A little over three weeks ago, my husband told me he thought maybe no one in our household liked him very much. It wasn't true.
What was true, however, was that Jeff was (and is still) outnumbered. Three emotional females reside in this house with him, and two of them are trying to grow up. One of them is sort of "grown up" already, but still growing.
And Jeff, the rock that all our emotional waves crash up against, was feeling unpopular. He was feeling ill-equipped to deal with some of the stuff our girls are going through. His macho tool box just doesn't have everything he needs to make his daughters feel loved and understood.
But in reality, Jeff is not unpopular despite being sometimes annoyingly male. He is our hero. The other day the girls and I were watching Despicable Me, and when Gru starts vaulting bombs to rescue Margo, Edith and Agnes, my 10 year old turned to me and said, "That's what Daddy would do for us." And he would.
So I decided Jeff feeling unpopular was not acceptable. I decided to do "The Husband Project."
Author and Speaker Kathy Lipp wrote "The Husband Project: 21 Days of Loving Your Man On Purpose and With a Plan." Basically, the book has 21 small acts of kindness that I, the wife, undertake to make my spouse feel loved. You're not supposed to tell him you're doing it. You're not supposed to do it with an agenda: to get him to change. The intention is to change yourself as a wife. I first bought the book and did the project about five years ago. My children were smaller, and my resentment against my husband was bigger. After meeting children's needs all day, I wanted him to come home from work and meet mine.
That time, when I did the project, I started with gritted teeth. I prayed for God to please, please let me do these nice things for Jeff without expecting him to start doing nicer things for me. I was desperately afraid my resentment would get worse. The process worked. It made me realize that I had forgotten why I liked being married, and that the kids and their needs had totally eclipsed my husband's. By doing nice things for him, I remembered that I not only loved him, I liked him. And then I liked myself better too.
This time, I found the labor of love to be more fun, and less labor. And this time, I had a support system. I brought up The Husband Project to three girlfriends at school pickup, and they immediately wanted in. Then they invited people to join us, then others invited us to join them. Ultimately, I think we had 10 women on a facebook message loop sharing their stories, impressions and ideas of the process. Some women did something every day; some cherry picked their favorite. We gave each other and ourselves grace. And we all learned something I think.
We aren't all of the same faith, we are aren't all in the same stage in our marriages, but we're sort of all in the same boat. We forget that we are blessed to be women with families and that our families wouldn't work so well without our men. It was both touching and hilarious to hear how their projects went. My favorite days were as follows: 1) when we were supposed to dress nicely with our husbands in mind -- some women did the works and no one noticed, while others wore matching pajamas and their husbands were in shock and (2) when we were supposed to send a flirty text or email -- and our facebook comments went just a little past PG-13.
My big take-away in my own marriage is that I am actually able to give my husband what he needs, most of the time. I worry that I am not emotionally even enough for my sweet, stable man. I worry that if I go on a crying jag at the end of a bad day that I've really let him down and burdened him. Having a history of anxiety and depression, I can still experience a lot of shame sometimes when I'm struggling with this predisposition to have to fight a little harder than most for emotional stability and metal clarity. And I hide it from my husband when I'm struggling. Half way through the project, I had a few really hard days, and it wasn't until I blubbed like a baby to my husband that I felt better. And it didn't seem to bring him down at all. What a relief!
On the other hand, the fact that I did things like take out the trash when it was his turn, cleaned out the inbox on our desk, made an extra effort on a couple of dinners, and bought him a bag of black licorice went a long way toward making him feel like he is happily married and well taken care of. Who knew? Being a good housewife, actually makes me a better wife. I sometimes feel sort of "above" caring for those little things, thinking they don't matter. But apparently they do, to Jeff at least. He receives those things as love. And now that the kids are in school all day, the little housewifely things aren't nearly as hard to do as they used to be.
And meanwhile, though I really went into this without an agenda to change Jeff, I noticed changes in him anyway. When he was feeling unloved in our family, he made the courageous decision to ask himself why. Being pretty stable himself, my dear husband is coming to a realization that life as
he knows it is going to continue to flux around him, so more flexibility
on his part shall be required. People often see that they have room for improvement and either shame or apathy or selfishness makes them choose not to try.
Jeff tried. He's been carving out more time to just hang out with the girls, to make them feel loved, and to listen to them. It's pretty hard to be more loving when you don't feel loved. And who knows but that bag of licorice or that flirty (PG) text I sent him at work didn't help him have the energy to do it? Maybe I made him feel less like the odd one out, and more like our hero.
The 21 days are up, but I hope I'll keep it up anyway. I like having a hero in my house.