How to Save Your Marriage After Having KidsAnd by marriage, I mean common-law relationship. Minor technicalities aside, we have what many paper marriages have. A partnership built on love, trust, respect, kindness, commitment, and family.
Don't be all shocked and surprised by my little revelation either! A staggering amount of parents with newborns, babies and toddlers, especially when they duplicate one right after other, go through hard times during the first years. Those complex, tender, wild, sleepless, greedy, draining, magnificent 1st years of parenting and being a couple as parents.
Modern parenthood and the roles of mothers and fathers both at home and in the workplace have changed drastically in the last half-century. While roles may be increasingly "reversed," a report from the Pew Research Center recently revealed that, 56% of working moms and 50% of working dads say they find it very or somewhat difficult to balance the responsibilities of juggling work, family and all of the responsibilities that fall in between. Parents are stressed out, which I suppose isn't a big newsflash or all that unique to this generation of parents.To know that there are in fact other parents, other lovers, other marriages out there that flail and struggle should always be a part of what we're selling to each other about marriage during the early years of parenting.
Related: 9 surprising stats about the sex lives of parents
Statistics aside, each relationship has its own individual story of challenge to tell, and ours? Well, it nearly didn't make it. Why am I sharing this in a public sphere? Because A: my partner is comfortable with me sharing some of our story and B: I felt like a failure when we were in the thick of it. With so much gyrating happiness on the web, in media and advertising bursting with the images and messages of blissful marriages and happy, picture-perfect little families, I felt bereft. Also? I wasn't buying it. There were a few writers that I admire who were telling it like it was for them and their relationships. Reality-based nuggets of wisdom, for all of its grime and luster. Those candid accounts, those raw and at times darkly humorous passages of just how bad things can get when you're in love, with little babies and toddlers and struggling everyday to not loose the plot; all of that sort of "over-sharing" gave me great comfort. It was relieving, in fact. I identified with them and felt less shame. Less like I had to hide what was really going on behind closed doors, because I've never been one to put on airs. Yet there I was doing it.
To know that there are in fact other parents, other lovers, and other marriages out there that flail and struggle should always should be a part of what we're selling to each other about marriage during the early years of parenting. Call it community, call it inspiration. I consider personal storytelling, even the uncomfortable bits, to be cathartic and regenerative. I've found solace in realizing there were more like us. Relationships that nearly kicked it before our tots reached childhood age. I know there are others out there like me; after all, statistics don't lie. (Do they? Ah… such forms of critical thinking are for another post, another day.)
Some may disagree with me and say that the first years of parenting made their relationship even more fulfilled than it was before. So, to be clear, my experiences and thoughts are for those who aren't in a haze of marital bliss. This is for those of you who can acknowledge that parenting has taken a toll on your relationship. For those of you who have this person in your lives that you love more than you thought you'd ever know to be true, yet you can't deny the distance. The growing wedge. The increased raising of voices. Kindness creeping out and resentment crawling in. The power struggle. The everyday, overwhelming exhaustion and stress. S'alright. You've got this. You're cool. Near "normal" in fact. Just remember to keep your eye on the prize and know that it's really not the kids, it's you. It's your relationship.
Check out some of the techniques, methods and everyday changes we made to Save Our "Marriage." Still together, slightly scathed, still working on it… but totally in love, committed to each other and our children now more than ever.
1. Get Real & Get Help
It shouldn't take a huge blow-out to end all blow-outs before you think about marriage counseling. I'm a firm believer that seeking out and engaging in therapy (traditional or "unconventional"), is a sign of strength, not weakness. The old adage of not "airing one's dirty laundry" is damaging to the brain and heart; guilt and shame inducing. It stagnates. We see a doctor when we're sick, why wouldn't we hold seeing a therapist when we need one in the same high regard? The mister and I have been in couples therapy for a while now and we have no plans on quitting. We're able to say the really difficult things to one another with a third party there that we couldn't get into on our own. Sometimes you arrive at a place in your relationship where you've built up the walls so high that everything comes as a judgment, everything gets heard or misinterpreted far from what the communicator meant.
A good counselor will tell each of you the things you can't hear from the other without getting angry - in a safe zone. They can give you new tools for communication and have you dig deep in fessing up to what you may need to work on to get your relationship back on track. Egos are often left at the door, perhaps not during the first visit but a few in? If you really love each other all that crap drops by the wayside and you earnestly get to the hard, honest work at hand. We love our therapist. The key is in finding a good one. I want to bake her cookies and give her all the prizes.
2. Re-evaluate Your Responsibilities
How much do you have on the go? Did you have a demanding career before having babies? Did both of you? We did. And it wasn't the first year that set us off into a tail-spin either. It was the second year, with the birth of our 2nd baby when our 1st was 18-months-old that things quickly spun out of control. If you're the type of person who thinks they need to do it all (=me, well at least that's what I used to think); keeping a spotless house, home-cooked meals every night of the week, volunteering with a non-for-profit organization, having a full-on career with something on the side and taking care of a newborn or a newborn and a toddler without childcare? Recipe for disaster. (In my humble opinion.)
While we quickly realized that childcare for our toddler was totally necessary, some damage had been done. We took out our stresses out on each-other, as couples do. They say you hurt the ones that you love the most and as cheesy as that analogy is, it's true. Often it sneaks in and before you know it you can't remember the last time you had sex, you're bloody exhausted and the kindness with which you used to speak to each-other has diminished. Ultimately we had to make hard decisions regarding our careers and we didn't do it all at once either, the most recent of which only happened very recently. We now currently have ONE vocation each, do no volunteer work, and have learned how to budget a bit better so that we can occasionally hire a cleaning lady or a baby-sitter for a date night. Which brings me to the next point…
3. No Really, Spend Alone Time Together
I don't care how you do it or what mental blocks you need to hurdle about being some sort of martyr who doesn't go on date-night until your babies are toddlers or however old. Entertain the notion of going on vacation sans kids. I know! Game changing, I tell you. We did this last February, shortly after we entered into couples therapy and no it wasn't the honeymoon that you might think it was. It was quiet, tentative, restorative, and peaceful.
We were ginger with one another and had some real time to focus on just enjoying one another's company again. Now? Now we make a point of having one date night a week. This doesn't mean hiring a sitter every week either. Sometimes we have a late lunch or an app to tide us over the dinner hour and serve the kids their eats saving ours for after they are in bed. AMAZING. Light some candles, do something romantic even if it feels forced, you'll get there.
-By Selena Mae
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