My wife and I couldn’t recall the last time we’d been on a date. We were in our living room trying to remember. It was after 10 p.m., and all three of our children were finally in bed. It feels like after 10 p.m. is the only time we ever have to talk without a child asking for a snack, or complaining about homework, or needing us to settle some argument over some silly little thing.
I was leaning into the arm of the sofa, trying desperately to stay awake after a long day. Mel had a computer in her lap, a spreadsheet open. Our house was a mess, and we both had to be up in less than seven hours to start the next day, and as much as I wanted to go to bed, we needed to talk.
Even though we lived together, shared all our responsibilities together, cared for our children together, it felt like we hadn’t talked in days.
“Was it last month?” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. “I think so. I think we went to see the new Star Wars movie.” I paused for a moment. “No. That can’t be right. That movie left the theater months ago. Has it been that long?”
We both thought for a moment. And then Mel said, “What happened to us?”
I didn’t have an answer.
We used to go out at least once a month. We made it a priority. But now that Mel was working, it didn’t seem to happen at all. We both work in education, and so our evenings are usually filled with a mix of herding our children into bed, grading, emails, or some other school-related project. Our weekends are full of soccer practice and more grading. Our youngest is 3 and pretty lively, and our older two are not quite old enough to babysit, and so we have to do things in shifts — one of us watching the children while the other does their thing.
And while there is something really cool about the way Mel and I are so willing to cover for each other, it doesn’t give us time to be together, just the two of us. Sometimes it feels like we are two co-workers on opposite shifts, managing the same job. We see each other on the shift change, but usually we are discussing what needs to be done, rather than the needs of our relationship.
But ultimately, this is what happens when you are married with young children. All around you are needs that must be met, and usually the needs of your relationship tend to take a backseat to keeping up with your job and your children. So you carve out time for each other. You set goals to go out once a month, once a week.
That doesn’t happen, so you lower your standards and agree to watch something on Netflix, some show you can both agree on, and then snuggle on the sofa each night for a while.
But then, something changes. One of your children decides that they aren’t going to sleep anymore until after 10 p.m., or one of you takes on a volunteer gig at the school, and suddenly the only time they have to work on it is during that time you and your spouse used to watch your show. You commit to it only being temporary, but then something else comes up, and suddenly you are sitting on the sofa trying to remember the last time you spent any quality time together.
It’s almost like making time for your marriage feels like holding a tub full of water over your head. It only stays balanced for so long, then something shifts, and you have to move your life around to keep the water from spilling over the side, and the moment you have it all balanced again, it changes. I’ve heard it said that marriage takes consistent maintenance, but rarely does anyone tell you what that process actually looks like.
After being married for almost 13 years, I can say that it looks like staying up past your bedtime to watch a show even though you are exhausted.
It looks like hiring a babysitter and going out on a date even when you really don’t have the time or the money.
It looks like picking up the phone while you are at work, and even though you not in the mood to talk, you just sit and listen because your partner needs to vent to someone about something and you won’t have time to discuss it later on.
It looks like making time for your marriage right now, despite the chaos and the busyness of your everyday lives together.
“You know,” she said. “Someday our lives will slow down. The kids will be out, and it will just be us.”
I nodded. “Yeah, but after 18 years of putting ‘us’ on the back-burner, will there still be an ‘us’?” I asked.
Mel didn’t respond, but she didn’t need to. We both knew the answer. We’d been married long enough to know what happens when you shelve your marriage for too long. Neither of us want that.
I pointed at Mel’s computer. “Go to Facebook,” I said.
“Why?” she asked.
“Let’s find a babysitter for this Saturday.”
“But it’s family movie night,” she said.
“That can wait,” I said. “We need to go out now. It’s mom and dad movie night.”
We spent the next several minutes sending messages to every babysitter we knew. Then we discussed what we’d be doing on Saturday night, and started counting down the days.