This piece was originally written in February 2020 - pre-pandemic. My husband and I are healthy, safe, at home, and forever grateful we still like each other after quarantining together for 117 days (and counting).
Our marriage counselor tapped her hefty, silver pen against the notepad that never left her lap, shifting her weight in the armchair that dwarfed her tiny frame. A hint of a smile played across her lips as she looked from my husband’s face to mine.
“You need to date your spouse, digitally. Text like you’re teenagers, again...
Dating your husband doesn’t only entail dinner reservations and cocktail dresses....”
I studied her pen for the third time this session - a nervous habit. A Montblanc. A car payment clasped between two polished fingers.
My husband had tried to buy me one as a congratulatory gift for landing my first writing job: we were just starting out, I insisted we keep the money for an adventure together instead. That felt like ages ago...could it really only be 8 years ago?
Beside me, my husband tucked a shoulder to playfully nudge me. I knew him so well I knew the way his face would be arranged in this moment, without a glance. His kind eyes would match his earnest smile - he always had this magical way of making everyone in the room feel like they were in one the best joke. My sweet, patient, brilliant, hardworking husband. What kind of saint willingly goes to marriage therapy when there’s nothing truly wrong with a marriage? The kind of saint who is married to me - a woman who views marriage therapy like AP English: bonus points to collect.
“I want you to text each regularly. Anything sweet. Funny. Thoughtful. Romantic. Stupid. A memory. A compliment. Text like you’re newly dating. Flirt a little..” I stifled a laugh.
This seasoned, highly-coveted marriage counselor thought the secret to marriage was...texting? Like we had no life responsibilities?
My husband and I met at 18 - and I knew. I know, I know, so cliche but I just...knew. In front of 180 guests at our summer wedding, nearly 8 years later, he insisted: “Soulmates exist, I know because in all the worlds, in all the ways, I found you.” There isn’t a single aspect of my life that my husband doesn’t intimately know - he’s the first one I want to see when I wake up, and the first person I want to text when something - anything - happens. We’re best friends with the best marriage...so you may be thinking, “How’d you end up paying someone $250 an hour to tell you to text it out?”
There is no dark or juicy story that had landed us in that room, with that therapist, and that MontBlanc. We simply, rather I simply, believed that marriage - like life - didn’t come with a rulebook, but if you were smart, willing to do the work (and spend the cash), it came with a therapist to guide you through. For better or for worse...
Admittedly, we didn’t see the expense as justifiable until marriage, year two. The start of a new business, the purchase of a home, the loss of a significant loved one, and the feeling of barely having time to breathe…yeah, year two hit differently. Every aspect of our lives felt magnified. All at once, things were...harder. Crunchier. Less sleep, more stress, ridiculous schedules... We didn’t text the same, let alone talk! We argued over the stupidest of things, huffing and puffing over a miscommunication regarding bacon, once. No, honestly. Bacon.
Somewhere in between tackling everything from milestones to the day-to-day, we’d lost a good bit of the joy.
All too easily we turned our attention to: “Okay that’s handled, what’s next?” It was normal, a wonderful life, but it was exhausting. The moments we dreamed of just seemed to be slipping away.
So, two years into “I do”, we signed up for our first session with a marriage counselor.
It was a game-changer.
My husband and I showed up with one common goal: learn the skills to show up as the best possible partners for each other, even when we’re exhausted, stressed, feeling worn down. Within weeks we were back on track. We took comfort in hearing that what we were experiencing was beyond normal - in fact expected, though many couples just pushed it under the rug.
“You two are both go, go, go. Your schedules don’t give you a ton of time together - he comes home by the time you’re going to bed> You’ve left for a workout before he’s out of the house..Your work demands the hours, sure, but your marriage demands the attention. You guys text during the day, right?”
We nodded in unison.
“What do you text about most?”
My husband and I exchanged a glance.
“About how our day is going, what time we’ll be home, random stuff”, he answered.
“But we definitely always throw in a random I love you here and there!” I added: that had to be bonus points, right?
“Great. That’s real-life...but what did you text about when you were first dating?” Again with the pen tapping.
I had to smile. We fell for each other throughout our entire college experience - four years of texting and dancing around one another until we finally decided we couldn’t pretend we were just “best friends” any longer. Our texts had always given us room to flirt, explore each other, test the waters, push the envelope, and ultimately, form a bond that laid the foundation for our marriage.
Anyone can attest to the unparalleled adrenaline rush of getting those first texts from someone. It’s unmatched.
Like, a total overdose to the system. So naturally, this many years in, we’d texted about all it...hadn’t we?
I found my voice: “When we were younger? We texted about...everything. Our dreams - both literal dreams and someday dreams, our someday adventures, our troubles, our desires...He’s the first person I text / call when something funny, big, or incredible happens.” My husband echoed my sentiments.
Our therapist nodded knowingly, jotting down a few words. What on earth could those words be?! Here we were, healthy, happy, in love, and quite frankly - feeling better than ever. Sure, we’d fallen prey to some bad habits of prioritizing anything and everything above quality, quiet time together - but our earlier sessions had already cast a spotlight on that issue, which we were all too eager to fix. Now, something was wrong with how we texted?!
“For the next month, I want you both to make it a priority to text like you’re learning each other all over again.”
“I don’t expect you two to spend all day everyday lighting up each other’s phones. You have work and lots of going on. However, I do expect that you make the time to send texts that have absolutely nothing to do with to-do lists, house projects, clients, or traffic. Consider this: during the week, your time to talk is incredibly limited. And after a long day, it can be hard to work in that tenderness we talked about, so instead let’s start with simple texts during the day. Like: Hey, I really appreciate you. I am the luckiest to have you. Or Man, remember when ….? Pretty blessed to do life with you. No need to stay glued to your phone like the early days - but just try texting sweet nothings ‘just because’.. It’s surprising how it can re-jigger your intimacy.”
I wanted to defend our texting habits, brush off the advice, and explain that we sent plenty of sweet texts. To my surprise, my husband interjected before I could: he thought it seemed like a cool idea. We left the session, hand in hand, ready to give it a go.
I mean, that was the easiest homework she’d ever given us. Maybe she was just scraping the bottom of the barrel of her bag of tricks.
Maybe these were her tricks reserved for the couples who really didn’t need help. After all, we were already a pretty kickass couple. We jokingly doubted just how incredible this so-called hotshot really was.
Still, by the next morning, her words had hit home. I scrolled through our messages: she was right. Our texts really had primarily become updates on schedules and commutes home, weekend plans, or offers to pick up dinner... We didn’t even have kids yet! Ugh. This was not A+ work.
Once in a while there was a picture of a pretty sunset spotted on the drive home, a back and forth of cute emojis, a few words of encouragement peppered in between ETA’s. Not a lot of romance. Still, we’d been together for nearly a decade! We didn’t text like we were 19, because we no longer had the lives or lifestyle of our 19 year-old-selves. So c’mon how could this really be marital advice?
Nevertheless, I found myself typing out: Hey, this is me, sending you a sweet and random message to say: I LOVE YOU! Thanks for making me coffee this morning before you left. Have an awesome day honey. PS: After all these years, you still make the best coffee. Can’t wait to see you later. I felt sort of stupid: we always talked to each other with gratitude, love,…
But were our texts meant to reflect our affection? Should they? Would it really matter if they did?
My husband responded with an adorable few emojis and Of course babe, anytime! Don’t drink the whole pot alright? More for you tomorrow. Promise.) And that was that. A few hours later, he texted me a picture he’d found us on one of our first dates: a coffee shop. I’d taken one of those obnoxious coffee cup photos, trying to capture the foam art but in reality - I’d captured half of our faces in a selfie, most of the table, and very little coffee.
Awwww…. that he’d unearthed that picture. Then he followed up with: Over caffeinated and overly into each other since 09! I could not stop smiling - that picture, that message, that memory. I loved that he’d taken the time to find that shot, and even more, I loved that it conjured up so many wonderful memories. Maybe the hot-shot therapist was onto something.
So for a month, we sent each other random, totally out of the blue, texts that had literally nothing to do with work or traffic or to-do lists for the house. He sent me jokes he heard in the elevator that would have me laughing out loud. I sent him photos of the dogs trying on their Halloween costumes. He sent me praise for being a total superwoman every which way and I sent him little notes of how much I appreciated everything he did.
We were playful, we were flirty, we were having fun. We were using our texts as a way to escape for a split second. We were prioritizing joy.
By the end of the month, despite the fact that our schedules remained unrelenting, we happily admitted: we felt even closer, our time together felt far more joy-filled and loving, and our gratitude for this season of our lives was through the roof. We no longer felt breathlessly busy, we felt blessed to be building our lives, careers and home with the most important person in our world: each other.
We looked back and laughed at how we’d escaped the downward spiral of taking too many mundane things a little too seriously. The answer? Taking ten seconds out of our days to text each other about the silliest, sweetest, simplest of things that made us...us. That action alone helped us shift our focus from go-go-go to “Stop. Take a moment. Look at what we have. We’re in this together. Appreciation is all. “
Our therapist - and her pen - seemed pleased as we reported our findings. I’m even more pleased to report that we’ve stuck with it! Whether it’s a good habit or a priority, to this day we regularly send each other messages that are romantic, goofy, tender-hearted, or whatever, so long as they have nothing to do with real life.
Who knew texting could quite literally set us back on the right path? Well, our therapist did. I guess that’s why she gets paid the big bucks.
For my husband’s upcoming birthday, I’m going to create a Keepster book, full of favorite messages from this surprisingly therapeutic and valuable ‘exercise’. I cannot wait to see that smile of his when he opens the book! The perfect reminder to both of us that you can still text like you’re 19, no matter what.
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