During our first few years of marriage, when my husband and I were in the thick of dirty diapers, sleepless nights, stress-induced fights and the general haze of early parenthood, I would wonder why more couples weren’t splitting up during this time.
I had no data to back this up, just my observations of couples we knew, who had been married for many years, and had decided to separate. I couldn’t understand what had driven them apart. After all, their kids were grown up, or at least old enough to not be a major source of stress, and, in theory, they had more time for one another.
If anything, so I thought, wouldn’t this be the best time for a marriage?
Now that my husband and I are approaching 11 years of marriage, I understand what those couples have gone through, and hope to learn from their experiences. What I gleaned from them is that when you have children under the age of about five (give or take depending on where they are developmentally), raising them dominates almost every aspect of your married life. You find most conversations, most of your decisions, most of your actions revolve around your kids. Sure you are stressed, and yes you do fight, but in the end you are bonded over this shared journey.
When the kids grow up, and space opens up for other ways for us to connect with our partners, finding ways to fill that space can prove difficult or even impossible for some couples. And, sadly, that space often gets filled with resentment, shame and hurt.
I understand how foolish I was to assume everything magically gets better once the kids get older. Sure, things change, and our responsibilities as parents may ease up a bit, but our commitment to our partners, to our marriage, to ourselves, requires continued and conscientious work.
I am no marriage counselor, nor do I believe my partner and I have been together long enough to have the credibility to lecture anyone on relationships. I am speaking only from my heart here, and sharing what I hope will help other couples in a similar place find a deeper connection with their partner or spouse.
As I reflect on where we are at in our relationship, I realize how much we need to focus on areas that bond us, which have little or nothing to do with our children. When we have time alone together, we try to talk about other topics aside from our kids. This could mean anything from politics, to our favorite shows, to mundane tasks needed to be done around the house. Of course, our kids will come up, as they are a big part of our lives, but we try to remind ourselves, they aren’t our whole lives, and that our relationship exists beyond them.
Connecting with our partners is more than just verbal, as we know. We need to find ways to be physically close with one another, and to remind ourselves of the love and attraction we feel for them. By this I do mean sex, however, sex is just one aspect of physical connection. Physical connection is about being with our partners, sharing space with them and acknowleding our bond.
The beauty about older children is that, depending on their needs, they can be left with another trusted adult for a few hours or even a few nights. Even if you can only manage this for a handful of times during the year, take advantage of the help and go out to dinner, or just stay home and binge-watch your favorite show. No matter what you do, be intentional and present with one another.
And, remember, finding time for connection doesn’t have to mean taking a lot of time away from the kids, it could just mean a quick hug, or a kiss on the cheek, or holding hands during a walk with the family. As I write this, I am realizing I need to do more of this myself. As I said, I am no expert, and I am learning, just like you.
I am humble enough to know I have no idea what the future will bring. I can’t anticipate what challenges will come our way and test my marriage. I also do not claim to understand why some partnerships come to an end. Relationships are complicated and private matters, and I will not cast judgement or shame on those who decide to go their separate ways.
I can only speak for myself and my life and hope what I say resonates with my readers. I am also here to learn from those who have been through much more than I have and accept I hardly have all the answers.
I look forward to celebrating my eleventh wedding anniversary with my husband and finding more ways to connect and grow together. No matter what stage you are in, I wish you and your partner the same.