Picture this: your husband comes home from work after a long day at the office. You’re in the kitchen finishing up dinner while your toddler is trying to keep herself both entertained and awake because she refused to nap earlier that day. She goes from playing between your feet as you’re chopping carrots, to hiding in the cupboards, to fishing out all the contents of the pantry you just organized, to dumping her toys all over the living room floor, then crawling back to where you stand, clinging to your legs and whining to be held.
Eventually you realize that your husband is home, and he’s making his way into the kitchen to give you a kiss hello. You give him a quick peck on the lips, practically throw the baby into his arms, and rush back to making dinner.
After dinner, followed by some serious bedtime child-wrangling, your daughter is finally asleep. You both lay on the couch, trying to be present and ask about each other’s days, but ultimately falling asleep out of pure exhaustion.
It’s an unfortunate cycle that so many of us find easy to fall into, and may not know how to break. The worst part is, when the day-to-day gets too busy to pay attention to your spouse like you used to, feelings of under-appreciation can start to emerge and cast resentment onto things. It can start to seem like you are constantly arguing over the same things, each side justifying their stance, but neither understanding where the other person is coming from – until finally things come to a head and you decide to sit down and talk about what is really going on.
I’ve previously talked about the first year of marriage and how it can sometimes take a toll on yourself and your spouse, but once you have kids or jobs pick up, and the responsibilities and chores multiply, the root of the problem can change. Issues like these are no longer about two people trying to learn how to live together; they stem from pure exhaustion. When each spouse is stretched thin, they can feel like the other doesn’t always appreciate what they are contributing.
Obviously, every person’s life situation is different – the details may vary and not all challenges apply to everyone. But I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learned that can help stave off feelings of underappreciation in marriage, and keep them from turning into full-fledged burnout.
1. Both of you need to talk! Communication is key, whether it is your first year of marriage or your tenth, no matter what your specific life situation and responsibilities. You and your spouse should feel safe communicating to each other in order to avoid pent-up arguments.
Once you both talk, you may quickly realize that you are both feeling pretty much the same things. Your husband may be feeling underappreciated because after a long day at work, you didn’t take a minute to give him a heartfelt hug and kiss. He may feel like his efforts are going unnoticed when he brings home your favorite chocolate bar after picking up the groceries, or making sure you go to bed early and wake up to a clean kitchen, but you’re too busy to notice because all the while you’re feeling that no matter how much you pick up, there is always mess around the corner.
2. Learn each other’s love languages. In my experience, learning about the ways my husband and I most naturally give and receive love has been key. In case you are not familiar, these include:
- words of affirmation
- receiving gifts
- acts of service
- quality time
- physical touch
It is common for a person to have multiple love languages, because we naturally express love in a variety of ways. For example, my love languages are acts of service, quality time and receiving gifts. I feel happy and appreciated when my husband makes the bed in the morning, takes out the garbage without me asking, cleans the bathrooms, folds and puts away the laundry, loads the dishwasher, vacuums the house, fills up my gas tank, gives our daughter a bath at the end of a long day, and puts her to sleep. These “acts of service” make me feel like he cares and wants to give me a break from the day-to-day tasks in the household that can oftentimes overwhelm me. Spending quality time together, like when we work on a home project together, or giving and receiving gifts, like when he stops by my favorite bubble tea shop on our way home, makes me feel that much more appreciated, loved and cared for.
Making it a point to do things you know will make your spouse feel especially loved is so important to let them know how much you appreciate them. One of my husband’s love languages is words of affirmation. He thrives best on encouraging words from me, whether that is for small milestones he has set for himself or big achievements. He feels most loved when I outwardly and intentionally recognize his hard work, both inside and outside the home.
Being able to pinpoint each other’s love languages has gone a long way in how we communicate to one another. It’s so important to be intentional about them and ensure that each other’s “love tanks” are being filled. Also – don’t feel like these steps have to be extravagant gestures or overly expensive gifts – get creative, focus on the little things, and see how small expressions of each other’s love languages can add up over time to feelings of greater contentment and appreciation.
3. Take time to yourself to recharge when you need it. Make it a habit for both you and your husband to have a day off to yourselves where one person watches the kids and the other goes out and does something for themselves. Whether it’s an outdoor activity you’ve been wanting to try or something as simple as going out for a cup of coffee with some friends, or even staying home and watching a movie while your spouse takes the kids to the park or out for ice cream. Having some “me time” will go a long way in how you interact with one another.
If you have kids, it’s equally important for you and your husband to take time for yourselves, like by having monthly date nights. Taking some time off to yourself is great, but spending quality time with the person you fell in love with is equally as important. Make arrangements with grandparents, or anyone you trust with the kids, and surprise your husband with a fun-filled evening. We may be conditioned to expect these romantic gestures from the man in the relationship, but trust me – they love it when you take control of the planning from time to time.
4. Most importantly, remember that you are a team. No one is working “harder” than the other. No one’s job is easier or less stressful than the other. Marriage is teamwork and will always need both of you to put in 100% in order for it to thrive. There’s no such thing as the the perfect marriage, even if it seems that way on the outside. Every couple has their flaws, but it is up to them to decide how to work with each other in order to strengthen their bond.
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