“I’m torn between spending time with you or writing about spending time with you,” I half-jokingly say to my husband, Dana. Like most couples with young children, our window of time to ourselves is very small. Along with the dilemma of “Do I go to bed on time, or enjoy some kid-free time first?” is the dilemma of “Do I get a few things done, or hang out with my spouse?” It’s no wonder so many marriages end during the child-rearing years – ours nearly did when our daughter two and a half.
Dana and I have gone from married, to nearly divorced (we even hired lawyers!), to married again, but that’s all I’ll say about that for today. Suffice it to say that we reconciled after a 1.5 year separation, and have been “newlyweds” since February 2015, when we renewed our vows and got pregnant three weeks later. It’s a new and better marriage, so I thought I’d share why.
First, let me review all of the qualifications I have to be giving relationship advice: None. By profession, I’m a lawyer and I didn’t even do a stitch of family law in my career. That said, I’ve had marriage failure and success with the same person; the change was in behaviour and outlook.
The Obvious: Counselling
Like most couples with ailing marriages, we saw a counsellor. To compare it to a sports game, avoiding a counsellor versus attending one is kind of like a scrimmage versus a game with a referee: you’re playing the game either way, but in the second situation, there’s someone to call you on your BS. It’s helpful, trust me. When we were dolling out hundreds of dollars for the sessions, we told ourselves that it was “cheaper than divorce.” We still separated, but we were much more enlightened when we reconciled.
For Heaven’s Sake, Go on a Date
You’re already telling me you don’t have time. You also don’t have a sitter – and anyway, sitters cost money. Yes, yes, and yes, but you know what else you don’t have time or money for? Divorce (I promise that’s the last time I’ll use the D-word today!) Here are my tips to cut down on the inconvenience or cost of dating:
- Lunch/coffee dates: with any luck, your kids are in school or preschool, avoiding the need for a sitter. Your day probably already includes a coffee or lunch break, so you haven’t lost any time, either.
- If you both work, line up a sitter who can transition from daytime childcare to evening. You can meet up directly after the office and do a weekday dinner date. I also find it less disruptive to the kids, rather than showing up for a brief period, only to leave them again.
- Don’t go anywhere – just plan a date night and enjoy each other’s company once the kids go to bed. Maybe open a bottle of wine and do a puzzle together (no, I’m not a senior citizen, but we’ve recently become a puzzling family!)
- Have a physical activity date (tennis, rock climbing, skiing and biking are some that Dana and I have enjoyed together). I’m all about killing two birds with one stone, so if my date can also be my exercise for the day, even better!
The Three F’s: Forgiveness, Friendship and that other one (sex)
There would be no revival of our marriage without forgiveness – I cannot emphasize this enough. The first part of our marriage was riddled with mistakes and resentment; the only way we can be happy now is because we forgave ourselves and each other. It’s easier said than done, but it’s absolutely vital. When you’re the one who needs forgiveness, make sure you ask for it.
Friendship basically goes back to date night for me, because it’s hard to be friends with someone if you’re never doing anything fun together. Call me crazy, but asking someone to throw the laundry in the dryer has never been much of a friendship maker for me! One thing we love to do is to find a way to laugh together. We always tape Saturday Night Live and watch it at some point during the week when we need a good laugh. Our most recent date night was to see local comedian, James Mullinger.
I won’t pretend to know a lot about sex, but like most people with young children, I wish I had more of it. It’s impossible to write about a good marriage without at least addressing the fact that you should be having sex. If you’re the person who’s always making excuses when your spouse suggests it, throw them a bone every once in a while. Literally.
Hang in There
Even in our “new” marriage, there are bad days. We are all imperfect humans and there has to be room for that in a marriage. I recommend having a trustworthy friend who knows your spouse is great but flawed. I have a couple of friends and sisters who often act as sounding boards when I’m annoyed with Dana. Usually, by the time I express my sentiments out loud, they don’t seem quite as grave and I can avoid an argument entirely. If I can’t avoid it, I’m at least more level-headed about it. There are so many good days in our marriage now, that the bad ones just roll right off of me and are easily forgotten. Hang in there and look for that silver lining!