Got away for a rare and last-minute treat last weekend. My sister had the kids for almost 24 hours and Ethan and I ran as far away as we could (to a town 5 miles away!) for a meal and a night in a hotel. It was nothing fancy. But I would have stayed in a stable if it meant waking up without an alarm clock to no kids!
It was marvellous. We chatted amicably in the restaurant and managed to divert the one potential big argument (borne out of his frustration at not being understood and being interrupted by me and my frustration at his unique method of communication that omits vital bits of information!) And the next day we went for a walk in beautiful sunshine - during which I quizzed him about what the hardest thing was about being married to a N/T. This, in a nutshell, was his answer:
'Being nagged and criticised. And, whatever I do it not being good enough. Also, I feel like sometimes you don't understand how hard it is for me to do some things, and to be a certain way.'
We talked about how well he's done in life - how he's got a great job, the woman of his dreams (ahem!), happy, healthy kids and how he can get by pretty well in social situations when he puts his mind to it. I explained how I feel disappointed and angry sometimes when he doesn't make the effort to be sociable and be present with people, because I know he can do it. He compared displaying this version of himself to running a marathon. And, in his words, 'I can't run a marathon and then, straight away, run another marathon.' He reminded me about how massively important it is that he has time away from people, even us, to recharge. He compared himself to a rough piece of wood. He gave the analogy that, when he tries really hard to be sociable and think about other people, he can do it, but it's not really him. It's him as rough wood with a veneer on it that makes it look shiny and nice. But that veneer doesn't last. It wears off and cracks show through. He needs to retreat so that the veneer can be stripped away and re-applied (a very fancy way of saying, 'let me play computer games sometimes while you deal with the kids!)
He talked about how exhausting work is. How he has to deal with really big characters and lots of different kinds of people, how he's constantly having to think about how he's coming across. How there's so much banter and quick conversation that he's trying to understand and keep up with. How there are so many people all wanting different things from him. I felt exhausted listening. And then he comes home and the kids are all shouting at once and they want him to play with them and I'm talking to him and asking him questions and giving him jobs to do. It's just too much.
Having actually stopped to listen to life from his perspective, I actually feel really thankful that he comes home at all!
I asked him what one thing would make his life easier. He said 'A big detached house with a massive stereo-surround system that I could live in on my own.' He was joking - I hope! More seriously, he said 'Eating dinner without the kids and feeling that you understand me.' I get where he's coming from about eating with the kids. It doesn't make for relaxing dining. The presence of Ethan and I seems to make them play up. Usually one of them will end up in the naughty room, something will be spilt, there'll be at least one argument and at least one whinging, whining kid that doesn't want to eat their dinner. Normally it ends with me attacking Ethan for how he's handling the kids. I totally get that it's more pleasant to eat without them. With all the love in the world, life is easier without them - but I'm not about to send them to boarding school! And I think it's important, however chaotic and painful, that we push through and continue to eat as a family. But we reached the compromise of ensuring that, at least twice a week, just Ethan and I will eat together and make time to talk or, if one or other of us is feeling frazzled, just to flop in front of TV - but together.
I feel like we're making progress. And that just having that little bit of time out together at the weekend has reminded us both that it is worth the fight and that, away from the chaos and demands and bickering, we do actually like each other quite a bit...