In six years we've covered a lot of ground - relocated, got (and quit in my case) new jobs, bought a house, and now produced a total of three adorable offspring. We're essentially living the American dream. It's been a long time coming though. Some of you know that we dated for just tad short of a decade before she finally agreed to marry me out of sympathy. Or something like that. We've now figured out that we've been together for more years in our life than we've been apart.
In reality, my approach to marriage was not that much unlike my approach to having kids. Jess likes to recount how I told her relatively early on in our relationship (probably back before she had her driver's license) that my plan was to be a bachelor into my thirties, a rich workaholic with no time for a wife or kids. As much as I attempted to convince myself that this was going to be the case, I figured, eventually I'd get married like most people do.
My parents split when I was 11. From my recollection, it was pretty amicable. Sure there were arguments and tears, and lots of questions, but I think my parents did a great job of ensuring my sister and I that the things they needed to work through were in no way related to us. It was a realization that they were not meant to be together, and they would ultimately be happier if they separated. While no one probably ever wishes that their parents would divorce, I'm glad they had the courage to examine their feelings and do what they felt was in the best interest of everyone in involved. It sounds weird, but I'm happy they didn't just stay together for the kids.
Their separation played an interesting role in my own personal view of relationships, and ultimately marriage. One thing I knew was that if and when I did get married, I wanted to make absolutely sure it was going to be a forever commitment. This had both pros and cons. On one hand, I was going to be cautious with my relationships and make sure I didn't jump into anything too quickly. On the other hand, it often times left me second guessing myself, pondering if there was something, or someone else, better out there.
The story of how my wife and I became a couple is pretty humorous, and also pretty personal, so I won't get into the details. I'll just abbreviate it by saying that when we started dating, I definitely wasn't thinking about committing for the long haul. We were also 16 and not on 19 Kids and Counting, so marriage wasn't much on our mind at that time. But as we grew older, our relationship progressed and developed into something more serious. We weathered young adult milestones together - we went to different colleges, then the same colleges, and then different colleges again. We survived summers working side by side and a semester on separate continents. I had some moments of idiotic insecurity in believing that I no longer wanted to be in a serious relationship, namely my first and last years of undergrad. Luckily when I came to my senses, she always welcomed me back and forgave my stupidity. When I realized that she wasn't going to wait around forever for me, I figured I'd better propose before she ran away with a rich and handsome doctor.
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.
When I found out that were were going to have kids, I told myself that I would never lose my own identity through the chaos of parenthood. I wanted to retain a certain level of my individuality so that when my kids finally left the nest, I'd still be able to function as a productive member of society. I want to live for my kids, but I don't want my kids to be my entire life. This has already taken some significant effort, and will only get more challenging as they grow. Over the years I found, just as important and probably more challenging, is retaining your marriage/relationship with your spouse/partner through parenthood.
Having kids takes a toll on your marriage. Not surprising that a study done last year showed that childless couples are happier than couples with children. Another study showed that happiness levels peak with your first child and decline with all subsequent children. This concept is also the premise for Jennifer Senior's book All Joy and No Fun, a great read if you are a parent of young children or expecting to become one soon. It's inevitable that having kids changes the dynamic of your relationship with your spouse or partner. You even start referencing each other in different ways, using "mom" and "dad" because that is the language you use around your kids.
Something that struck me about parenthood was that a lot of my non-sexual intimacy; holding hands, cuddling, giving hugs, etc. was now being shared with my kids instead of my wife. As we've added to the brood, the time we've had to nurture our relationship has obviously dwindled. I'm also not one of those people who has a "thing" for pregnant women, so my displays of public affection toward my wife during her pregnancies were pretty pitiful. Toward the end of her second pregnancy when she was probably at her most uncomfortable, I distinctly remember looking at my wife and flatly saying, "Oh yeah, I forgot you were still pregnant." She refrained from punching me in the face, which would have been absurdly justifiable. Hopefully she at least considered it.
Fortunately, one of the perks of me no longer working outside the home is that I feel like I've had more time to consciously put more effort into our relationship. I no longer unnecessarily take out frustration on Jess from unwarranted work stress. She says I laugh more at her jokes now. Whether I've had the time to realize just how funny she is, or if it is the fact that she's sometimes my only adult interaction in a day. I just feel like I have more time to think about her, and our relationship and what I can and need to do to ensure that she knows that I still love her as much as the same day we got married. It's not always easy though, and we've had our share of challenging moments of the years. The key is obviously, like Dr. Phil will tell you, communicating with each other. As someone once told me, it seems pretty unfair and unrealistic that we can sometimes expect our spouses, or anyone for that matter, to know exactly what we want without needing to communicate it with them. As helpful as it would be, telepathy is not a power that accompanies a wedding ring.
When I was younger, I naively thought that true love was something you didn't need to work at. If that person was right for you that spark should always be there, and should require no work on your behalf to tend the flames. I've now come to realize that is complete bullshit. Like anything; your dream job, your relationship with your kids, or your six pack abs, any relationship will always take work, especially your marriage. There will be good days and bad, and the bad days will hopefully make you appreciate the good days that much more.
I realized that my wife was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with when I stopped asking myself if she was perfect or if there was someone else better for me out there. She's not perfect, and neither am I (shocking, I know). But to paraphrase one of my favorite movies, the important thing is knowing if we are perfect for each other. I realized that she was perfect for me when I understood that my life was better because she was in. I could live without her, but I don't want to. Her love makes my life better. It makes me a better person, a better spouse and a better dad. When we first started dating I couldn't imagine I'd be where I am at right now. Now that I'm here, I can't imagine having gotten here with anyone else.
|She knew what she was getting into.|