Mr. Dolphin and I celebrated seven years of marriage, eleven years of togetherness this past year. Throughout the time we have been together, we have moved ten times, lived in four regions (London, Indiana, California, and now the DC metro area), owned a dog, purchased two homes, traveled to ~25 countries, graduated law school, passed the bar exam, survived the financial crash and periods of unemployment, and had two beautiful children. It’s fair to say that over the years we’ve come across our share of challenges, we’ve fought, we’ve compromised and we’ve grown as a couple. With two kids, the way we connect is different than it once was, but we still work to keep our marriage healthy and thriving.

Because we live across the country from our family, we don’t have a great network of people that we can leave the kids with for a night out. The only time we’ve ever left Lion with a babysitter was after he fell asleep for the evening, at which point we were pretty tired ourselves and just had a quick dinner before returning home. Lion is so shy that I worry both about him and a babysitter if we left while he was awake! Without family or a reliable babysitter that he’s comfortable with, finding time to connect can be challenging but it’s not impossible.

Having a healthy, thriving marriage is really important to me. I want our children to look at the relationship that Mr. Dolphin and I have and see what it means to have a happy, loving marriage. I want our kids to grow up knowing how beautiful marriage can be and get excited about finding their own partners some day. Here are the little ways that Mr. Dolphin and I find to connect post-kids.

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Love all three of these guys to pieces! Photo by Eric Elofson.

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Walk to the metro together.

When we can, we try to walk to the metro. We both enjoy going for walks and it’s something we did together frequently when Lion was an infant and loved being pushed around in the stroller. He would fall asleep and we would walk for a couple of hours, talking and enjoying each others’ company, until it was time to return home to feed him again. Nowadays, Lion requires more attention since he’s unlikely to just crash in the stroller, so we now try to walk to the metro in the morning instead of drive. This gives us a little more time to connect and talk about whatever is on our minds. Bonus: it saves us $5+ per day in parking fees.

Talk on the metro.

We take the metro into work together in the mornings, but come home at separate times. Pre-kids, we didn’t talk as much on the metro and would instead read books (me) or listen to podcasts/music (Mr. Dolphin) on our commute. Now, we spend more time talking as we ride the train to work because it’s one more opportunity we have to chat. Often we talk about the kids, but we try to talk about other things too so our relationship isn’t completely one-dimensional.

Watch at least one show together before bed.

I’ve always enjoyed unwinding with a TV show before going to sleep. I find that if I go straight from reading or working to bed, my mind is totally wired and I can’t fall asleep. Even if it’s late, we try to watch at least one show before going to bed because it’s something we can do together. If it’s a new show, it gives us something to talk about on the ride to work in the morning!

Have “date days.”

Although we haven’t really gone the babysitter route on the evenings or weekends, Mr. Dolphin and I have shared a few “date days.” The kids’ daycare is open on Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day even though most employers are closed on these days. We drop the kids off at daycare and enjoy a wonderful day together, whether we hike, go to lunch and a movie, or just spend some time at home. At times, we’ll both take the day off, or at least a few hours off, for some special time together, too. We are lucky in that we both have the same two primary love languages (gifts and quality time), so spending time together to do things we love and connect really helps us keep our marriage strong.

Apologize when we snap at each other.

Having children, especially having a toddler, has made me realize just how patient I can be. I have seen my patience grow when dealing with Lion in the midst of a massive tantrum. However, sometimes this growth in patience doesn’t extend to Mr. Dolphin and there are definitely times we have snapped at each other. We do tend to call each other out on this, and most of the time we can each recognize when we’ve been snarky or taken a rougher tone with each other. We apologize immediately and forgive each other instead of letting things build up under the surface.

Don’t keep score.

This is one of the biggest tips I have about marriage in general, but something that seems even more important after having kids. It doesn’t matter who changed a diaper last or who got up in the middle of the night the day before, all that matters is that we are a team and we both jump in when we can. We have different strengths and our kids have different needs at times, so we do what we need when we need. It’s not about a 50/50 split in everything, but instead about feeling that each person contributes substantially. I don’t care who changes the diapers or gives the kids a bath, but I care that we both take part in the good and bad, the fun and the difficult.

Take turns.

I know, I know, I said not to keep score. But at the same time, we want to take turns in giving each other much needed breaks. I volunteer a couple of Mondays each month and Mr. Dolphin will take solo parenting duties to let me do so. The time away from the parenting responsibilities doing something that I love really gives me time to refresh, not only as a parent, but as a wife. I try to return the favor by taking the kids out or will encourage Mr. Dolphin to enjoy happy hour with friends.

Thank each other.

After we had kids, thanking each other became more automatic and made us feel like our individual contributions were valued more. There were times where pre-kids, we might have taken each other for granted (or at least given the impression that we were taking each other for granted). After having Lion, in our efforts to model good behavior, we began to thank each other more consistently until it became a habit.

We also make a point to express our appreciation. For example, instead of just saying something general like, “Thanks for everything!” we will pinpoint exactly what we are grateful for. “Thanks for putting the dishes away! I know how much you hate putting away the tupperware and that load of dishes was all tupperware!”

Hug each other every day.

At some point after having Lion, I realized that our physical touch had gone way down. While physical touch is not high on either of our love languages, I definitely missed it! I started making it a point to make sure that we gave each other one long hug every day. Sometimes, it isn’t until the kids are down and we’ve gone to bed when I’ll remember and ask Mr. Dolphin whether we’ve hugged. I use a tip that I read somewhere that you should hug for a few seconds longer than you think you should; somehow, those extra couple of seconds make a huge difference and really relaxes me.

Prioritize.

Look, sometimes the kids require more attention and I certainly try to address their needs. But the truth is, I feel that prioritizing my relationship with Mr. Dolphin is often more important. While in any given moment, a toddler’s needs may seem more urgent, I never want to lose sight of the fact that Mr. Dolphin is the partner I’ve chosen in life. I will always be a parent to Lion and Panda and that’s something that will never change, but my choice to spend the rest of my life with Mr. Dolphin is something that I do not want to take for granted. We have to set aside time to make sure that our marriage is healthy and ensure that we prioritize our relationship, rather than let it fall to the wayside of parenting.

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Photo by Eric Elofson.