Three Things I’ve Learned After 25 Years of Marriage: Part One
This may seem odd, but I don’t really like giving marital advice.
In order to give advice, you need to be thought of as someone who has attained a certain level of expertise on the subject at hand. In the area of marriage, even after 25+ years, I do not feel like an expert.
However, early on in our marriage my husband and I agreed that we would alway try to be learners, that we would try to grow individually and as a couple so we could have a strong and healthy relationship. We’ve kept that promise, and I’ve learned three important things along the way. Here is part one.
Nurturing Your Relationship Gets Harder When You Have Kids
It’s incredibly tempting to let your whole world revolve around your children when you become parents. Without even trying, kids are all-consuming with their physical, emotional, and educational needs.
This doesn’t stop as they become self-sufficient and the exhaustion of raising them transitions from worrying about feeding schedules and developmental milestones to their high school grades and dating choices.
Many parents shift, or even slowly drift, to expending all of their time and energy on their kids and neglecting their relationship with one another.
Date nights start being put off for school recitals and sporting events, conversations transition to detail swapping and scheduling logistics, and physical intimacy dwindles as couples deal with fatigue, fussy babies, and complicated bedtime routines.
Children Are Supposed to Leave the Nest, Spouses Are Not
One of the goals of parenting is to release self-sufficient adults into the world to make their own lives and create their own families. Couples who understand this realize they have to fight to nurture their marriage alongside raising their children.
They know that someday their children will leave their home, and they need something greater than co-parenting to keep them together.
My husband and I learned this lesson in a variety of ways over the years. We felt it as tension and anger that built up when we neglected each other. We saw it when we watched couples who made children their #1 priority struggle when their kids became adults. We realized it when we recognized that our kids, even when they were older, couldn’t handle our emotional needs in the way that we as partners could.
Understanding the Difference Between Your Identity and Your Roles
Because of the consuming nature of parenting, I sometimes found it difficult to separate my identity from the many roles I had as a wife and mother. I even introduced myself to new people by the roles I had:
“Hi, I’m Jessie, I’m Chris’s wife and a homeschooling mom of five.”
While those roles were wonderful and deeply satisfying parts of my life, they really weren’t who I was. They were wonderful gifts that allowed me to love and nurture people in an intimate way, but there was, and is, so much more to me.
Our identities, or who God uniquely created us to be, actually shape the way we perform our roles. We may grow and change, but the core of who we are remains quite steady. Understanding our identities can help us accept the changing demands of parenting, and it can help us have a healthier marriage.
Relieving Others of the Burden of Validating You
When our identities are rooted in the knowledge that God created us and gifted us with unique characteristics, we free ourselves and others from having to constantly validate us and make us feel important.
We love others more unconditionally, without a list of silent demands that can never fully be met.
This allows us to pour our attributes into parenting and being a spouse in healthier ways:
It allows us to create boundaries with our children because we can handle them being angry with us at times.
It allows us to let them become independent because we don’t need them to need us.
There are many more benefits, but these two alone are crucial to the health of your marriage.
Finding the Space to Focus on Your Marriage
There are a million ways to nurture your relationship as a couple while parenting, and it will be a constant flow of successes and failures, but making your marriage a priority is healthier for both couples and their children.
There are rhythms in life that provide natural places for rest, but couples with kids will always have to be intentional about spending time alone.
My husband and I used to joke that every time we went on a date, we ended up at the grocery store. Looking back, that’s not a negative thing at all.
Even taking the time to help each other with chores or routine tasks can be a bonding experience. In addition, couples have to figure out ways to be alone for small moments every day, and at least once a week for a couple of hours and once a year for an overnight retreat.
It’s About Progress, Not Perfection
If your marriage is growing, you’ll be able to see it. You’ll look back and see that you’ve grown closer, you understand each other more, and you’ve stopped having some of those petty arguments.
Your kids will see it too.
They will understand that their parents are a united front, there to offer love, support, and guidance as they navigate their way to independence.
It’s not always easy, but as your children become adults and move out, it’s incredibly gratifying to be left with your best friend. The partner you’ve shared so many memories with, worked through so many difficult moments with, and trusted with your most intimate thoughts and feelings. It also helps to have a wonderful friend who will still go to the grocery store with you.
Part Two: Your Sex Life Will Have Lots of Ups and Downs (Coming Soon!)