Families come in every shape and size now. We are a blessed society to witness love in so many combinations. Our children are growing up knowing they can choose who they want, without shame, to love for all their lives.
This is wonderful, but it is so easy to lose that beautiful love throughout the journey. The foundation can be cracked and broken, and the home can fall apart. It happens every day. The good news though? Divorce is on the decline. Couples are lasting longer than previous years, and they are actually working on their relationships. We are also seeing a rise in relationships that are not contracted by marriage, but are lasting decades; and other non-traditional families that are proving to be stronger than anyone expected years ago.
I love that you can search the internet, openly discuss, seek counseling, and read so much about relationships and strengthening them. I won’t lie, I do most of these things regularly. Most of the time, it includes wine and friendship while venting and then talking about how to realistically help.
While I am no expert on this topic, my marriage is in its ninth year (with 12 years total of being together) and baby #4 almost here, I do know that my husband and I openly enjoy each stage of our journey. And that, my friends, is how we hope to make it.
I have no idea what our future holds; where we will relocate to, how hormonal our children will be through puberty, the life issues we will disagree on, or how we will handle all of our babies leaving the nest one day. But I do know that we are bound and determined to not only survive it all, but come out more in love than we started. This will, and already does, take work.
Gathering from what I have read, what I have seen, and what I have experienced, I give you several ways to stay in love as the relationship evolves:
A few key pieces that cross through all stages:
- Grow as a person as you grow together. It is very common for a mom to lose herself throughout motherhood. It is a time when she (we, as mothers) drop ourselves off the priority list completely and take care of everyone else around us. While this is typical, and will happen to almost every mother, there comes a point when we deserve more. This is something that needs to be known by your partner. Instead of them withdrawing from the relationship, he should be the one to help you through this period, possibly helping you find yourself, your new self, and loving you through the entire process. If he fails to do this (through any stage of the relationship), talk to him. He is your partner for a reason, ask him to help.
- Talk. This is a given. Any lasting relationship will tell you that communication is key. The trick here is that every couple will communicate differently. Learning different styles of talking will be beneficial; however, finding your own way is what will help you transition from each stage of the relationship. Even if talking comes easily for you now, know that there will be challenging times. No one communicates perfectly. No relationship is perfect.
- Reevaluate Often. It is quite typical to think you are on the same page, but actually be reading two very different books. This can be a detailed, sit down and converse session. It can be a venting session. It can just be a 3-minute talk in bed. It goes back to finding a way to communicate that works for your relationship.
- Understand that a lasting relationship is never 50/50. Anyone who tells you this is lying. There will be periods of time that you carry your partner through a struggle, and other times that he carries you.
- Do not expect perfection. Let go of what your parents expect, what your friends have, what the magazines say, and what the world thinks is right. Find happiness together and pave your own way.
- The minds of Wife and Husband, Mother and Father are completely different. What is blaringly obvious to one, may not be noticed by the other. This is not done on purpose, but is a true problem in most relationships. It will happen a lot throughout time. Instead of using it as an excuse, embrace it and understand that you need to work on being able to show your partner what you see, and he needs to do the same for you.
- Expect bumps in the road, challenges, unexpected events, and moments that will devastate you. This is life, and life is messy.
Life Before Babies
Sometimes, I look back and wonder how we made it to marriage. There were so many flaws within each of us, but we chose to look passed them, knowing that together we would be able to grow through them. We lived at the beach, on two salaries before we bought a house in town and began working on home projects. We argued and laughed, grew but didn’t change much through the first few years. We were just “In Love.” I don’t think we had learned yet the difference between being IN love, and truly loving the other person. But we were blissfully happy.
- Enjoy dating, and don’t rush the relationship
- Learn one another and accept differences
- Fight, but learn how to makeup
- Discuss the future, but don’t write it in stone
- Forgive one another
- Explore one another physically, but be able to spend a night (or a week) next to one another without having sex and still be happy
- Make friends with other couples that you both like
- Keep separate hobbies, but support each other through them
- Find a hobby to do together
Our first pregnancy came after fertility struggles, so we were elated to learn that we would have a baby. The next few babies came easy, and added quite a bit of life to our world. The first pregnancy was a strengthening for our marriage, as we journeyed through it together, but each pregnancy that followed became more of a mindset “You are a super woman and can rock this and don’t really need help.” Don’t get me wrong, my husband is wonderful during labor, but he certainly does not pamper me while pregnant. This pregnancy though, I have asked for more. After a very hard year of marriage, I have learned that men are not mind readers, and that I have allowed my husband to fall into this mindset. You see, as a stay-at-home mom, I have catered to him and made life almost “too easy” while handling EVERYTHING. I won’t take all the blame, but I will take 80% of it. This point actually rolls into the baby and childhood stage of a relationship as well.
- Hormones are a crazy thing. The rollercoaster of emotions is hard for anyone to handle, especially the significant other. Understand that it is only a period of time, and not an everlasting cycle of craziness.
- The body changing can cause a shift in self-confidence and self-image. A partner needs to remember to pay compliments to a pregnant woman – and pay them often. Boobs growing, stretch marks popping up, hips widening, it’s hard to enjoy, but is even harder without the support of the one you love.
- Let your partner in: He has not experienced a pregnancy (and never will). Share the embarrassing stories of peeing your pants, leaking milk through your bra, and falling asleep at your desk. Don’t tell him these things for pity, but to share the experience with him.
- Continue to date. Do not let pregnancy change the swing of your lifestyle.
- Take a real birthing class together, not just a hospital crash course. I highly recommend the Bradley Method because it is Husband-Coached. It educates both parents and creates a birth experience that strengthens the foundation of a relationship. That being said, any real, natural birthing class (longer than a day) will benefit you both.
- Discuss parenting decisions, but don’t tattoo them on. You will evolve as you go, and you will grow at different paces.
Life after Babies:
We saw our first real challenges after baby #2 arrived. As mama bear, I knew in my gut that I needed to fight for that baby. From circumcision to allergy testing to questioning medical practices. It was a battle within the marriage. I’ll state this: NEVER mess with a Mama Bear. It wasn’t my pride talking, it was the love and understanding of a child that my body grew. It took my husband a long time to understand that. I never fought with him because I wanted an argument or wanted to win, but I held my ground and grew as an individual as I was pursuing saving my child. This time period, while hard, open the door to a more secure marriage. When we learned of our son’s food allergies (that could have killed him had we vaccinated him), his sensory disorder, and later, his speech delay, my husband truly saw what becoming a mother had done to me.
With baby #3, circumcision, homeschooling, medical decisions, etc. were all openly and freely discussed. They were not argued about. The same with baby #4.
On a similar, but different note, I lost myself in motherhood for quite some time between baby #1-3. I do not regret it for one moment, and the foundation my husband and I have was not rocked by this; but I can see how some relationships would be. I will say, that after baby #3 was born, I started to seek something. I wasn’t sure what it was, but my husband helped me find it. I began to run again. Not just a mile or two, but dozens a week. He ran too. We trained for a marathon and completed it holding hands on our 3rd baby’s 1st birthday. That entire year will go down in my books as one of the greatest marriage chapters ever.
- Expect to struggle. This transition is huge. Finances will change whether you decide to stay home, cut hours, or pay for childcare. This is a period of adjustment.
- Do something for the two of you. Like we did with marathon training, but find something you love. We could not train together, as someone had to be with the kids while the other ran for hours at a time, and in all actuality, we only ran one long 22 mile training run together over the entire 6 months before the race. But, we were both training. We had something new to talk about. We created a schedule and helped one another through it. We doubted our own strengths but grew together by lifting one another up.
- Patience. I repeat, patience. Having a newborn and infant creates sleepless nights and frustrated adults. It will call into question lifestyle, habits, and other things you had never thought about before. It will open your eyes to just how little your partner may actually be helping. The hormones do not help either. Hot showers, meditating, naps, and emotional conversations may all be needed to make it through this period.
- Sometimes dads don’t like newborns. Of course, they LOVE their baby. That’s not what I am saying. It’s just that newborns need Mom. They need to hear the heartbeat that grew them. Do not resent your partner for not knowing how to help, but instead ask him to help in other ways. Ask him to make you dinner or pick something up. Tell him you need a break for 30 minutes. Be specific and gentle. He wants to help, but needs guidance.
- Postpartum Depression and Baby Blues are real, do not be afraid to voice your emotions.
- Expect to disagree over big (and little) things.
- Have sex. Explore the new body the babies have blessed you with, and let your partner love every inch of you.
- Remember to date. Date nights in are perfect.
- Remember one another. Send silly text messages, a seductive email, or simply a $10 bill with a note saying, “Grab a beer with a coworker today. You need a little break.” Your partner needs to know he is still on your radar. And that should be reciprocated.
- Don’t keep score. Marriage is not a game to be won.
- Dream about the future together. Have goals and plans. Get lost in one another’s passions and support each other until they are reality. Then dream again.
- Set a budget. One of the reasons most marriages fail is due to financial problems. Be open when discussing money. Do not place blame or push shame on either party, but instead work together to have a plan in place when it comes to your money.
- Remember to compromise and think of the bigger picture. Set your pride aside and love one another more each day.
There seems to be a hard adjustment period through each stage, and a balancing act as stages overlap one another. This seems to be when we struggle the most to find ourselves. While one child is growing a year older, a toddler is running around, and we find out we are pregnant. It’s when life changes that we have to reevaluate our relationship. Take the time to do this.
Enjoy each stage. Find joy in it. For time is a fleeting thing, the grass is never greener, and a strong relationship will build a strong family.