I tried to write about being married for 7+ years without mentioning kids, but it’s kind of like trying to discuss a laundry machine without mentioning clothes. Let’s get one thing clear straight off the bat: once you have kids, the length of time you are married ceases to be a very important thing. This article is about being married with kids. Deal with it. Kristin and I have been married for seven years, and we have three kids: a five-year old boy, a three-year old girl, and a one-year old boy. As soon as we figure out where they come from, we’ll stop having them.
What has changed since that memorable December day 7+ years ago when we said “I do”? Everything. Has our relationship gotten “better”? No. Oh, so it’s worse? Also no. What? It has transformed into something completely different than what it was, in the same way that you are not the same person you were at 14 as you are today. Am I going to do this whole article by asking questions and answering them? No. I hate it when that literary device gets overused. Don’t you? Yes, yes you do.
The short story of our marriage to this point goes something like this: We focused on each other, worked two jobs, and lived happily and extremely unfettered lives. Then we had kids, and life got harder. One job, shifted focus, more fetters. I was told by a wise friend that, once our first kid came around, my time with my wife would be cut by about 25%. He was dead-on. (Roughly the same ratio works each time you add a kid, by the way. I assume that, if we have 6 kids, we will be actively ignoring/avoiding each other 50% of the time.) Our relationship slowed down, just like traffic does when there’s a bad accident across the grass median. After the first few months, we got a handle on parenting enough where we could have normal conversations again and we discovered our relationship had changed.
For better or for worse, we had sworn. It wasn’t better. It wasn’t worse. When we looked at the structure of our lives, we realized that we had the added responsibility of making sure our son didn’t die because we forgot to do something like feed him, or buckle his car seat, or not sit him on the counter next to the knife block so we could answer our phone. Our focus drifted from each other to the dumber, needier entity in our family. We were in this thing together still, but we were now side-by-side… not face-to-face.
Two years later, our second child was born. Suddenly, the relationship changed again. I used to think that “having a kid” was the threshold, but there is added responsibility to your partner when there are two little ones to watch and keep away from the dog poop in our front yard when we don’t even have a dog (thanks a lot, neighborhood jerk). We began to realize that we were both burdened under this responsibility, and that there was no longer the expectation of “not having one child assigned to me at all times”. Two kids, two parents, one-on-one “man” defense. The best thing we did for each other during this early period was letting the other one get out of the house for a few hours. Those nights, if the stay-at-home partner had energy, we had great connection time with each other. We understood that we were taking turns taking bullets for each other. We appreciated it and loved each other all the more for it.
Our third kid came around, and our relationship hit a wall. You would think we would have expected it by now, but the truth is that parents keep thinking the next newborn will be easier to handle because we have experience. The truth is, we were now outnumbered. Zone defense, and the other side is always on a power play. The “easy” job was to just be responsible for one of the three kids. There were no “several hour breaks” like we allowed each other with two kids. There was a heavy sense of guilt if I decided to leave for a few hours and let Kristin handle the kids. I knew that it wasn’t earning me any points, and if I took advantage of time outside of the home that I could expect to go to bed after reading for awhile- and nothing else. No connection time. Kristin would be mad or spent or both.
Not that sex was (or is) used as a carrot/stick situation. Good Lord, let me try to avoid analogies when talking about sex. That just sounded creepy and gross. What I mean to say is, each successive kid has made it that much harder to have any energy or focus left for each other at the end of the day. It is very likely that one out of three kids will be having a bad day on any given day and require extra attention. That means that the other parent pulls “double duty” caring for the other two, and… sorry, my brain went to sleep typing that. I had to put all three kids to bed by myself tonight. Kristin is babysitting elsewhere, so I know we’ll both be spent by the time she gets home. I might even go to sleep before she gets home.
We celebrated seven years together as I assume any couple does: I went to the pharmacy and got her a cheap card, as well as some anti-itch cream and some scratch-off tickets (I was going with the whole “7-year itch” theme. I’m hilarious in my own mind). She didn’t get me anything, which is exactly what I was expecting: she had purchased me a 6-pack of beer from a “fancy” brewery earlier that week, and I still had some left- that was my present. We both knew it; it didn’t need to be said. She was exceedingly happy about the card and the stupid, cheap presents I got her. I was so happy I went overboard and had two beers, which is a lot when I’m tired and the kids will be up in six hours. Then we settled down to watch TV together. And do nothing else. Ah, sweet wedded bliss.
One thing we’ve noticed in the past year- and are actively working to defeat- is the situation that crops up from time to time where we are more roommates than a married couple. I’m sure you have read some of it here and it appalls you. Maybe you identify with it, and are secretly celebrating that someone else realizes it isn’t all goo-goo eyes and roses. It is so easy to get comfortable in routines, especially when we tell ourselves- and each other- that the kids need so much attention. It is easy to accept that the finances suck so we won’t be celebrating each other in any real fashion. It is almost a badge of honor to know that I don’t need to say anything, and Kristin will remember to feed the dog and take her out. (We got the dog, an Australian Shepherd mix, shortly after having our third kid. I have no idea how I convinced my wife it was a good idea. I sometimes even bring myself to clean the poop in the front yard. Sorry, neighborhood jerk. I misjudged you, and it was wrong of me. I understand you so much better now.)
The best thing about our marriage is that we DO talk, fight, cuddle, cry together, worship together, and spend free time with each other on purpose. I expect things to get a little easier when the kids get a little more self-sufficient, mainly because people with older kids have told me that’s how it works.
We have a couple of simple rules that we laid down when we got married, and they have served us well:
1. Do not ever mention divorce. Don’t joke about it in the same way you don’t joke about rape. It isn’t a funny thing. Don’t think about it hypothetically, and don’t leave it open as an option. Things may get bad, but we will only get through it together. We will emerge stronger.
2. Don’t lie, even about little things and especially about money. If you bought a $4 coffee, admit it. If you overdrew the account because you used the wrong card, tell me. If I am spending too much on fast food, let me know before it becomes a problem. We handle things better as a team with a common problem and a common goal than we do as two individuals with different information.
3. Don’t sneeze when you’re holding hands. We’re pretty sure that’s how she keeps getting pregnant.