Join Club Momme for exclusive access to giveaways, discounts and more!

Sign up

'The New I Do' and How It's Changing My Marriage

Photograph by Getty Images

I wish I could say I didn’t remember, but I do. I remember exactly what the fight was about: wiping the counters. My husband didn’t do it. And then, when I asked him to, he got frustrated. The fight devolved from there. I told him he never helped. He said I was too busy with work and the kids to spend time with him. This went on for several rounds, until I started crying and we both went to bed.

When my husband and I made the decision to have a second child, I don’t think we were prepared for what it would do to our marriage.

RELATED: Morning Coffee and Divorce With a Stranger

The problems and frustrations have been festering as we struggled with getting the baby to finally sleep through the night and as my husband has pushed through some intense months at work. The problem is: We are both right. This past year, I’ve been busy with work and the kids and I put him on the back burner. And he has completely underestimated the amount of work two kids generate.

So, where does this leave us? Functioning while the kids are awake and when they are asleep we seethe on the couch in resentment. It’s not healthy, but it’s pretty normal.

Therapist and co-author of "The New 'I Do'" Susan Pease Gadoua confirms what my husband and I suspected: Marriage is hard, but sustaining a marriage while parenting? That can seem almost impossible. In an interview, Gadoua reassured me, “Modern marriage has ridiculously high standards, we have to be each other’s soul mates and then you add in parenting and careers? The stress is incredibly high. It’s just not possible to constantly maintain those high standards all the time: Something has to give.”

If your marriage is broken, fix the terms of the relationship.

In an effort to bolster my marriage, I’ve gone in search of advice. I found articles that tell me to try harder with my marriage and to date my husband more. If I just focus on him, the advice seems to say, the effects will trickle down on my parenting, career be damned I guess. But no where in this advice does it tell me when I’m supposed to have time to do all of this. I am up at 5 a.m. every morning, juggling part-time work, while staying home with my children full-time. Often, the only time I have to work is in the evening when my husband is home. By the end of the week, the last thing he or I want to do is dress up and go out for a night of fun. Plus, where is all this money for babysitting and fun activities supposed to come from?

In their book, Gadoua and her co-author, journalist Vicki Larson, offer a counterpoint to all of this “lean into your marriage advice.” Larson and Gadoua argue that our modern concepts of marriage are flawed. They write: “[T]he attempt to make marriage meet each person’s many needs is a set up for failure. And fail it has. Not for everyone, but certainly far too many. We can’t think of another social paradigm where the odds of success — defined as happily staying together forever — are so low, yet nothing is being done to improve it.”

Their book offers a new kind of paradigm. If your marriage is broken, fix the terms of the relationship. Their book offers varying versions of marriage — open marriage, starter marriage — but the one I was the most interested in was the model of a Parenting Marriage. According to Gadoua and Larson, “A Parenting Marriage unites two people who want to have children and who commit to stay together until they launch the last child to adulthood.” This model is not about love for your mate, rather a commitment to raising children.

It may seem counterproductive to the very idea of marriage, but Larson and Gadoua note that children don’t care if their parents are fulfilled or even married, what children care about is “stability, consistency, and a close relationship with their parents.” And this can be accomplished in many ways.

The book provided examples of couples on websites like Modafamily.com, Coparenting.com, coparentingmatch.com and pollentree.com, who meet specifically to have a family and no more. The specificities of the relationship are up to negotiation — monogamy, where they live, who provides the money, who provides the care — but all details are worked out in advance.

No one person can meet all of your needs and then be the perfect parent and why do we expect them to?

The book also provides examples of couples who met and married in a more traditional way, and then divorced and lived together until their children were grown. One couple, Lanie and Monica, dated others, but lived together and focused on raising their daughter. Greg and Kathy separated, but moved back in together to provide a stable home for their son. They continued their relationship, not as a marriage, but as a parenting partnership.

Larson and Gadoua argue that divorcing this idea of “romantic love” from marriage can provide a better and more stable environment for couples to raise children in. And as cynical as it sounds, I admit, the model appealed to me. It takes marriage down from the pedestal and making it more practical. No muss. No fuss. No needs or expectations except those laid bare in a contract.

I asked Gadoua if this wasn’t a kind of defeatism to admit that we can’t have it all: happy marriage, great career and happy children. Gadoua suggested that perhaps it can work for some people, but it’s not a question of defeatism, rather a question of definition. “No one person can meet all of your needs and then be the perfect parent and why do we expect them to?”

For unwed people who want to be parents, Parenting Marriage is a model of a relationship to consider. But what about those of us in the middle of things? Married because we believe in love, but having a hard time bolstering that while in the throes of parenting?

I asked Gadoua about this. I don’t want to divorce my husband. He doesn’t want to divorce either. But it’s clear we are expecting too much of one another. We want each other to be perfect parents, partners and still maintain the flame of romance. Gadoua said that their book isn’t about prescribing solutions, but opening up a conversation. Larson agreed, “We want to give people the tools to have discussions about marriage in a new way.”

I took their advice and went to my husband. I told him I thought I was expecting too much of him. I expect him to go to work and then immediately come home and transition into the perfect partner and parent. He looked like I had lifted a burden from his shoulders. The conversation gave us a way to start talking about how we can have our needs met — maybe we don’t need more sexy lingerie and hot dates, maybe he needs more guy nights? Maybe I need some time to sleep past 5 a.m. on the weekdays? Maybe I shouldn’t expect him to be my only source of adult conversation? Maybe I should hire a babysitter and meet some friends for coffee.

Taking the pressure off of my husband to meet my needs has allowed me to focus less on what my husband isn’t doing and more on what he is doing.

Oddly enough, taking the pressure off of my husband to meet my needs has allowed me to focus less on what my husband isn’t doing and more on what he is doing. I asked him what he thought and he agreed. I’m not sure if we have things figured out. We still need some more talking and negotiating and yes, eventually, some more date nights. But taking the pressure off, taking our relationship off the pedestal and into the real world has helped immensely.

Gadoua recommends that any couple interested in renegotiating the terms of their relationship begin with some open conversations. “Don’t just say, ‘I’m unhappy,’” cautions, Gadoua, “try asking if your partner is happy, if things are working for her?” Then, she suggests that couple seek some expert guidance. “Having a third party involved in your talks can give you both perspective and later, if you do decide to separate or renegotiate your contract, you can do so with a neutral mediator.”

RELATED: Wife, Mother, Me: How I Made Room for all Three in my Marriage

So often, advice for women focuses on what we are doing wrong and how we are failing as mothers and wives, "The New 'I Do'" was a refreshing way of saying, maybe this isn’t about me but about how I define my relationship. No matter what direction our marriage takes, I appreciated the permission to take a step back and instead of fixing myself, fixing the terms of my marriage. I think in the long run, it will help my husband and me be better partners and parents.

Explore More: relationships
More from kids