It’s been a week of hearing a lot about the marriages around me. Marriage ebbs and flows as the years go by. When you get married, it is all about the two of you. Seth and I had a lot of quality time together when we weren’t working, exercising or volunteering. We would sit on the couch and watch movies. We would read together. We would go on date nights regularly. We even made plans to go out with other couples. I can’t tell you the last time we have done a couple’s night out with friends.
When you get pregnant marriage begins to change. I was big and uncomfortable and would get tired after dinner and go to sleep. Our quality time began to lessen. Seth was starting to miss me, and I was frustrated with my inability to keep my eyes open.
When Max was born, Seth was not a happy camper. Max would get up every two hours to nurse and I was barely sleeping. I was a walking zombie and was learning how to parent a newborn. My life seemed to revolve around Max and Seth wasn’t very happy. He was feeling left out of the mommy/son dynamic. The first year of Max, Ella and Lillie’s life made our marital happiness dip down. Life with a newborn isn’t easy. Marital satisfaction goes up and down depending on the phase of life that you are in. I’m sure I am not telling you anything that you don’t already know!
We got through the first year of our children’s life and now our children are 12, 10, and 6. Now we have a new puppy Tanner. Tanner is six months old. We’ve had Tanner for almost five months. It has not been an easy five months. He takes up a lot of my time and takes time away from Seth and the kids. He takes time away from myself! I used to have alone time during the day to decompress and now Tanner is there asking for attention. He has a ton of energy and requires a lot of attention. My exercise tends to be taking Tanner for a couple of walks a day. Life has changed a lot. I imagine that as Tanner gets older, life will get easier again.
As our kids get older, I have started to hear my friends talk about their marriage in a different way. I think we are all realizing that the kids have come first for a long time and that we haven’t put our marriage ahead of our kids. Seth will tell me that he is last on my list and that is probably how my friend’s husbands feel too. I can tell you all that Seth is not last on my list. I have been last on my own list and I am working on that. With Seth’s plea to please put him higher on my list and my plea to put myself higher on my list I need to make some changes. That last thing that I want is for my husband to feel like he is not important. He is very important to me, but my actions may not always make him feel that way. When he is asking me to watch a movie with him and I am busy on my phone that doesn’t make him feel very important.
Every weekend comes along, and it tends to be flooded with kid’s activities. Our conversations are something like, “You run Max to soccer practice, and I will take Lillie to dance class.” Isn’t that so romantic? It’s the reality of our life right now and I know that I need to put the kids to bed every night and spend time talking to Seth. Our time talking every night is our treasured time. I have a wonderful husband and I can tell you that marriage is work every day. If I haven’t “worked” on my marriage that day then I am doing something wrong. Did I spend time asking Seth about his day? Did I help him with a work issue he is having? Did I tell him I appreciate him and how hard he works and the running around he did for us after work? Did I thank him for cleaning the cat litter? Did I text him during the day to say hello? These all might sound super minor to you, but they all add up and are very important. All the little things add up to be a big thing. All the little gestures make a good marriage.
It goes in the other direction too. I will tell you all that I screw up every day. I screw up in my marriage and in my parenting regularly. I don’t expect perfection from myself. I know that I will mess up and learn from my mistakes. If I am learning and growing from my mistakes, then I can make it a positive thing. I left for Girl Scouts this morning after yelling at my husband. I was working at a fashion show all day yesterday, and then went straight to the Justin Timberlake concert. I was gone for 13 hours from my house. I came home to a disaster. My house looks like a bomb went off. I was very aggravated with my husband this morning. Why? Over a mess! I felt so bad at Girl Scouts this morning. I don’t want to leave my husband like that. I want us to part ways in a good way. I don’t want to leave the house aggravated but I did. If I criticize him and get pissed a lot all the little things add up to an unhappy marriage. We want to make positive deposits in our marital bank all day every day.
It is all about how we say something. If I yell at my husband that he didn’t feed the cats or do any cleaning up, then he just gets pissed. If I nicely ask him to please feed the cats and clean up a little, then he is happy to help me. If I ask my husband anything nicely, he will do anything for me.
My friend just went to a marital retreat with her husband. I am so impressed with her and her husband. We had that conversation of needing to put our marriages before our children. They will grow up and move out and we will be left with our marriage. If we haven’t worked on it all these years than our marriage could be in trouble.
My friend and I talked about the fact that marriage is constantly moving every day all day. We are either moving closer together or further apart. The good news is that if you made a mistake you can fix it and move to doing something positive for your marriage. If you went to bed without talking that night you can make an effort to get the kids to bed and have a good conversation the next night. If you yelled at your husband and feel badly you can turn it around and choose a nicer way to express yourself. If you ignored your wife’s request to clean up the sticks in the yard you can do it tomorrow. If we really listen to our spouse’s, we can figure out what they need to feel important and loved every day. If I can’t stand that Seth drives over the grass every day, he can show me love and respect by trying to pull out of the driveway more carefully. All the little things add up!
There is another cycle that I see and hear happen every day. It is that evil word called being defensive. If someone yells at us or gets annoyed, we tend to go to a defensive place. We get angry with their tone and tend to ignore what they are saying to us. If Seth is pissed at me all I hear is that he is pissed. I am not hearing why he is pissed. If he is upset with me for not coming home when I said I would come home I could be angry, or I could try to figure out why he is upset with me. He is upset with me because he was looking forward to me coming home so that he could spend time with me. If I get mad at Seth for not rinsing the dishes before he puts them in the dishwasher, he could get super annoyed with me or he could just respect my wish to rinse the dishes first. He can understand that the food broke our dishwasher and that when it was fixed, they told me we have to rinse our dishes well. I need my dishwasher. He could understand that my dishwasher makes my life easier and that I am trying to take good care of it. If we understand where our spouse is coming from then we won’t get defensive and angry. My first marital lesson was to always remember to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. How would I feel if I was them? Why are they saying what they are saying? What can you do to make the situation better? We only have control over ourselves and what we can do. We need to put in the effort and not wait for our spouse to change.
What am I doing right in my marriage right now and what am I doing wrong? I think that we all tend to get lost in our children and keeping up with taking care of them. I tend to be in survival mode. What will it take to get through the day? This child needs to go here, this child needs to go there, here is what I need to organize, this is what they will eat for dinner and this is what clothes I need to wash for them. These are the regular thoughts going through my head. I am getting lost in the daily life of keeping up with my children. My husband tends to feel neglected. What am I doing right? Seth and I are really prioritizing as a New Year’s resolution that we are going to go on at least one date together a month. We are doing a really good job with this. We have found an easier time building this into our schedule this year. We just made a breakfast date with each other for Wednesday morning. We will take the kids to school and head to our date. No one says that our date has to be on a Saturday night!
Here is my challenge. In the world of marriage, what are you doing today to make your marriage better? I have a date scheduled! I am prioritizing dates with my husband this year! Go date your spouse! Go have a conversation. What does your spouse need to feel loved and important? Go ask them! Wishing you all a happy marriage!
Laughing, Learning, Loving,
Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R