Someone once told me your marriage isn’t real until you have kids. While I don’t find that entirely true, after having kids, I now know what he was telling me.
We found ourselves sleep deprived (I see why it’s a form of torture now), over worked, over stressed and just in general overwhelmed with no time to work on our marriage, which desperately needed some attention.
I thought we had decent conflict resolution skills, but it turned out those could be improved a lot and it wasn’t all we needed.
Now in addition to learning how to be a parent, we had to learn how to prioritize our marriage, so it could survive parenthood.
So long story short after a lot of work, we found ways to improve our marriage. Since the game had changed by adding kids, we needed new rules for our marriage.
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You alone are in charge of your happiness
While I still hate this quote (guilty of always wanting the easy way out), I know that it is true. You can’t just wait and expect your partner to change. Without this mindset, you stay a victim of whatever marriage you have now.
You need to take the time to decide what changes you need to make to be happier. If you change, then everyone around you will adjust. This can be anything from making time for things you need in your day to changing how you speak to your other half. Stop saying yes to people and things that drain you.
Pick one thing, apply it and watch the ripple effect. Now with this knowledge, you have the control and the ability to change your relationship and apply some of my points below.
You need to turn off “mom” and “wife” sometimes
I love being a wife and I love being a mom but that doesn’t mean I don’t also just like being me. I find that I am a better wife and mom if I have fulfillment in other areas of my life. This could be anything from a job to a hobby.
You need to make time for this. I think this is one of the most important aspects of self-care and it has been one that has really helped me.
Rewind the clock
As the years go by, a certain level of comfort sets in. A lot of nice things comes with comfort but usually both people stop trying. Once kids are in the picture, a whole lot less trying starts. You spend most of your time talking about family logistics and Netflix becomes the normal date.
You need to bring back the romance. You need to flirt again. Instead of just texting about work and kids all day, change it up. Have a real conversation once in a while over a cup of coffee that doesn’t involve kids and it’s okay if it is at home.
You need to date each other again. Get fancy and go out to more than just a dinner. I can’t believe how much getting dressed up and not being “mom” for an evening helps. Honestly, even putting in effort to have fun at home dates can really help.
In general, just find ways to increase the fun times with your other half. A rule that applies to any relationship is that as long as the good times outweigh the bad times, both people will feel happy with the relationship overall.
The small things do count
After kids, we spent so much time in parent mode that we forgot to prioritize our spouse. It is very easy to make your partner feel special, cared for and loved.
The easiest thing to do is to always say please and thank you even for the littlest things. A bonus is that your kids will pick up on this and be more inclined to do it because you do.
Another easy way is to show gratitude. When you appreciate them, make sure they know it. Again, doing this in front of your kids will also allow them to see how important each parent is. Try to show gratitude once a day such as “Thank you for picking up the kids, that really helped me out” or “You have no idea how much I appreciate you doing the dishes tonight”.
Other ways to make your spouse feel special are by showing them you are in their thoughts. Send heartfelt messages their way just like you probably did at one point in your relationship. Take the time to pick them up a small gift. Nothing speaks like taking the time out of your day to make the other person’s day a little sweeter.
Stop parenting the other parent
I know you know best, but it will never result in the desired outcome if you parent the other parent. All they will hear is that they are doing it wrong and no one wants to feel that way. Just think if your partner or even your parent corrected you on how you wife or homemade or whatever.
If you absolutely must bring it up, then you need to phrase it as something you both can work on. If it is something new, then propose it as that and ask if they are willing to try it out for a week and see how it goes. Basically, by using this method you are not attacking them and instead approaching the topic as a team who can both contribute to the solution.
Fighting is an opportunity for growth
Did you know people don’t get divorced over money, sex or kids? There is only one emotion that results in divorce, resentment. Or more specifically the development of resentment.
Resentment develops over years, which is why it was not shocking to me to find out that couples stay together for the better part of a decade unhappy before they divorce. The only way to avoid resentment is to get better a communicating. Communication is the number one thing that will dictate how well and how happy your relationship is.
Changing how you view fighting and how you fight gives you an actual chance at working on some of those feelings you have. Real change comes from real communication.
You both are actually on the same side of every fight
There is no point in viewing your other half as your opponent in a fight. They are not the opponent because you two are on the same side. If one of you “loses” the fight, then you both did. Having one person unhappy with the result means that your marriage is unhappy.
Your goal in any argument is to identify and express your feeling about the situation and follow up with a question on how you two can find a middle ground. Do you have any ideas on ways we could resolve this, etc.
Try the give and take approach
Especially during parenthood, one of the biggest obstacles is how to divide up the workload. Before kids, your actions didn’t directly affect the other person.
For instance, if your other half went out all night and was a wreck the next morning, then you could still go to your morning gym class. However, now if your other half can’t get out of bed the next morning, then you can’t go to your gym class because you need to watch the kids.
You both need to do things for yourself that are outside of your kids. When one of you asks for it, make sure you agree on what the other parent can have later. For instance, if you wanted to go to a softball game that evening, then also say you will get up early with the kids tomorrow so the other parent can sleep in.
Discussing how actions affect the other parent and always working towards compromises is important. When you are asking the other person to pull more weight so you can do something fun, make sure you also include a way to reciprocate the action. This tells the other person you know and appreciate them.
Seeing a marriage counselor doesn’t mean divorce
Going to a counselor will result in lessons, a soundboard for both of you, and a mediator. I found that we fight less ugly when we see a counselor. In fact, I think many people use this resource way too late.
Something I learned from a marriage counselor that I found interesting is that if you begin a fight in front of the kids, then end it in front of the kids. Kids are terrified that when you bicker, you are getting a divorce. In fact, divorce is most kids top fear. I always tried to be happy and never fight in front of them for this reason.
Seeing that a relationship isn’t always sunny is healthy. They not only start to learn conflict resolution by seeing you two work it out but also know you won’t get divorced and the fight is over.
You start the other will follow
If you are reading this, then you probably have a list of things that need fixing in your relationship. Here’s the thing though. If you are unhappy with your marriage for any reason, then you can’t tell your other half to change. They might make some changes for a while, but you two will soon find yourselves right back where you started.
So if the only person you can change is yourself, then how could that help your marriage? Well if you change, then your other half has no choice but to adjust. In fact, your whole household will have no choice but to adjust. Just try it out. Change how you respond or what you do and watch a new normal develop.
I find in particular that men are really good at doing what they need to do. If they are hungry, then they will eat. They prioritize themselves, which isn’t a bad thing. It is bad though if you don’t do the same thing. Decide what you need and how you want to live and just do it.
Pursue your marriage Today
What I found out was that it was all about what I decided to do. Was I willing to try a different approach to how I handled things? Was I willing to be intentional and give my relationship the time and energy that it needed?
I know it takes two to tango but there was so much I could do. The most fascinating part was when I started changing, my other half followed suit.
Parenthood continually requires you to grow as a parent and learn new skills, your marriage is no different.