Marriage Support

Marriage: “We’d be nothing without your contributions.”

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    It was evening. The kids were in bed, and Mel and I were both in our pajamas, just about to pick a new show on Netflix to watch. I was sitting on the sofa and she was standing when she placed her hands on her hips, looked around, smiled, and said, “I really like our house. Thanks for buying it.”


    At this point, we’d lived in our house for just over a year. For the first eight years of our marriage, I’d been in college, and during that time, we went from one apartment to another. Buying a house was a big, long-term goal for us, and to actually have it come to fruition was a huge deal.


    “What do you mean?” I asked.


    “I’m just saying thanks for buying the house. I really like it,” she said.


    I sat there for a moment, thinking.


    “I’m not buying the house. We are buying the house.”


    Mel looked down at me then, her mouth in a straight line. “You make the money,” she said. “Your name is on the title.”


    I was shocked.


    When I started college at 22, I didn’t yet know how to type, so Mel typed all my papers the first semester. I’d hand write them, but my handwriting and spelling was so bad that I’d have to sit next to her and read each sentence aloud as she typed. That was just the beginning. She worked full-time at a hardware store while I worked part-time waiting tables and going to college. Sophomore year we had our son, and together we shuffled him between family, school, and work, doing everything we could to make ends meet and finish college. Then she moved away from her family — from Utah to Minnesota — just so I could attend graduate school.


    Now, she manages our budget, our home, and just finished up her own degree. Meanwhile, I work two jobs to support the family, getting up early just to work my first job writing online as she gets the kids to school. While I am at work, she takes care of things around the house; and until recently, I handled the kids once I got home, so she could study. Soon, Mel will be starting a job at our children’s school, and I’m sure the structure of our relationship will change again.


    But the point is this: All 11 years of our marriage have been like this — working with our straights and taking care of the children in shifts, so that the other can do something to better our family.


    And I can say without a doubt that I never would’ve made it through college and found a decent job without her. And I never would’ve bought a house without us working together, and supporting each other.


    No way.


    And yet, there she was, standing across from me, thanking me for buying her a house, as if I was 100% responsible, when in fact, she is half of our framework. She is half of our structure, our support — everything our family is. We have accomplished a lot by supporting each other. More than either of us ever could have alone.


    “I’d be nothing without you,” I said. “I couldn’t even type when we got married. Do you remember that? You deserve equal credit for this house. The same can be said about anything we have at this point, including college degrees and career.”


    I reminded her of when we met. She’d just finished her associate’s degree at the time, and had no plans to attend more college. Once things got serious between us, she said she wanted to be a full-time mom.


    “I don’t know how I can give that to you,” I said. “Unless I win the lottery, or go to college.”


    I laughed after saying that because, at the time, obtaining a college degree seemed about as unlikely as winning the lottery. Neither of my parents went to college. I barely graduated high school. I honestly knew little about it, other than it seemed like a huge life goal that I was underprepared for. However, I knew that I loved this woman, and I wanted to be the person she expected.


    “Then go to college,” Mel said, casually, as if it were no big thing.


    “I don’t know if I can do college,” I said. “I don’t know if I’m smart enough.”


    Mel gave me a sly smile, as if she knew something I didn’t, and said, “I can help you.”


    At the time, I didn’t know what that meant, but thinking back she knew my potential.


    From that day forward she has invested in me fully. And I have fully invested in her.

    I think about that a lot, actually. I think this is what it means to be in a partnership. It means recognizing what both people do, and not trying to take ownership or claiming superiority because you bring in the money.


    Sadly, I think a lot of couples feel secondary to the one who brings in the most income. But what they don’t think about is how they might have supported their spouse through college. Or supported them in a job change by moving away from family and friends. Or helped with interview prep, or proof read a million college papers. Or helped manage the family budget. Or the fact that having one parent as a full time caregiver can often provide the other parent with enough flexibility to hold down a career. I think it’s good for all relationships, regardless of where the lines fall, to take a step back and really examine the contributions of both parties, particularly when it comes to answers a question like “who’s buying the house.”


    Mel was sitting next to me now.


    “I can see why you would feel like I’m the one who bought you the house because I bring in the most money right now, but there’s so much more to it. You know that.” I listed a few more things she’s done for our family and me.


    “We’d be nothing without your contributions.”


    Mel smiled. Then she said, “I don’t usually think of it that way.”


    “I wish you would,” I said.


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