Recently, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Armchair Expert from actor, super-husband to Kristen Bell, and self-described "human truths"-seeker Dax Shepard. Shepard interviews a mix of celebrities and experts in the fields of relationship, health, and happiness studies, always focusing on human beings' motivations, the root causes of behavior, and how we can all live better lives — and I am down with all of it. So when a girlfriend texted me that if I hadn't listened to the episode with John Gottman, psychological researcher and the cofounder of the Gottman Institute (whose mission is to "help create and maintain greater love and health in relationships"), I needed to ASAP, I queued it up immediately.
Gottman talks a lot about how he can predict whether a marriage will be successful or not by listening to a couple talk for an alarmingly short amount of time (like a few minutes), he discusses how men and women view sex differently, he talks about parenting his daughter (who he says turned him into an instant feminist), and he talks about his newest book Eight Dates, a guidebook helping couples communicate better about the things that matter most. I ordered it immediately, thinking it was the perfect thing to pack for the kid-free trip my husband and I had planned for my upcoming birthday.
"If you told the person you were before you met me and we had two kids about how your life is now, would you say it's good, bad, or just OK?"
My husband and I have always been great communicators, but the last year of our relationship had definitely been the rockiest of our 12 together. Thanks to a lot of work, we were on an upswing before our trip, but I was well aware of how tenuous our current status was. Perhaps this book could be the life raft we needed to get back to more solid ground. If nothing else, I assumed it would spark some interesting conversations.
And it did, but one question in particular blew me away, totally changing my perspective on our relationship. "How do you think your life is going?" my husband asked me. "Like, how do I feel every day when I wake up?" I responded. "More like, if you told the 15-year-old or 25-year-old version of yourself, the person you were before you met me and we had two kids about how your life is now, would you say it's good, bad, or just OK?"
My answer was immediate and definitive, surprising even me. The truth was, no matter how many days feel monotonous being home with two kids, ages 5 and 8, no matter how hard it often seems to try to fit in work and friendships and time with my husband and the alone time I so desperately crave, no matter how hard it had been to keep my marriage afloat during the last year, on a macro level, I would tell the younger version of myself that my life wasn't just good, it was great.
Life is not all birthday trips and girls' nights and watching your child win awards and blissful moments with your spouse.
I have two beautiful children who drive me crazy but also make me laugh and fill me with joy and purpose. I have a husband I love and trust and am attracted to, who also drives me crazy but makes me laugh and feel cherished and appreciated. I have a comfortable home and a sweet golden retriever, and I live within driving distance of my parents, whom I'm extremely close to and are the amazing grandparents I always knew they'd be.
I have a job that I don't just do for money but because it's a passion. It's flexible enough that I've gotten to be the present parent that I always hoped I could be while staying in the game; my husband's job has given me the financial freedom to work for the love of it, not just a paycheck. I have a wonderful community of friends I've cultivated throughout the many stages of my life who support and accept me and are just plain fun. I am safe, I am comfortable, I am loved.
And the rest, the day-to-day hard stuff and the bickering with my spouse and the kid-sized meltdowns, they were just the human truths that every adult and especially every parent deals with. Life is not all birthday trips and girls' nights and watching your child win awards and blissful moments with your spouse when you feel like your connection could never be broken. It's tough. Happiness and joy comes in waves; it ebbs and flows. But I'm lucky to have a partner who cares to ask the big questions — is this all enough? are you fulfilled? — and really listen to the answers, and the answers are better than even I had realized.