There’s a lot to learn about each other during the early years of a marriage. You’re learning how to live with a member of the opposite sex. You’re learning more and more about what each other likes to eat, sleeping habits, who’s paying the bills, who responsible for oil changes, and much more. But as difficult a time as this may seem, marriage before children is kind of like an extended honeymoon. There’s plenty of time for dating and getting to know other couples. And as for sex, well, there’s plenty of time and opportunity for that as well. But whether it happens one year or five years into marriage, once the first child enters the picture, this is when marriage becomes much more of a challenge.
Once a child or children enter the picture, you discover that your time becomes much more precious. As they grow up, they become involved in all kinds of activities. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, basketball, football, cheerleading, band, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, or any other number of extra-curricular activities are all vying for your child’s attention. Not only that, but on the evenings they’re not involved in these activities, they’ve asked about being out with another friend. All in all, from birth through age 16, 18, or even 23, your children consume the vast majority of your time and energy. Because of this, it’s very easy for any marriage to fall into the “Give and Take” trap of: “If we didn’t have children, then we would would have more time to work on our marriage.”
This is a trap that’s very, very easy to fall into. Children need and deserve our attention and need us to lead and guide them. As our time and energy goes into them, less and less goes into our spouse and into the marriage. It takes very purposeful decisions to ensure that the marriage unit stays strong and is able to weather the storm. A few suggestions we have learned in this regard include:
1) Be sure to talk with each other every day
This sounds like a no-brainer, but when you’re spending so much time and energy with your children, it’s easy to allow all conversation to degrade to, “Do you need anything at Wal-Mart?” instead of, “Is there anything I can do to make you feel loved today?” One friend of mine (Justin) who wouldn’t appreciate me putting her age here (but she has many grandchildren), has been married to a pilot for around 40 years. He’s on the road most days of the week, yet their marriage has survived through thick and thin. If ever asked what one thing they did to keep their marriage strong, without hesitating she would say, “He called me every evening and was sure to talk to me for a full 15 minutes.” Not 3. Not 5. But 15 minutes of full conversation, every single day. It doesn’t sound like much, but she will tell you that his determination to talk with her – not at her – for 15 minutes every single day was key in their marriage.
Another couple we know put a similar 15 minute principle in place as their children began growing up. When dad came home from work every day, the kids were vying for his attention. In time, they initiated a 15 minute rule, where dad got to talk with mom for 15 minutes before he was available for the kids to climb on. That 15 minutes continues to be crucial in their marriage.
For the record, we’re not saying you should only talk with your spouse 15 minutes a day; not by any stretch of the imagination! We’re just saying that actual time to talk with one another is extremely important in a marriage.
2) Schedule date nights to focus on the marriage:
If your marriage is anything like ours, date nights are pretty hard to come-by. The expense of a dinner out plus child care is too much to be a regular. Therefore, when we do have date nights, we opt for free child care (family or friends) and we plan the evening to be as simple as possible. Those times together, as simple as they may be, are life-giving to our marriage. We remember why each other is our best-friend and we have more than the typical 15 minutes to open up and share about what’s happening in our lives.
While these two suggestions are pretty simplistic, it takes a great deal of determination to do them consistently. It’s very, very easy for parenting to take precedence in our lives, and we have to be sure that no matter what is happening, our children see marriage as the most important relationship in life. If they see us having a complete and strong marriage, then they’re much more likely to have a strong marriage as well.
Have another tip on how the marriage unit can stay strong in the midst of parenting? Feel free to drop a line in the comments below.