One of the greatest shifts in my marriage, possibly in my adulthood as a whole, has also been one of the smallest shifts. It has slipped by unnoticed in the mundane tasks of laundry cycles and dish duty, a simple phrase that has ever so slightly changed the energy in our home:
I’m doing this for me.
I used to have a bit of a martyr complex.
I’d spend my Saturday mornings waking up early with a baby, feeding and rocking and shushing, then get to work cleaning the house while Ken (deservingly) slept in. I’d put Bee on my hip and we’d de-clutter the entryway, sift through the junk mail, return 800 pairs of shoes to their proper homes, all while I’d run the subconscious script in my head that I’m doing this for my family, these lucky creatures.
And then, after an hour or so, the resentment would set in. I don’t know where it came from, it would just arrive, and suddenly I’d be fluffing throw pillows loudly and with fury (Did you know it is possible to fluff throw pillows with fury?). I would resent that Ken was sleeping while I was tidying. I would resent that Bee had so many baby toys. I would resent that the people I lived with were not naturally organized, not naturally tidy, that I would forever be spending my days moving things around, returning keys to the hook, shoes to the cabinet, detergent to the shelf.
You can imagine, then, how lovely it was for Ken to wake up on these mornings – a sour wife in a spotless kitchen.
I no longer let the script run on those nameless Saturdays. I’ve shifted it slightly, and the shift has left seismic waves in my life:
I’m doing this for me.
It has taken me many years to discover that the purpose of marriage is not to change your spouse into someone more palatable, more convenient for you, someone who never fails to return his own keys to the entryway hook.
But oh, how I’d tried.
The honest truth is this: the sweet, crazed people in my home could care less where the keys hang. Ken hates shower mold but doesn’t mind a cluttered desk. Bee makes her bed with the precision of a navy seal, but leaves artwork strewn about the house like confetti in the wind.
I cannot handle a cluttered surface but am forever failing to use the grease splatter screen on bacon days.
Et tu, Brute?
So when I spend my mornings de-cluttering the house, I’m speaking my own love language here. There is nothing remotely martyr-ish about it, no resentment necessary.
I’m doing this for me.
I hear women speak often of self care, of how vital it is to rest in this season of our lives. I agree wholeheartedly, and if you’ll give me a quiet afternoon with a short stack of books and a tall glass of Chardonnay, I am a changed woman.
But I also agree that many areas of self care are so easily overlooked, are so easily placed into the martyrdom category. We mix self care in with others care and we confuse servanthood with sainthood.
We fail to see that when we’re caring for our families, we’re also caring for ourselves.
I once witnessed the most glorious argument between my friend and her husband over a toaster. Every morning, he’d pull out the toaster from the bottom cabinet to make breakfast before heading into the office. Every morning, he’d leave it out on the counter, and every morning, she’d have to put it away.
“Have to,” she’d say.
She argued that he should put the toaster back where it belongs before he leaves the house.
He argued that if they’d just make space for the toaster on the counter, he wouldn’t have to get it out every morning, and she wouldn’t have to put it away.
She argued that there wasn’t enough countertop space for the toaster to stay out.
He argued that if she’d move her artisan candle collection to the dining nook, there’d be plenty of space.
(Never bring up a woman’s artisan candle collection in the heat of the moment.)
The crux of the matter was simple: the toaster was an eyesore, and the candles were not. She could choose form over function, but she’d need to recognize that it was her choice. She’d need to own it.
She’d need to say, simply: I’m doing this for me.
It was never a Her vs. Him argument. It was simply a Candles vs. Toaster argument.
(Candles won, obv.)
Last weekend, after a busy season of planes and plans, of sickness and schedules, Ken offered me an afternoon to myself. I’d had high hopes to crack the spine on a new library read, to take a nap, maybe catch up on my emails, perhaps sneak in a walk and some quiet dinner prep?
But the house had grown messy in our busyness, and my love for order won out. There was laundry to catch up on, paperwork to sift through, a kitchen to clean. Ken came home to a spotless house, and a not-at-all sour wife.
Thank you, he said.
No thanks necessary, I said. I did it for me.
Finally, it was the truth.