In the 10 years since I graduated from college and I've managed to forget pretty much everything I learned, save for a highlights reel. On said reel is a tidbit I picked up in a child and family development class about conclusive research showing that marital satisfaction declines once children are added to the mix.
I can still recall my feelings of doom and gloom upon hearing this, but those feeling were followed by naive optimism. "Having kids can't be all that horrible for a marriage," and "I'm sure it's hard, but we'll be different!" are just a couple of the confident thoughts that filled my head.
Fast-forward to eight years of marriage and three children later, and that gloomy statistic has started to make a lot more sense.
Before we had children, my husband and I had our fair share of disagreements, but it was never anything I would consider to be major. I got irritated because he always made us late, and he got irritated because I worried too much about every little thing. But it was mainly just small annoyances that we worked through and got over quickly.
I've learned, though, that children can make a relationship a bit more complicated.
All of those little annoyances are amplified when thrust under the magnifying glass of postpartum hormones, lack of sleep and kids throwing tantrums. The fact that he's running behind when we have somewhere to be is far more irritating when I've got three whining children strapped in the car waiting on him.
My worrier nature that caused him frustration in the past has become even stronger, since children come with an entirely new set of things to obsess over. The fact that I absolutely must check on them—literally feeling their chests to make sure they're still breathing—every night before getting into bed isn't exactly one of his favorite things about me.
Of course, no one's perfect and we all have our issues, but since we were pretty good at working through these minor annoyances before kids, surely we could work through them post-kids, right? In theory, yes, we could. In reality? That's trickier.
In between making meals and dealing with potty messes and reading stories and doing tuck-ins, there isn't a ton of time to just sit and hash things out. Small issues get pushed aside until we have the time, and then when we do have the time (i.e. when the kids are finally in bed) we are too tired/apathetic to put out any more effort. So we zone out and watch Netflix instead.
We now dig deeper in order to get to the root of recurring issues, because we don't have time to hash the same struggle out over and over.
That said, I think that despite the difficult moments and the challenges that parenting brings to a relationship it has also made our marriage stronger... better even.
Where we once were lazy about date nights, they're now a necessity for us to have uninterrupted conversations and reconnect. We find the time and make the arrangements to make them happen.
We also tag team things a lot more. While we could do things solo before kids, we now depend on each other far more. With three kids, unless there;s a very important reason, doing bedtime solo just isn't gonna happen. It's a logistical nightmare, so we have to work together to make bed time go smoothly. Other times the kids are trying our patience and we are at our wits end and we need the other person to tap in and handle it so we can tap out and recompose ourselves.
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Other times, it forces efficiency. We now dig deeper in order to get to the root of recurring issues, because we don't have time to hash the same struggle out over and over.
Its also brought us face to face with ugly truths about ourselves as we see them mirrored in our children. I can't tell you how many times I've been shocked at a particular behavior from my child only to have the realization that it was a behavior they learned from me and that I should probably work on it.
At the end of the day, even though some stages of marriage (i.e. this one with three children 4 and under) are more exhausting/challenging/"worse" than others, it isn't completely miserable. And for those moments when it kind of is?
Well, at least we're miserable together.
Image via Nakalan McKay Photography