“Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder today.”
– The Impressive Clergyman, The Princess Bride
Find someone great, tie the knot, and boom! Built-in companionship for life. After that, you just hang out and enjoy each other and live happily ever after.
But marriage is not a crockpot. You can’t simply set it and forget it. It’s more like frying eggs: if you’re not there at the right time with the right tool to flip or scramble, they get a little burnt (or a lot burnt). They stick to the pan. They make a crusty mess. And then you have to decide: stay with these eggs through the rest of breakfast or throw them out and get new ones.
Then, you decide to add kids to the stovetop. There’s bacon. You’re sautéing onions and flipping pancakes. It’s easier to pay attention to your beloved eggs when it’s just them, but when you add more to the mix, those eggs have a higher chance of getting burnt. Plus, all that food on the stove is exhausting and the bacon spits hot stuff at you and the pancakes flip onto the edge of the pan. Argh!
I want to share this week what my husband and I have learned about making sure the eggs (aka: him!) don’t get burnt or forgotten, and how we have successfully avoided throwing him out… for now.
There’s a process to figuring out parenting and marriage within a family. It’s beautiful. And imperfect. Balancing the emotional attention and physical connection the husband may need and respecting the physical space, patience, and support you need as the wife is a challenge. If you go into it like a crockpot and forget that what you actually have is eggs in a pan, somebody might get burned.
What my husband learned about maintaining our connection:
First patience, then sweet fruit:
“Patience is bitter, but it’s fruit is sweet.” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau)
My husband and I had a difficult time maintaining our physical connection after our first child. We are huge fans of attachment parenting, which had the unintended consequence of rarely having time for each other. I’ll spare you the details of the process he went through, but he has firmly accepted this mantra: patience first.
It’s often jarring to embrace something counterintuitive. He wanted to be more physically intimate with me, but I had limitations: a child with 24/7 physical needs, exhaustion, and recovery from childbirth. Many marriages struggle with this exact thing and it is truly a trying experience. But, when he sees me overwhelmed or exhausted, instead of being pushy or sour, he acts decidedly patient. I’ll spare you the details there, too, but let’s just say that it helps our intimate life remain healthy, sincere, and mutual.
“Patience it not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” (Joyce Meyer)
Decide what love is between you and your wife, and no one else:
There are many ways married couples can maintain their emotional connection, and only they get to decide what that looks like. It is not uncommon for couples to go into marriage with preconceived notions about what they will be like and what their love will look like. What’s dangerous is they are preconceived. They are not based on the actual relationship itself. They may come from your own parents’ relationship, what you’ve observed in your friends’ relationships, or maybe you’ve watched too many Hollywood movies and think it should be something like Fifty Shades of Grey (yuck).
After fighting our own preconceived notions, we’ve settled into the pleasantness of knowing what our own love is. Mostly it was through accidental discovery, like how much we both enjoy doing the crossword together. Other times, it has been through intention, like how my husband always makes me swing dance in public (ugh). We’ve learned to embrace and harness our love for what it is instead of trying to make it what it isn’t.
We’ve gone down many false paths through this journey of discovering ourselves. So, if you’re reading this and hoping to apply lessons that we’ve learned to your own marriage, don’t be afraid of trial and error. My husband and I both know that going out to movies is just not for us. Sure, we like to see a movie on the big screen occasionally, but 1) both of us hate the price, 2) with kids it’s nearly impossible to enjoy, and 3) we’d rather spend those three hours in a coffee shop than sitting next to each other watching a movie. That’s us, though. Many couples love the romance of this classic date. That’s the point: decide what love is between you – no one else can!
Dedicate time that will always be available:
By far the greatest discovery we have made was shortly after our third child was born. Between attachment parenting and zone defense, we quickly realized we were spending less and less time with each other. And what time we did have together was spent corralling children in tandem. When were we supposed to find time for each other?
We figured it out by dedicating fifteen minutes to each other right after the kids were asleep. We guard these fifteen minutes viciously. Our kids are still young and have early bedtimes, so by eight o’clock, it’s nothing but crickets in our house. My husband comes to me in the bedroom straight from putting our older kids to bed. Then, we simply sit and yap away at each other, for longer than 15 minutes if we can get it. No phones and no TV. Just each other.
Setting aside this time just for each other is a tool to maintain our connection. He calls it a tool because it’s not this dreamy, wonderful, deep conversation every evening. To be honest, I’m on the verge of consciousness most nights because all I want to do is go to sleep. But it gives us the opportunity to connect, even if it’s just catching up on daily business, hearing how the other person’s day was, and sharing fun stories about the kids. We’ll often plan our schedule for the next day. I remind him of any social engagements we’re committed to, which he dutifully forgets before morning.
What I learned about maintaining our connection:
Open your eyes:
As a mother, it’s so easy to fixate on the kids and miss what your husband is doing. When my husband was first trying to be intentional with our connection after our third child was born, I would miss his loving actions if I wasn’t paying attention. I did my best to see and understand when he was being patient, extra supportive, or understanding. I let these actions sink in and it swelled my love for him, which in turn improved our connection. I saw the ways in which he was giving, and it naturally made me want to give love when I could.
This is such a mental exercise. Just pay attention! Make sure your eyes are open to the love your partner is trying to give you.
My husband is someone who thrives on physical connection. I knew this all along but misunderstood this to mean that sex was the key. Of course, sex is important, but I’ve learned that all forms of physical and emotional connection matter – holding his arm in church, scratching his back while he prepares a meal, kisses in passing – and it doesn’t have to lead anywhere. All of it has value for its own sake.
This takes the pressure of off me to “make something happen” and helps us maintain a good flow of intimacy throughout the day. It increases our appreciation of one another and helps us feel good feels within our marriage.
Intention, intention, intention! (and don’t wait for sparks to fly):
Like I said, sex is not everything. But it still matters! Of course, it takes special, above-and-beyond intention when you have kids. If you don’t try to make it happen, it never will. It’s too hard when you have kids. There’s always a deterrent: exhaustion or busyness or an off mood. But I find that when I have a tiny spark of interest and run with it, that intention pays off and we stay connected. It doesn’t have to be this grand experience, like the kind we enjoyed in our honeymoon phase. Enjoy the feeling of a more seasoned marriage, where quiet, steady love is the foundation. Be gracious and generous with each other. This is perhaps the point of marriage: to learn how to be good to other people above yourself.
In the end, every couple has to figure out how marriage thrives for themselves. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula, which is both a blessing and a curse. The process of learning how to live with and love each other takes time, especially through the challenging child rearing years. These challenges have made us stronger, and yours will, too.