that he felt hurt and pushed away when I backed away from his sexual advances. And, I often felt like he didn’t give me enough attention to warrant any intimate contact. I asked him about a section of the book which suggests that a wife should be open to all sexual advances from her husband (allowing for her wishes to be known and being open about any issues you might be having). That was something I wasn’t doing. I was probably shutting him down 50% of the time, citing the fact that I was tired, or needed alone time, or wasn’t “in the mood”. McRuger then shared that often wouldn’t even try to touch me or kiss me. He simply didn’t want to be “shut down” and hurt by my rejection. Wow. Mind blown. Really? It was alarming to me that my behavior, especially in this arena, were impacting him so profoundly.
Over the next few days, we kept talking. We opened up, we asked questions…. And, within days of our initial, amazing conversation, McRuger and I made some very conscious changes in our relationship. These changes aren’t taken directly from the book…but more like they are inspired by it.
1) First of all, McRuger is allowed to touch me in an intimate way whenever he wants (barring my being sick or other circumstances). No shutting him down if I’m tired or feel “blah”. This doesn’t mean we are going to have se.x, but that he can kiss me or massage my shoulders or grope me without me pushing him away… If I’m genuinely not in a place (emotionally or physically) to accept his attentions, the onus is on me to make that clear, but to also make sure McRuger doesn’t feel rejected. This more “welcoming” attitude has made both of us feel much less pressured about se.x and intimacy in general. This doesn’t mean he’s sucking on my ear lobe while we’re at a restaurant, but it does mean that he touches me much more frequently (which I love and crave). Just a hand at the small of my back or a small kiss as he passes me feeding Pumpkin…so nice.
2) We have fewer conflicts over choices, because first we agree on who is going to be the final “decider” in decisions we’re making (usually, that’s McRuger), and then we both provide input. When all the input has been given, it’s up to the decision maker to actually make the choice (the other party withdraws the right to fight that choice). This has worked out surprisingly well.
3) We are both cultivating a deep sense of gratitude for the other person and what they do. If McRuger happens to do the dishes, I thank him for his generosity of time. If I take the time to empty the diaper bin, McRuger thanks me for doing the icky task. We thank each other for doing our normal duties…Just remembering to say thanks and express heartfelt appreciation to the other person has been very profound. It reminds me how much McRuger does around the house and for the family.
4) We also try to be aware of and encourage our gender differences. This has been an interesting aspect of this whole journey. For me, it’s meant remembering my inherent femininity and enjoying that. I love wearing dresses (I have since I was a child), McRuger loves me in dresses and skirts…so now, you’ll often find me wearing a dress around the house. I feel more “put together” and motherly in my dresses, and McRuger has noticed that even the boys love playing in my skirts. I’m not wearing hoops or corsets, but lovely, tailored cotton dresses which are very practical in our warm climate. I also encourage (in my own way) McRuger to handle the bigger, more physical tasks. Putting together Pumpkin’s new crib or moving larger items out for our garage sale are ways of McRuger feeling more “manly”. Encouraging these gender differences has also pulled into focus how controlling I used to be.
Those four things, plus a lot of unconscious attitude shifts, have made the last several months probably the most extraordinary of our entire relationship. McRuger feels stronger, more respected/confident/grounded, and happier than he has in our entire relationship. I feel completely respected, loved, provided for, and safe (a big trigger for me). Our intimate life has never been more fulfilling for both of us (which feeds the positivity in the rest of the relationship). In fact, we both agree that we feel this deep sense of awe in how well we work…we just fit together insanely well in so many aspects of our relationship.
While we still have the occasional fight, they generally don’t last as long as they used to and lead to more productive conversations about how we can do better. We end fights feeling actually close…not in some uneasy truce. We talk quite a bit about our relationship these days too (often initiated by McRuger). On a weekly basis, we (either consciously or not) end up talking about how we’re feeling about this or that aspect of our relationship. There’s no hidden corners of anger or disappointment that we haven’t touched on. Everything is out in the open. And, yes, I still get angry at times at McRuger, but not as often. Because I generally feel so close to him, I’m able to push aside my anger or frustration much more easily.
McRuger has read most of the Surrendered Wife of his own accord. We talk about what we agree with or don’t (much of it has rung VERY true for both of us). There are some aspects of this book which don’t apply to us or we have ignored. But, overall, we both feel like this book holds quite a bit of wisdom. More than any other self-help book I’ve ever read, this one focuses 100% on what YOU can do differently, regardless of what your partner is doing. You can’t control or change other people…but you can control/change yourself! We both feel that this book focuses on the micro-levels of a relationship, rather than the “big view”, which makes changes easier to implement.
Now, before you go thinking that I’m some uber-submissive wife, who meekly fixes dinner and then scrubs the floor while McRuger games all night….yeah, NO. This isn’t about submitting to McRuger and giving away my voice. This is about creating a better way of being together. I have my sphere of influence in the marriage and McRuger has his. Instead of fighting for control over each other, we have control over ourselves. Does that make sense?
Now, this book does have one big blindspot….children. The author’s expectations of how to handle certain situations when children are in the relationship are often a bit unrealistic. You have to remember, this book is about marriage, about the primary relationship between the spouses. But, both McRuger and I have noticed that even with the stress of two kids, we are more attentive/loving/patient with them since this shift in our relationship.
Infertility, TTC, adoption, parenting and life in general can make things challenging for couples. Marriage is hard, and knowing how to handle the everyday stresses/changes is not easy, let alone the “bigger” stuff. And, that’s why I shared this. Of course this book isn’t for everyone. But, it’s a starting point. And, it was a powerful starting place for us. There are some of you out there who are struggling with your relationship. Struggling to find intimacy or connection or a sense of “what now”. I get that. I’ve been there. Marriage and intimacy don’t have to go on the back burner for kids/school/work. I know that this book has helped McRuger and I find that connection/spark that we felt early in our relationship and has helped that connection grow.
Trust me, I know how this post sounds. It sounds almost insane, right? Like I’ve joined some cult and had a good deal of the Kool-Aid. Or McRuger has been brainwashing me in my sleep. How can one book make such a difference? I honestly don’t know. Perhaps McRuger and I were ready for a deep conversation and this book happened along a the right time. Or the ideas are just that profound. Both McRuger and I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop…when will we go back to feeling that low hum of “not right”. It hasn’t happened yet…and we’re going almost 6 months of feeling very confident in our relationship. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
I don’t really know how to end this post. I hope that this speaks to one (or more) of you. That maybe this book (or others) helps you find the way back to a connection.