So I thought I would take some time to share my infinite wisdom on marriage. (insert sarcasm here…they really need to make a sarcasm font). I really don’t consider myself an expert by any means, so take all this with a grain of salt. But I have been married for 8 years now (which seems to have become the new golden age of marriage) and we are still very happy together, even with having three kids under the age of 5. So, shockingly enough, I have learned a few things during the past eight years. Mostly through trial and a LOT of error, but I thought I would share them with you. Please, if you are or have ever been married with children, add a comment at the bottom with any advice I may have missed! So here we go: (I’ve noticed I really love bullet points…maybe it’s because my thoughts are so scattered it’s the only way to stay on track)
- Talk, talk, talk – Take time to actually talk to each other. About anything. Whenever you have been apart, share stories with each other about what you did. This helps maintain a closeness even when you’re not together.
- Advice books- Sir Smiley and I were lucky to be fairly similar in our approaches to life, but even we ran into conflict over certain areas. But some areas that are usually problem areas we managed to sidestep, purely on accident. During our first month of marriage we were in a bookstore just wandering around (you know, back when we had no children to corral or chase around). and we found a book entitled “Venus and Mars in the Bedroom”. We bought it just for laughs and started reading it together. Lo and behold, we actually learned things about each other! I think the key thing was we read it together and it became the spring board for discussion about a topic that usually is hard to talk about. But I think reading advice books together is a great way to open up discussion, whether you agree with what the author is saying or not. Key point though is you should read these together. I’ve noticed it doesn’t help for one person to read without being able to cash in on what their spouse is thinking. This experience has led me to read and discuss a lot of books with Sir Smiley (For Women Only, The Five Love Languages, Captivating and others)
- Fix ’em while they’re small – Don’t wait for problems to become overwhelming before you deal with them. Talk about them early on, before it becomes more difficult to discuss objectively. Don’t talk about them in the heat of the moment, wait until you are both calm before starting a conversation. Also, check your attitude before you start any difficult conversation. It’s not always what you say, it’s how you say it. What’s your purpose in bringing this subject up? Is it to really stick it to your spouse? Or do you actually want to improve your relationship through this discussion? Just the simple act of making sure your priorities are in order helps the conversation to go much better! As you talk, avoid absolutes like, “You never…” or “You always…”
- Practice, practice, practice – Having successful conversations about difficult things takes practice. Use each conversation as a chance to learn what things push his/her buttons (and thus you should avoid) and also what things helps your spouse open up. Sir Smiley became much more receptive to what I had to say when I would start out by admitting that this won’t make sense to him, but it’s how I feel so we need to work it out.
- I’m too tired – We parents fall into this trap all too often. We invest all our time and energy in our kids and leave no room for each other. But if you want happy kids, you need a happy marriage. So my rule is simple. If I’m too tired to do special things for him (sex, back rubs, etc.) then I shouldn’t expect him to do special things for me (dates, cards, long conversations). But even better…refuse to say “I’m too tired”! When I cut those words out of my vocabulary, it was amazing how much closer and happier Sir Smiley and I became. He was so happy that he wanted to do special things for me and vice versa. We turned the downward spiral into an upwards one.
- Be creative – Spending time together is important to stay close and happy. But this is no easy feat with kids underfoot. So sometimes you need to get creative. Find another couple with kids and trade date nights. The Y and many churches have date nights they’ll provide for parents. Order pizza, rent a movie, and hang out in your room after the kids are all asleep. To keep the romance alive, Sir Smiley and I have a sexy board game we play together. Whatever you find that keeps the spark in your marriage going!
- Seize the moment – There are those rare, unplanned moments when all the kids are quiet. Don’t waste it! Those are perfect times for a nice quickie (wink, wink), a little back rub, or any other activity you enjoy together. Time alone is precious when you have children, treat it like platinum!
- Activities – Find activities you both enjoy! I tried paintball and mountain biking when we first got married, but that didn’t work. He tried coming to chick flicks with me but he spent most of the time making gagging noises and threatening to shoot various characters with his paintball marker. But finally we found we love scuba diving and hiking. These are things we can do together that we both have a blast doing! You’re far more likely to take the time to find a babysitter, arrange time off, and actually go if you both are excited about the activity.
- Both have a say – I’ve noticed recently that with many parents, one parent has more of a say in decisions than the other, especially with regards to the kids. This will only damage your relationship in the long run. You both should have an equal say in what happens. I spend more time with the kids, so I tend to discipline more. But we both agreed on how we discipline and on large decisions Sir Smiley is consulted first.
- Share the load – I may stay home, but this doesn’t mean I should do everything. I struggled with this a lot when I first had Sasquatch. I felt since I “didn’t work” I should do everything. But it hurts Sir Smiley’s relationship with his kids if he doesn’t do anything for them. But this also means you need to let your spouse do it his/her way. Yes, they may change the diaper differently, swaddle the wrong way, hover too much, etc. But whatever it is, at least they’re doing it and you don’t have to. So let it go.
These are just a few of the things I have learned over the years. It is hardly comprehensive, and there are many who have much more wisdom than I. If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to seek advice. We’ve all been there and, despite what some people want you to think, no one’s relationship is perfect. But you can be happy, even with small children underfoot!