It’s the little things that make a relationship work. Once you’re past the initial heady excitement of butterflies in the stomach and awe at every funny thing your partner says, you’re left with the bare bones of reality. Socks on the floor, a comfortable ease with each other than can stretch into boring if you don’t take care. On the surface, not the recipe for a happy marriage.
I remember reading an interview with Iman after David Bowie died, saying how he still made her stomach flip after all those years of being together. The NLM still makes my stomach flip, but not in the anxious “does he like me?” way of those first days, but a “I can’t believe he did that” way that comes with five years of marriage and eight years of co-habitation.
We’re not perfect. No couple is (no PERSON is, come to think of it). But we work and that, mainly, is because we view marriage and this business of raising small people as a job that’s to be done together. Of course he has habits (as do I) that set my teeth on edge. He still doesn’t know how to put his socks in the laundry basket and he has a blind spot when it comes to crumbs on the breadboard. I often find myself moaning about him “not getting it” to my mum mates. But on balance, those things really don’t matter.
Sometimes it takes a week at home together to realise how much you appreciate the other person in a relationship. Our usual daily grind is him leaving the house for a day teaching at 7.15am. He returns anywhere between 4.30pm and 8pm depending on if he has meetings or not, and evenings Monday – Thursday are often dominated by the bath, bed, work routine. We can go a few days without having a meaningful conversation and we’ve both come to accept that’s life with work and two small children in the mix.
The bits that make it worth it are the small things. The fact that every day this week over half term, when Baby Girl has woken up for the day at 5am, the NLM has taken her downstairs after her morning breastfeed and snuggle in bed at 6am without complaint. He’s let me sleep until I’m ready to wake (“I cope far better on less sleep, I honestly don’t mind”) and been cheerful when I’ve come downstairs, bleary eyed and often stressed at my To Do list for the day.
He makes cups of tea (“brews”) without me even asking, despite not being a tea drinker himself. He’s got stuck into our DIY kitchen renovation while small humans clamber at his ankles, with a smile on his face, despite coming across as unequivocally grumpy in every YouTube video I’ve ever made.
So he can’t put a duvet cover on a duvet to save his life, but he reads Frog a bedtime story every night without fail and never lets me go to bed without a kiss on the forehead and telling me he loves me. Even tall bald guys from Rochdale can be affectionate, see?
More than any of that, though, is that he appreciates the things I find important, even though they’re not the same things that motivate him. He couldn’t care less about mess and dust, for example, but he sees that these things stress me out. When I text him after a bad day he replies (mostly) with a “We’re in this together. You’re not on your own.” I appreciate that. It’s so easy to lose sight of it in the chaos of parenting.
My husband rarely buys me flowers. He doesn’t have the budget to get me an expensive bottle of perfume for every birthday, or take me to a five star hotel for every anniversary. I remember our first Valentine’s Day after getting together and he covered the whole flat with rose petals, making me a treasure trail of presents which led to a menu for a special meal he was going to cook me that evening. That’s never happened again, but it’s OK. I’d take what we have over those extravagent shows of affection any day.
Real love – the love that endures – is doing something for someone because you know they’ll quietly appreciate it. Tackling the house stuff as a team, taking on a DIY project because you know the other person will take huge pleasure from it, letting your other half have a lie-in without moaning about being tired, offering a cup of tea – just because.
It’s the little things that make a marriage. A sense of humour also helps.