How Our Marriage Survived a Year of Parenting and the 7-Year Itch
Research has shown that marital satisfaction decreases after you have kids. Divorce rates also peak at around seven years of marriage (aka “7-Year Itch”). Greg and I weathered both our first child and our seventh year of marriage last year. Thankfully, we made it to our eighth anniversary happily married. We’ve endured many stresses and changes together since we were teenagers (we met when we were 18 and 19), but nothing tests a marriage like trying to keep a tiny human alive. Here are some of our best tips (learned through total trial and error) for surviving, and hopefully thriving, in your marriage as parents.
1. Don’t jump to conclusions.
I punched Greg in the middle of the night because he wouldn’t get up with Oliver. I also threw a pillow at his head and called him a few names that would fall in the category of “terms of disparagement.” I knew he was refusing to get out of bed so I would get up with Oliver. In reality, he was just still sleeping and hadn’t heard the monitor.
There have been countless other times when we assumed the worst, which almost always led to a fight. Give each other a chance to explain and extend a lot of grace. Assume your partner’s best intentions. Their sour mood might stem from a hard day of work and have nothing to do with you.
2. Laugh togetheR.
We have never laughed together more than we have this year. Kids are hilarious, messy, exhausting and totally unpredictable. Getting aggravated when things don’t go as planned never solves anything. Taking a lighthearted approach to parenting has been our saving grace. We also have to embrace all of our #parentfails, like buying a 99 cents bag of gummy bears for teacher appreciation week or accidentally leaving a can of beer in Oliver’s reach. He had his first taste of a stout at 10 months (insert face palm). We also try and infuse more humor in our lives through sharing memes, podcasts, and funny tv shows. One of our favorites is Catastrophe on Amzon and I am a huge fan of Ali Wong. If you’re a breastfeeding mama, please listen to her bit on latching and parallel parking.
3. Forgive and move on.
Being on the same team is essential for survival. As stubborn as we both can be, we know we can’t do life alone, especially as parents. We still fight and disagree, but we are much quicker to forgive and forget and not waste precious time being mad.
4. Outsource to buy back your life.
Time is your most valuable commodity. I have never valued my time more than I do now as a mom. We outsource a lot of things in our lives in order to have more family time. Hiring help can affect your budget, but I would rather say no to a few dinners out in order to have extra family time or more sleep. We use Hello Fresh, a meal kit delivery company, and love the simplicity in meals and preparation. We pay for a house cleaner-and recently had them clean out our oven (on my to do list for about three years) and wash all of our windows. We use an accountant for all of our taxes, I outsource my editing for photography, and we're big fans of grocery delivery/pick-up.
5. Take turns.
It feels like elementary school, but we believe in fairness. Every night, we know whose turn it is to wake up with Oliver if he gets up in the night. We swap who makes dinner and who cleans up, while the other person is playing with Oliver. We share laundry duties and each have our own “chores.” When we were first married, we made a lot of assumptions that each other would just notice what needed to get done and act selflessly. It ultimately led to some pent-up resentment about always being the one to wash dishes or pay the bills. There’s a reason our parents used chore charts-sharing life’s tasks is important and leads to a peaceful household.
6. Share a calendar
We put everything on our calendars and invite each other to events. If Greg wants to go out with some friends, he'll put it on his calendar and invite me so I know it's a night for me to stay home with Oliver, and vice versa. It might seem impersonal, but it's easy and efficient and cuts down on double booking and miscommunication.
7. Encourage your spouse to pursue his/her passions.
We both had different hobbies and activities before becoming parents and have tried to continue being involved in them-some together, some separately. One of my good friends shares an "off-duty" night with her husband. Each of them have one night a week where the other will make dinner and do the bedtime routine while the other gets a night of playing a rec sport, watching a tv show, going out with friends, or doing whatever they feel like! We play sand volleyball every Monday night in the summer. We love having something special to do together and to connect with our friends outside of work or with Oliver. Whenever Greg or I come back from some time alone or with other friends, we feel refreshed and ready to pour from a much fuller cup.
8. Ask for help.
There is no award for doing this thing on your own. I actually have not driven since January due to some health issues. Not being able to drive has been hard, but surprisingly not as bad as I thought it would be. I spend a lot of time with my parents and husband, but I also get to have time with coworkers and friends I wouldn't otherwise. I was surprised by how many people don't mind a friend on a Target run or helping me pick up Oliver from daycare. Your people want to help, especially when you have kids and can't do all the things. My best advice is to ask for specific things you need help with and then don't apologize. Also, think of me the next time you want to get out of the house...chances are, I do too!!!! :)
9. It's okay to say no and change your mind.
This is probably the hardest lesson I am learning. My energy doesn't carry me as far as it used to. There are times I forget and overcommit. Feeling bad about backing out, I will go to the party, take the photo shoot, or say yes to one more meeting. The result is always feeling guilty for not being home, coupled with the exhaustion of being pushed to my mental and physical limits. After eight years, Greg and I know what we can handle and what we can't. When we choose to back out of plans or say no to something we might want to do, we have to honor the choice to do what's best for us. Stop feeling guilty for knowing your limits. Your community and friends and even coworkers should respect and support your decision to care for yourself.
10. Remember together.
I read somewhere a while back that recalling happy memories increases marital satisfaction. Greg and I put together a memory book with photos we took each year. Most of them are snapshots we captured on our phone, but every month or so, we'll dig out the memory books while having coffee and relive some of our favorite times together. (I use Artifact Uprising's square 8.5 x 8.5 softcover books).
My sister-in-law also makes a movie for each of her kid's birthday years. She includes both photos and video clips. I made one for Oliver this year and loved reliving his little noises and seeing him grow. We also make sure to have a professional photo shoot each year (even before Oliver) and I decided to hire a friend who is a videographer to take a video of our family as it grows each year. (Watch Oliver's coming home video here). It is a top priority for us to capture life as it comes so we can relive and remember together.
This sure got your attention, didn't it? :) Sex after having a baby is no joke. It is hard to make sex a priority when all you want to do is sleep for 72 hours when you finally get to bed. Communicate often and know that intimacy doesn't always mean sex. Sometimes we both would much rather relax on our porch with a glass of wine and it's nice to be able to connect in a variety of ways. Just make sure you are connecting.