Tonight I had a meeting at church after work. Somehow, I agreed to be a co-chair for our church’s vacation Bible school program this summer and planning is in full swing already. As the meeting was coming to a close, my blog actually became the topic of discussion. Apparently, some of the women discovered my blog and so we spent a few minutes talking about it, which is really odd for me because I don’t often talk about my blog in my real life. Actually, very few people who know me in person even know that I write. As I was talking about the blog to them, the subject turned to marriage. I mentioned that Chris and I were coming up on seven years of marriage and about half the group of women let out big groans.
“That’s a doozey of a year,” one of them said, and everyone nodded their heads in agreement.
On the way home, I thought about what they had said. I’ve heard of the Seven Year Itch in marriages, but I really thought that was just a saying. But as I thought over the past year of my own marriage, I started to wonder if maybe there was some truth to that dreaded seventh year.
This year of our marriage has been… not perfect. I guess that’s the best way to say it. It hasn’t been rough, really. LAST year when we were unexpectedly pregnant, moving, struggling for money, and dealing with my depression – now THAT was rough. This year has certainly been an improvement over that. But it hasn’t been smooth sailing by any means.
I think our lowest point was around the holidays. Chris and I really struggled through the this past fall. Nothing more than most couples, I imagine (and I hope!), but enough that it was tense. We were trying to save for Christmas and make plans for visiting family through the holidays, and that required some compromise from both of us. Chris was working more weekends and I was back to work again after having the summer off, so both our schedules were different and we were trying to adjust. And on top of those things, there were the normal happenings of a family with two small kids – Gracie was teething, Bean was potty training, and we were trying to make time for our family in the midst of all our other obligations. Like I said, it’s nothing that many of you have been through.
One night over our Christmas break, Chris and I got into one of the biggest fights we’d ever had. There were a lot of reasons for it, but it came down to pent up frustration with each other. We were both angry. We were both tired. And it all came to a head one night in a fight. At the height of our anger, Chris yelled out, “Our marriage just isn’t a priority for me right now! There’s too much stuff going on!”
Well, that shut me up. My first reaction was complete hurt. If I wasn’t a priority to my husband, who would make me a priority? That hurt quickly turned to anger, as my hurt usually does. I became so angry at Chris. How dare he make a decision like that about our marriage without even talking to me? This wasn’t just his marriage to prioritize. It was mine, too. But after a few days of thinking it over, I came to a startling realization: I felt the same way.
The fact is that there is sometimes truth in anger and honesty in frustration and had Chris and I not fought it out that day, I don’t think either of us would have been bold enough to say what we truly felt. That marriage just wasn’t important right now.
Chris and I worked through the issues we were having last fall during our State of the Union talk around New Years. We spent the dinner really talking about our marriage and why it had slipped down the totem pole of our priorities. While we never pinpointed an exact answer, we did come to the complete consensus that we had to make more of an effort to push it back up that totem pole. Without our marriage as the priority in our lives, nothing else works. We don’t parent well when we’re tense with each other. We’re preoccupied at work and so we start to slip there. Our household responsibilities that we normally share – paying bills, cooking dinner, putting the kids to bed – aren’t fun anymore. They become obligations and the weight of their responsibility weighs on us as individuals, instead of as a couple. That kind of pressure is really hard to carry alone. So, we’ve really committed this year to making our marriage a priority again and we’re doing a pretty good job so far. But, occasionally, I still feel that we’re not quite as united as we used to be.
Tonight, as I was driving home, I started thinking about what the women at church had said about the seventh year of marriage and about my own upcoming seventh year of marriage. Why is that year so damn hard???
(Dear Future Beanie and Gracie – please turn away from the computer right now…)
I honestly think it’s because we have kids now.
Am I allowed to say that? I feel like I’m not allowed to say that. But I’m going to say it anyway.
If Chris and I didn’t have kids, I’m sure we would still have issues to work through in our marriage, but having children for the two of us has made things…well…different in our marriage.
In some ways, it has deepened who we are as a couple. I have learned to love Chris is a way that I didn’t love him before our kids were born. I love him more because there is more OF him to love. Bean and Gracie are extensions of mine and Chris’s love. They are our love in the flesh. So, because I love them, I am able to love Chris more deeply than I did before. Having kids has also taught us about true partnership. We’ve learned how to lean on each other and to turn to each other when we don’t have the answers. We depend on each other more now because we have children that depend on us. We’ve grown up together as parents. He is the only person who has been through every single parenting issue with me. Every single decision I’ve made as a parent – the right decisions and the wrong decisions – I’ve made with Chris, and that bonds you like nothing else.
But there are some ways that becoming parents has made being a married couple harder. For one thing, we can’t drop everything we’re doing anymore to fix problems. We have had to learn how to work through issues with babies on our hips and dinner on the stove. When Chris and I were first married and we would have a big fight or disagreement over something, we would pretty much stop what we were doing to fix the situation. We’d plan a dinner out for the two of us to talk about whatever the issue was we were dealing with. And we could do that because we had no kids. We didn’t need to worry about finding a babysitter or if we could afford a sitter that week. We didn’t have to worry about staying out too late because we had to get up at 6am the next day with the kids. We didn’t have to pick up diapers or baby food or a fruit that begins with the letter C for daycare the next day. We just didn’t have those obligations and so it was much easier to stop everything and fix our marriage.
Parenting has also impacted our marriage because it’s not all about us anymore. Like any good parent, Chris and I live for our kids. If you ask Bean who he is, he’ll say, “Mommy’s whole world!” Because he is! Those two kids are the heartbeat of our family. Neither Chris or I could imagine our lives without either of them. They make us better people. They make our world a better place. They make our family complete. But having our world revolve around our two babies means that Chris and I as a couple often take a backseat to our kids or to our family’s well being. What we’ve had to learn over the past two and a half years that we’ve been parents is how to draw the line and when to make our marriage the center of our universe.
Now, for those who are reading this without kids who hope to one day have a family – don’t panic! I don’t think this period of our marriage is going to last forever. In fact, I can already see us getting slowly past it. The thing about your seventh year of marriage is that you have to learn as your family grows. Chris and I are learning this year that sometimes we have to re-prioritize in our family and sometimes that means putting our marriage before our kids. Sometimes that means asking for more from each other without placing blame. That’s been a tough one for me. I’ve had to learn how to say, “I need more from you,” without saying, “I need more from you because what you’re doing is not enough.” It’s not that what we’re doing is not enough. It’s that the stakes are higher now. There’s more going on. We both have to get better – not because what we’re doing is not good enough, but because it just requires more effort now.
The seventh year is upon us and I feel it in my marriage. This year I’ve had to hear some really hard things from Chris and I’ve had to say some really hard things to Chris. But the hard is what makes things better. The hard is what makes us stronger. And so, yes, sometimes you just throw your hands up in the air and yell, “THIS IS JUST NOT A PRIORITY RIGHT NOW!” But that isn’t the end of anything. That’s just the beginning. It’s what I do after the frustration that determines the success of my marriage.