Marriage is hard, but marriage with kids is even harder. In fact, studies have shown that the rate of relationship decline is almost twice as fast among parents versus childless marriages. I’m no scientist or psychologist, but I am married with four kids. So while I can’t back my theory up with facts, I can say from personal experience that the likely culprit is probably just tiredness.
Because parenting is hard, man.
Kids, and their care, suck up the majority of our focus. And it’s like a marathon: long, unrelenting, and we push through even when we’re exhausted (which is, basically, every damn day). Breaks come few and far between, if at all, and they’re almost never enough to make us feel fully recovered. So while we’re pounding the proverbial pavement of parenthood, our marriages are made less and less of a priority, and we hope they’ll self-sustain while we get down to the business of raising our children.
That’s where my husband and I have been lately, passing like two ships in the night. He works at least 60 hours per week, every week. I work, too, and two evenings a week I teach classes at a gym, so I leave as soon as he walks in the door. The days when I’m not teaching, we’re shuttling kids back and forth to Scouts and basketball practice. And even if there’s none of that, there’s always an endless stream of homework and school projects and appointments.
We fall into bed sometimes barely having seen or talked to each other at all, our intimacy reduced to a peck on the lips before the snoring commences (his, of course, never mine). We love each other deeply, but even the best relationships require connection – and against the backdrop of a hectic shared life, moments to connect are not always easy to come by.
But recently, thanks to the combined efforts of my husband’s hard work and the generosity of the kind of boss everyone should have and a mother gracious enough to watch our children, we were able to spend a week away together – just he and I, sans kids – at a tropical resort.
We’ve been married for 18 years, we never had a honeymoon, and I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve been away by ourselves for just a night or two, so naturally we hopped on a plane faster than you can say “poolside mojitos.”
I’m not gonna lie, I did have some trouble switching out of my perpetual “mommy mode” for the first couple of days. But once I did, something magical happened: I remembered what it’s like to be a wife. A partner. A lover. All those things, unencumbered by the demands of parenthood, came rushing back like an old familiar friend in all the glory of our younger days.
We could talk, at length, about topics other than who’s taking the eight-year-old to his basketball game and how we can get our middle-schooler to bring up his grades. We could focus on each other without the near-constant interruptions that accompany daily life with kids. Nobody yelled, “Mommy, can you help me wipe my butt?”
It was glorious. And yes, we could move beyond that perfunctory bedtime kiss without worrying about an ill-timed knock on the bedroom door.
The whole trip made it sadly obvious that we had been suffering from “relationship burnout” of sorts, and we hadn’t even realized it. That’s because it didn’t come in the form of screaming fights or seething resentments; we weren’t overtly unhappy or teetering on the edge of divorce, but there was a subtle disconnection, a rift between us that had opened up when everyday life wedged its way in. Somewhere along the line, we had stopped seeing each other beyond our roles as co-parents, and as partners in the most functional sense – somebody to tag team with on chauffeur duties and to remind us to take the trash out. It happens so easily, the shift into autopilot, the slow fade from romance into roommates.
Our vacation wasn’t spent gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes and having drawn-out, passionate sessions between the sheets (reminder: married almost two decades), but it didn’t take those Hallmark-movie moments to rekindle the fire. Just a moment to step back, breathe, and look at each other outside the parameters of parenthood was all we really needed.
By removing ourselves temporarily from the daily drudgery, and shifting our focus, we were reminded that we – he and I – are the foundation of our family. Our children gather their strength, their sense of security, from that foundation. And if it’s weak, so is our family structure. To neglect our relationship is to do a disservice to our kids, which is ironic, because our devotion to our family unit is why our marriage gets pushed to the back burner in the first place.
I know a whole week away isn’t always feasible – if it were, we’d all be in wedded bliss. Hell, it took us 18 years to get the opportunity. But although a weeklong vacation was fantastic, I know now that it doesn’t take such a hefty chunk of time or money to achieve the reconnection we so badly needed. It simply requires an awareness of how life gets in the way, and a commitment to make “us” a priority no matter what … even if it’s just penciling in regular date nights. Even if the kids have to miss a basketball practice or a Scout meeting here and there. It may be years before we have the chance to go on another vacation, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do little things.
I’m still gonna start saving up for a weekend away, though.