When I first watched the movie Marley and Me years ago, I turned it off as soon as I sensed the dog’s impending death. I’m not really an animal person but dying dog movies have me ugly sobbing harder than Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. (“It’s not your fault, Will.”)
Surprisingly, however, the Marley and Me scenes that most vividly stand out in my memory actually had nothing to do with the dog. Instead, they focused on husband and wife John and Jenny, played by the charming Owen Wilson and America’s neverending is she pregnant?! obsession, Jennifer Aniston.
John is shown pulling into the driveway after a long day at the office and from his car, he can see Jenny through a window of the house, lovingly holding their infant son. When she sees him, she breaks into a grin and points him out to the baby. It’s a reaction meant to indicate the warmth and love that John is enveloped by upon his arrival home.
Conversely, in a subsequent scene, John once again pulls into the driveway but this time, several years have passed and Jenny is flustered. She’s trying to manage multiple little ones now and has clearly been bulldozed by the day. When she sees John sitting in his car, she aggressively gestures for him to hurry inside to help out with the chaos.
I remember feeling sorry for John and it wasn’t just because of Owen Wilson’s exceptional execution of the sad puppydog role. It was because he was a good man working hard to provide for his family and he came home to hostility. At the time, I was in college, so of course it was easy to resolve then and there that if I was ever a mom who stayed home with my kids, my husband would be greeted after work with palpable warmth and joy.
Years later, I’m a mom at home with my kids and, sad to say, I’m second-scene Jenny 99 percent of the time. By the time my husband rolls in from work, I’m exhausted, irritable, overwhelmed, and usually unshowered. I’ve been pulled on, jumped on, sucked on, and puked on since the wee hours of the morning, and my first instinct when my parenting partner walks through the door is to blow off some steam about how I can’t get anything done, he didn’t tell me he’d be late, blah blah, “They’re all yours. I’ll be back later.”
But I’ve learned the hard way that unloading the day’s aggravations onto him when he comes home only builds friction and distance between us, weakening our marriage when we’re far stronger and more capable of handling life’s struggles united as a team.
Truth be told, we at-home moms tend to grow resentful toward our providing husbands because we think they got the better end of the bargain.
Sure, it’s tempting to assume that while I’m at home struggling to find time to pee in solitude, he’s in a big, cushy office with his feet up on the desk enjoying friendly sports banter with coworkers while scantily-clad interns come by to offer gourmet coffee and back rubs.
In actuality, though, for my husband and for most men providing for their families, work is just that: work. It’s stressful, exhausting and often very, very frustrating. It’s difficult to keep up and many of them feel totally out of their element. They want, no, they yearn to retreat at the end of the day to a place of warmth and love, not hostility and bitterness because they couldn’t hop a plane and bypass rush hour traffic.
Now, let me be clear: This does not mean wives need to greet their husbands at the door in heels and lingerie, filet mignon waiting on the table. Let’s be realistic. For many at-home moms, a shower didn’t happen and we’re still in the same clothes we slept in. More than likely, it’s evening – AKA prime whine time – and there are tears being shed somewhere and a sagging diaper pleading to be disposed of. That’s okay. He understands.
Making him want to come home doesn’t require a spotless house and cheerful children. You know what it takes to make him excited to get home from work? A wife who’s happy to see him, and not just relieved so she can hand off the hooligans and jet.
There have been days when my husband comes home to find me in tears, bouncing a fussy baby while our toddler clings to my legs whimpering over fruit snacks and ice cream sandwiches not being a suitable dinner. But if I manage to smile at him through the tears and nonverbally communicate that I’ve missed him and am glad to have him home, he knows he’s in a place where he’s appreciated.
What’s more, it’s out of love and not obligation that he’ll likely tell me to go bathe in solitude while he manages the small menaces for a little while. Teamwork. Couples are so much more effective at parenting, homemaking, and just life in general when they remember that they’re on the same team, give each other the benefit of the doubt, and support each other.
There’s a sadly common tendency for many spouses to compete – for lack of a better word – over who does more to provide for the household. Marriage becomes a competition fueled by grudges and pride because each spouse is sure that they do more and aren’t adequately appreciated. We so easily forget that we’re in this together and it’s not us versus one another but us versus the issues.
So next time you find yourself drowning in desperation around dinnertime, staring a hole through the clock every other minute because you haven’t heard the garage door yet, remember who it is you’re waiting on and love him the way you want to be loved: warmly, receptively, unconditionally. Opt for first-scene Jenny.