I get asked a lot about how Mr. Train and I have managed to stay married with all the chaos of raising four kids. It really got me thinking about what we do to keep our relationship alive and well during our adventures in parenthood. First of all, I don’t think it’s a matter of staying married. Staying married has been the easy part. The tricky part is staying head over heels in love with each other, while balancing the stress of parenting. Not just being in love, but taking the time to show each other the love we feel is even harder.
So while talking to a friend about marriage, these are the things I came up with that have been critical to maintaining a healthy adult relationship for us while caring for the ever growing demands of parenthood.
We face our challenges as a team.
Whether it’s financial, household, kids, work or family related, I think it is important to take things on as a unit. No matter what we face as a married couple, we have to go through it as a united front. We have had some bumpy times in our life together that have not been easy, but I always knew that Mr. Train was there for me. Our biggest battles that kicked off our marriage were infertility followed by a contested adoption, while going through a high risk pregnancy and ending up with three infants under a year old. I often thought “Well, if we can make it through this we can survive anything.” And I really think it’s true. During that time we learned a lot about each other. We learned about our strengths and weaknesses and where and when to help each other.
Now that we are well into the depths of parenthood, it has become even more apparent that being a solid unit is important. Let’s be real here. There are twice as many of them as there are of us. The numbers are not in our favor. We have to have a good battle plan. Parenting is hard and there are times when we will falter. I love knowing that Mr. Train is there to take over when I am weak and I can do the same for him. I can read my husband’s emotional signals pretty well by now. I can tell when he is about to lose it and I know I have to step in. It’s like a wrestling tag team. When one of us can’t take much more, we know it’s safe to tap out and let the other one handle things.
I think our sense of humor has developed as our children have grown. It doesn’t matter if they are screaming or pouting or laughing their heads off; we are there together smiling at the chaos around us.
Make time for each spouse to get away individually.
This does not happen often in our house but it is SO important. I think having our own individual time is critical for maintaining our own identity. Mr. Train and my dad have joined a whiskey tasting club, and I try to make sure that they can go when it has events. I am active in my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group so whenever I need to go to a meeting or a mom’s night out, he has always lets me go without complaint. It helps to have interests outside of the kids and each other. It gives us things to talk about when we get the chance.
It also gives us time to relax with friends and blow off steam to someone who understands. I absolutely love my husband unconditionally but when I want to talk pregnancy, birthing and breastfeeding, I really need my girlfriends who have been there and understand. When I need to talk to someone else who is at home all day with their kids, I have to go to my other SAHM friends because he just doesn’t understand. On his side it is the same. I don’t want to spend hours talking about fantasy football or computers. But when he has time with his friends, that’s what they get to do. When we come back together after our time apart, we can give each other the shortened highlights.
Make time for each other.
I think this is one of the hardest things as new parents. It’s one thing to give your spouse some time away; it’s another to make time for both of you. I often think about the final scene in Shrek 2. They have had their triplet baby ogres and go through all the motions of their day. They juggle their babies, feed and change them and get them all into bed. Of course once the babies are in bed they look at each other with coy smiles and Shrek says “Are you thinking what I am thinking?” Fiona smiles back and says “yes.” It then cuts to them passed out on the end of their bed fully dressed, even with their shoes on. I can’t tell you how many nights like that I have had as a new mom. By the time all of parenting duties are done, there is just nothing left and I collapse, but it is so important to not let that happen ALL of the time.
We try to schedule date nights, but wait before you start making excuses about babysitting and expenses — let me explain what our date nights usually look like. We do get to go out since we have family close by, but when it’s not an option we just do in home date nights. It’s simple. Sometimes I make a special dinner, maybe one of Mr. Train’s favorites, or something new that he wants to try. After the kids are in bed we pick a movie on Netflix we have been meaning to watch and snuggle up on the couch. It’s different from other nights because we are intentional about how we spend our time. I make dinner with him in mind instead of rummaging through the pantry only to decide on spaghetti for the 4th time that week. On date night we put away the phones and ipads. We just enjoy relaxing together. It is exceptionally hard for me because I am very bad at sitting and doing nothing. But I don’t give into the urge to do chores on date night. I sit and relax with my husband which is much more important than folding laundry.
With that being said, I have also found that it does wonders for our parental morale if we have date nights where we go out for dinner away from the kids. I love my kids and I think about them when I am away, but I have not sat at my dinner table for an entire meal in five years. The only time I have an uninterrupted meal is when we go out for the evening without the kids. We try not to take advantage of our family, but we do get out when we can. We probably get out about once a month or so. Even if my family wasn’t nearby I would find a reliable sitter and do it. It is so lovely to just sit in a quiet restaurant enjoying each other’s company. Even if it is just an hour it can do wonders for a relationship.
Remind each other that you are still attracted to each other.
Try to think back to the last time you told your spouse, “You are sexy” or “That looks great on you.” I think as new parents it is so easy to take our partners for granted and forget that they want to feel loved. It is especially important for woman. Husbands, I want you to pay attention closely. I have yet to meet a mother who did not have some part of her body she wanted to hide and not look at again. For most of us it’s the stretch marks or loose skin that covers our bodies, or just the fact that our bodies have changed. I am blessed to have a husband who has never once made me feel insecure about my mangled twin mommy belly, but we need to hear it every once in a while. We need to know that you aren’t just tolerating our new bodies but that you still love every inch, just like you did when we first started dating.
Ladies, although their bodies didn’t have to stretch and change like ours, their lives have changed. They may have gone a week without a shower while on paternity leave or missed a hair cut because timing just wasn’t right. They need to know we still think they are the best thing on the planet. Do you swoon when you see your husband holding your newborn child? Do you melt inside when he dances around the living room with your toddler? Tell him! Our husbands have a new role too in this life as parents, and they need to know that we are still head over heels in love with them and that doing the dishes without being asked is totally sexy!
Remember we are married and not just roommates; find time for intimacy.
I am not just talking about sex (that is incredibly important and should be done as often as you can), but physical intimacy of all kinds. A friend of mine asked if I kissed Mr. Train every day. I had to really think. There may have been days where he didn’t even get a kiss. I was appalled at the thought that a day would pass without kissing my husband, but it happens. There were days when we were just passing each other each while chasing down a kid who more than likely was getting into some kind of trouble.
Lately I have been much more intentional with finding spare moments to act like a husband and wife. To be honest I can’t wait for my kids to be old enough to be grossed out by us. I want to hear the groans and complaints that let me know I am teaching my kids what it’s like to be in a healthy loving relationship. We hold hands, we kiss, we flirt, he comes up behind me while cooking and puts his hand on the small of my back while looking over my shoulder and complimenting what’s on the stove. All of those times where we share intimate little moments not only keep our passion in our marriage, but it teaches our kids how to be loving and respectful of a partner.
What are some things you do to stay in love with your spouse?