Developing a healthy, vibrant relationship is a learnable skill. In fact once you have the necessary education to create and maintain one, rather than being a vague, abstract concept, a fantastic relationship becomes a concrete reality that you get to enjoy every single day.
I have seen marriages go from stale to juicy, from good enough to truly incredible, many times over. It happened in my own twenty-seven year marriage and for the hundreds of clients I have served as a relationship and intimacy coach. While there are several examples I could provide, one story that exemplifies how a relationship can improve and understanding amplify begins when I was folding my daughter’s diapers.
When our first child was born in 1996, my husband and I used cloth diapers. However, when the diaper service we had been using went out of business long before our daughter was toilet trained, I found myself washing a full supply of cloth diapers every week. And after washing them, they needed to be folded and put in our changing table drawer.
“I have seen marriages go from stale to juicy, from good enough to truly incredible, many times over.”
The cloth diapers we had were thick, and in a rectangular shape. I folded them in a tri fold so that when one of my hands held our daughter’s ankles in the air, the other could wash her bum and reach over to grab a clean diaper. The diaper was then placed in a plastic cover, and the cover was velcroed shut.
One Saturday afternoon, my husband came home from the hospital where he was working 70-90 hours a week as a third-year medical student. He offered to help lighten my load by washing the dirty diapers and folding them. I was immensely grateful. It felt so supportive. However, once the diapers were clean and dry, he began to fold the rectangular diapers in half, and once again in half, until they ended up in the shape of a square. I informed him that he was folding them incorrectly because they should be folded in a trifold (rather than a square). I was clear he was doing it wrong and I definitely knew better–I had no question about it.
However, as he had been doing his own laundry since he was 12 years old, he knew exactly what he was doing and refused to comply with my instructions. Instead, he left the diaper half folded and told me that if I didn’t like how he was folding them, I would need to do it myself. Then he left the room.
I was shocked. Outraged. I felt abandoned and somehow punished.
Once I calmed down, I immediately saw his point. This was the moment I learned that I was speaking to him with disrespect and derision. I had been focused solely on the diapers being folded the way I wanted, and had failed to recognize that the way I was speaking with him was far more important. I had failed to realize how disrespectful I was being. I didn’t notice that I was creating unnecessary disconnection in our relationship. I also didn’t perceive his desire to be respected and feel appreciated. All I had been focused on was having the diapers folded MY way.
I had failed to realize how disrespectful I was being. I didn’t notice that I was creating unnecessary disconnection in our relationship. Click To Tweet
Soon thereafter I felt a sense of shame and shock as I perceived my actions were negatively impacting our relationship. I recognized that my way was not always the right way, and that my stubbornness was damaging our connection. This experience was the beginning of my unraveling inappropriate priorities and letting go of my bad habits in how I communicated with my husband.
Since that time, I have aspired to prioritize respect for my husband, and appreciation, alongside anything else that matters to me. It took time to get there, but I recently asked him if he feels respected by me. After reflecting, he gave a big smile and nodded affirmatively, something he never would have done had I asked him the day he walked away from folding diapers.
Having a connected, nourishing relationship is not an intangible concept. It is a skill that can be learned and developed through experience, self-reflection, and guidance from a relationship and intimacy coach. By valuing and respecting one another, couples can create so much more than they typically believe until it becomes their new normal!