When I first got married, I was very much of the mind that marriage is ministry (I still believe it’s my primary mission field). After five years of marriage, I have realized that viewing my marriage as the be all end all of who I am as a woman can quickly give way to idolatry if left unchecked.
When I got married, I still had a lot of growing to do. Marriage immediately began challenging my immaturity, my people pleasing ways and my tendencies for unforgiveness when my feelings are hurt or I’ve been publically embarrassed. Having to do life with someone who is genuinely interested in my growth as person challenged me in a way I’ve never been challenged before. I was immediately enamored with the growth I saw in myself, emotionally, physically and spiritually. My husband was making me better.
I wouldn’t change being married because I believe it’s done me the most good out of anything I’ve done outside of myself in recent memory. But lately I’ve really had to revisit the truth that my husband is wholly inadequate as my source of joy and happiness.
We are going through perhaps our 100th transition as a family (job changes, move, new babies, schedule change, career change, change in responsibilities, new schools, new childcare, no childcare, staying home, working, working from home, job loss, long distance marriage – you name it, we’ve endured it). There has been no two seasons that have been alike in our house since 2013. And every change has required me to recalibrate to figure out what is best for our family.
Right now, our dynamics has me doing a lot of the heavy lifting with the kids and honestly I am exhausted. The level of support I need from my husband has skyrocketed and a lot of days I find myself angry or resentful if I feel I’m not getting what I need at home. Some days all I need are a few words of affirmation (“you’re doing a great job with the kids/I appreciate how hard you’re working”) other days I need my partner in life to jump right in there and roll up the sleeves. It would be nice to walk in at 7pm after a 12 hour day and meet a cleaned house and something to eat. More days than not, I’m walking in from a 50 hour work week to a house that has been destroyed since the last time I cleaned it, a sink full of dishes and the realization that there will be no dinner unless I provide it.
In short, my needs (for a clean house, a break from cooking and a night off mommy duties) are not being met. I look at my husband with a combination of anger and agony. Surely he sees that I need his help more than ever, right? This is not something I should have to put into words, right? The thoughts that knock me over in those moments run the gambit between “did I choose the wrong kind of man?” and “am I the wrong kind of woman?” Immediately my mind flashes to the last “bragging on my husband” posts from my fellow wives and sisters in the faith. One is commending her husband because he told her to go rest while he cleaned the house, prepared dinner and took sole responsibility of their newborn for the weekend. The other is thankful for a partner who supported her effortlessly when her career became more taxing. My chest tightens at the loss of something I’ve never had. The only time my husband has taken on a significant portion of the household responsibilities were the few times when I was medically unable to do so (pregnancy/post partum or serious illness). I literally remember three times in our five years together.
For the next several days, I beat myself up for choosing a man who much like both of our fathers, did less than the bare minimum around the house. It is my own fault for setting the impossible standard that I saw Nigerian mothers model and then grow to resent. A woman’s home is hers to keep. It was the wife’s job to cook, clean, take care of the children and her husband only needs to ‘help’ if he feels like it. I did it all as a new wife. I joyfully cooked three square meals, took pride in a spotless house that I cleaned all by myself and made sure I was at my husband’s beck and call without complaint. My husband loves me more than anyone else I know. He never took advantage of my selflessness and always told me how much he appreciated all of my efforts. I beamed and blossomed under the warmth of his approval. When we had our first child, reality started hinting at the fact that I could not keep up with the “perfect wife who does it all without complaint” ideal I had been working under for over a year. Sleep deprivation started grating on me. The unbalanced workload that required me to not only care for a newborn around the clock but somehow still manage all the cooking, cleaning, shopping and home economics while making myself as attractive and sexually desirable for my husband no longer felt like the joyous adventure it had been just a year before. I started folding under the pressure.
“I need help!” My thoughts would scream at me while I berated myself about the virtues of not being a “nag.” If I asked my husband to pull his own weight with the household chores, he would realize I wasn’t the perfect wife. He would know that I couldn’t “do it all.” He might even call me a nag. (And that was a fate worse than hell according to all the good Christian books about being a good homemaker). So I convinced myself to shut up about it and figure it out.
Being afraid to ask for what you need is a trauma response.
So we continued. Instead of stating plainly what was on my mind, I stuffed my feelings. The result would be months of supposed marital bliss and all of a sudden, I would explode about the most trivial thing (like the fact that he put a dish in the sink I just emptied). I was overreacting to minor triggers because I continued to under-communicate my actual needs, fears and concerns. Someone somewhere had convinced my subconscious that the only way to be successfully married was to put my husbands and children’s needs above my mental health, my need to be heard or my desire to be my husband’s partner in everything, household chores inclusive. On top of all my previous conditioning, I was also being severally warned that as a believer it was unconscionable of me to “scare” single believers away from marriage by saying it was hard or difficult or challenging. So I fell in line and hushed my mouth. Nobody cares anyway if I was exhausted. I needed to take a page from all the generations of faithful women before me and make my home a success even if I was killing myself in the process.
Besides, there was a huge part of me that still believed that my husband was not helping me because I did not deserve his help. When I see my friends whose husbands handle majority of the household chores or who split the responsibilities evenly between both spouses, I would tell myself that it was because they had succeeded where I failed. Maybe they paid enough attention during their courtship phase not to choose or marry a man who was not as equally capable and willing to take care of their home. I was the only one who cooked or cleaned during our courtship (his place was always a mess and he never had a meal prepared) and I’m still there today. Or maybe their husbands simply valued their financial contribution so highly that it was a no-brainer for household chores to fall into the husband’s territory. For someone who had been told point-blank by well-meaning elders that if I did not earn an adequate salary, I would be a ball and chain around my husband’s neck – my lack of wages was a huge source of shame for me in marriage. Maybe I didn’t deserve my husband’s help because I had not earned it.
In all of my preparation for marriage I have also been consciously or subconsciously indoctrinated with the believe that in order to be loved, I must be perfect. “Don’t do this or your husband might feel this,” “ don’t say that or you might damage your marriage.” I have imbibed all the lessons like a dutiful student because the result was supposed to be a perfect marriage where all of my needs are met and my husband feels like the luckiest man in the world. That has not materialized.
I love my husband more than any other human being on this earth. He is one of the kindest and most generous people I know. He is brilliant in an uncommon way and he loves with a purity I’ve never met in any other human being. Our marriage is affair-proof because I will go to actual jail (law license and all) if anyone ever disrespects our union. Even with all of his virtues, my husband makes a terrible god. Pinning all of my hopes and dreams for happiness on the man I love would be a fate worse than death for us. Considering the number of times we fail each other even in the tiny, insignificant things, my marriage would never survive if what holds it together is my husband’s ability to never let me down in any way shape or form. Being married to someone who is amazing in all the ways that matter but still so deeply flawed that it creates some level of disappointment in me as his spouse is a great reminder that he can’t be my purpose in life. Marriage is a vehicle to my God-ordained purpose but marriage itself is not my purpose on this earth. Marriage does not satisfy all the longings of my soul, all the emptiness in my feelings or all the desires of my heart. Marriage is not a reward for good behavior or abstinence. Just because you married in Christ does not mean your spouse becomes Jesus Christ, Jr. and your marriage will never have any difficulties or challenges. You do not have to be perfect to be married, stay married, or enjoy your marriage.
I thoroughly love being married to my husband but I’m learning that it is okay to admit that there are parts of my marriage that I would change if I had the power. Because I don’t have the ability to create my husband in the image I prefer, I have to rely on divine grace to do the things that are just too hard for my flesh or emotions. Like not keeping a record of how many times I’ve felt unloved because I was not help. Like giving him what he needs even when my needs feel ignored (because I have not spoken them out of fear or because he is not equipped to meet them). Marriage refines my character in a way that nothing else has done. There’s almost nowhere else that requires me to stop making myself the center of my own universe and consider something or someone else beyond my feelings, my needs, my wants and me me me. Marriage is hard because I’m constantly asked to prioritize another human being’s needs rather than just my own. And I’m doing this with no guarantees that my spouse is equally prioritizing my needs rather than just his own. When it feels like I’m doing all the work alone, I remind myself to talk to the man I married instead of living in my own head and creating the worst case scenarios. Whenever I work up courage to actually ask for what I need or verbalize what I feel, I’ve been met with grace, mercy and unconditional love. My husband is not the source of these virtues but it always blesses me most when he’s the vessel that God uses to lavish them on me.