By Shirelle Edghill, Creighton Model FertilityCare Practitioner
One morning over breakfast, I told my husband that I looked up to him as someone I wanted to be like. When I think of the ways he's grown and changed during our 19 year relationship and 14 years of marriage, I just feel like I can only hope that I've had that kind of growth. To me, it was a very natural thing to say, and I didn't think much of it. But later, it dawned on me. THIS is this secret sauce for a great marriage! When you admire your spouse like this, you become different yourself. You care what they think. You care how they feel. You are constantly trying to up your own game because your spouse is pretty freaking amazing and you don’t want to be the slacker in the relationship. Conversely, you can see the opposite happen as a marriage starts to deteriorate. When one spouse begins to lose respect for the other, you see it in the way they don't monitor their tone of voice, their body language, in the way they speak about their spouse to other people.
I think two things have continued to help us in our mutual admiration for the other. The first is that we have continued to intentionally work on having a better, stronger marriage. The second is that we have continued to actively work to be better people ourselves.
One area we've had to really work on is communication. A few weeks ago I was feeling frustrated and overwhelmed with my work load around the house. Michael began a new career about 18 months ago. With Michael’s new job meaning increased work hours and responsibility, I had taken over all the household related things that he used to do. When he took the job, we talked about how this would probably be necessary while he settled in. Now, one thing you should know is that my husband has always helped out around the house and when he’s home, he’s been there in it with me, taking care of the kids. If on any day in the last 18 months I had said, “Could you take care of a load of laundry?” he would do it if he said he would. The problem I was having was that since he started his job, I knew that ultimately I was responsible for all the laundry, or delegating that job to someone else, and that went for every household or kid related task. I was feeling overwhelmed one day because I had not specifically asked him to do the laundry while I was working on the weekend, and since he sometimes did it on the weekends, I had expected him to do it. Big mistake, those expectations. Monday morning rolls around and our 4 year old yells, “Mom, I don’t have any clean underwear!” I cringed because I did not have an immediate solution to this problem, and I was irritated that he hadn’t taken care of it on the weekend, because he had the weekend before. I could feel that my resentment over being responsible for everything around the house was growing. What I wanted to do was to complain about how no one ever helps me around the house. I wanted to send him a passive aggressive text with a picture of Mount Laundry. Maybe I would go on strike! What I did instead was to decide to think first about how I should communicate with him about this in a respectful way. This is NOT in my nature. I am naturally really impulsive when I’m angry (and in general!) and I’ve tried to work on this. I waited until I was no longer irritated and for when Michael was able to talk about it, and I calmly told him that I was feeling mentally overwhelmed. I asked him if he felt like his job had calmed down enough for him to commit to a few household tasks so that I didn’t have to have so much mental clutter. I suggested he take over the finances again and maybe cook one dinner a week.
So what did Michael do? He got his calendar out and scheduled himself to cook TWO dinners a week, he scheduled a block of time to do the finances, AND he committed to doing the laundry on the weekends. And he’s done that. We’re a month in and he’s taken care of all of those things. They are now off my mental to-do lists. He went above and beyond what I even asked him to do. And you know what that makes me want to do? The same for him! How can you not admire someone who goes above and beyond like that? That makes ME want to go above and beyond for him. I think that is what I had been trying to do by taking the home workload off of him so he could focus on his new job for a season. I tried to offer a lot of extra grace during this transitional time.
One of the biggest things that has contributed to the growth of our marriage over the last 15 years might be kind of surprising, but it has to do with the way we practice family planning. If you have stumbled on this site for the first time, I’d like to invite you to read a little bit about the system we use to plan our family without hormonal contraception, barriers, or devices. We plan our family by using the naturally fertile or infertile days in my cycle. The system is called the Creighton Model FertilityCare System and it’s good stuff.
We have this term in the Creighton Model that we call SPICE. Each letter represents an area of intimacy in a relationship.
Creative and Communicative
We teach couples to think about these areas of their relationship and discuss which areas are their strengths and weaknesses. We ask them to pick concrete things they can do to become stronger in these areas. As I've mentioned, communication was an area for us that needed work. Practicing Creighton has helped us learn to communicate about my fertility and my health in a really open way, and these skills can transfer to the other areas of your relationship. In a natural fertility awareness system like the Creighton Model, there may be times when couples choose to practice periodic abstinence in order to plan their family. This is when SPICE practice most comes into play in our marriage, and is one of the reasons I think Michael and I have such a strong marriage. During times of periodic abstinence we are intentionally working on these other areas of our relationship. We hug and cuddle more (physical), we take walks (also physical), we go on dates to talk (intellectual), we sit on the couch and talk about plans (communication), we share our work struggles with each other (emotional), we plan a vacation (creative), we go to church together (spiritual), or we have friends over for dinner that we both really enjoy talking to (intellectual). These are all things that help us to feel connected and intimate. Sometimes I think couples default to sex as the only way to be intimate, and the only way to show love and affection to one another, and this might lead to a limited view of intimacy. It could even lead to one of them feeling a little bit used. At the core of our relationship is a tenderness, affection, and respect that will hopefully be there when we're old and gray in our rocking chairs on the porch.
Our desire is that our sex life simply be a reflection of the relationship that we have the other 98% of the time.
Ok, so maybe your husband or wife isn’t in a place where they would have pulled out their calendar and committed to do all of those things. There was a time when Michael probably wouldn’t have responded in that way, and where I would have picked a fight with him the moment I became irritated. But you can start with you. You can choose today and everyday to go above and beyond for your significant other. A surprising thing often happens when you start to regularly do that. Sometimes, even if you’re just lost that lovin’ feeling, it begins to come back when you put that person's wellbeing at the forefront of your mind. They notice, they begin to feel that love and affection, and want to return it. It makes them want to be better. I would also challenge you today on this Valentine's Day, that if you do admire your spouse and desire to maybe even be a bit more like them, that you tell them that. It will go a long way.
Thanks for reading! I'd love your comments or thoughts on how you are working on being the person your spouse looks up to. I can also be reached at ShirelleEdghill@gmail.com