Tips for Smooth(er) Reentry

Truthfully, reentry—the dear spouse returned from his week traveling for work—hasn’t been going terribly well. After putting the little gal to bed—she was excited to see him so it took him a while to get her settled—he did not leap up at 6:30 the next morning when her chipper chatty banter began. He said, “Can you take her for a little while and call me when you need me?”

Excuse me?

I put on my chipper, chatty voice and went downstairs with our munchkin. Needless to say, it felt like the week of mornings before it: me, with the children.

Except that he was upstairs, horizontal and I was still dealing with kids. So, I was dealing with kids and seething. Be clear, seething.

Suffice to say that reentry is not always very good for a marriage short-term.


It takes two to tango and I shouldered the rest of the morning still seething. A better choice might have been to hand the small child over, like, immediately. I get into I’ve-been-dealing-I’ll-keep-dealing mode. I must stop doing that.


Later that afternoon, describing morningfail to a friend in the parking lot to the grocery store, we were talking about how one friend had counseled him: “With the eye and the week solo, jewelry is called for.” I explained that I did not require jewelry but this idea—do something extra nice for me—was a good one. In fact, I told my friend, I could tell him a few ways to make reentry better, including gifts or kind deeds, like one per reentry. Keep the list, check one off, and then do another one next time. That’d be easy peasy, right?

What’s the bottom line? I’ve been doing for others and I want someone to do for me. I don’t want to ask, really.

But, I decided I’d ask. Here are a few highlights from my reentry suggestion list.

1) Ask often–“What can I do?” During those first 48 hours, hammer home that can-I-help message until it seems boring for being so oft repeated.

2) Assume that you will do things like get up with early riser, even though your dear spouse usually does so.

Oh, this is important:

3) Thank your dear spouse again and again, especially after you’ve been helping. Thanks are no substitutes for helping.

4) Signal in writing via email while you’re away what you have committed to for emotional planning purposes (and logistical planning purposes).

5) While you are away, maybe send an email or leave a phone message that says, “When I’m back I’d like to do ____ for you.

6) Then do ___ for me.

I also reminded him and me that when he’s away the kids rely on me—and miss him. Yet, because they’ve been relying upon me, he has to woo them a bit, win back their oh-I-need-you-too trust.

A couple of items on my list of thank you gestures:

1) Go through your stuff (mail, for example)—and surprise me with things looking nicer.

2) I may not be interested in a bouquet of flowers, but I’d take a fruit bush or big pot with herbs or cherry tomatoes.

As I was thinking about this post and titles, my friend’s most poignant—and often yummy—blog Recipes to Save a Marriage By sprung to mind. Their eldest daughter has a severe seizure disorder and attendant medical issues. Our life, in comparison, is free of heart-stopping stress. I remain grateful for things that are easy to neglect. The (relatively) small issue of helping one another out and feeling compassion for the other partner is one we’ll continue to work on.

Since I’m in list mode, I’m adding three things that made me happy today:

Riding bikes to the camp pick-up and drop-off site, salad for breakfast, that people noticing my eye now remark it’s getting better rather than what happened to your eye?

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser's work has appeared on the New York Times, Salon, and the Manifest Station amongst other places. Find her on Twitter @standshadows

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