Seven years ago I created a blog entitled, The Seven Year Itch, intended to chronicle our seventh year of marriage. At the time we were two years into becoming parents, and Samantha was pregnant with baby number two. I remember thinking at the time, well, this is it. If we can get over this hump, it’s probably smooth sailing from here right? It’s funny how you look back at the younger version of yourself and realize how little you know until you live through a few more experiences. Now, seven years later we’ve experienced a few more things, but most importantly we’ve learned a ton about what it takes to stay happily married (emphasis on happily). And here’s what it boils down to: both of you’ve got to keep showing up fully everyday, knowing that while neither of you are fully the person you want to be, each day is an opportunity to towards becoming that person. Minding the gap between who you are, and where you want to be, that’s the difference maker in any relationship.
To celebrate our 14 year anniversary, Samantha and I did what every parent with young children dream of doing: we left them with the first bidder (in our case grandma) and made a quick getaway. When you have a family as large as ours it gets more difficult to convince people to babysit overnight, so we jump at the chance. Besides, we were due for a vacation, just the two of us. You could tell that we were right on the edge. The morning of our trip the house was a mess, the kids were a mess, and we were a mess. Over the span of a few frantic hours we tried to pull it all together in time for us to leave, but classically we still left late, with me rushing Samantha out the door and neither one of us being in a particularly romantic mood. It was not a good start to our vacation.
Fortunately, a little time and distance changes your perspective on just about anything. By the time we’d arrived at our fancy spa hotel, checked in and just lounged in the decadence of our surroundings we were in lighter moods. A few hours later after a massage that literally changed my life, all of our cares melted away from the day.
And that’s where the weekend got interesting. We each came into this weekend needing something to recharge. For Samantha, it was literally not hearing her name called every 5 seconds and just getting to focus on being a person, not a mom for a little while. For me, it was breaking out our 2019 goals and having the chance to do a mid-year review. So there we were one morning on vacation, her doing yoga on the terrace, me sitting with a book and my journal reviewing our goals. It was exactly what we both needed to recharge.
As I mentioned before, Samantha and I aren’t your typical couple. We do things a bit differently, sometimes that makes us seem strange. For example, in our first year of marriage we created a vision for what we want to accomplish as a couple (in our lives, in the world, but most importantly together). We revisit this regularly, setting goals towards it to mark our progress. For me, this is the most important way we stay connected and moving in the same direction. I don’t buy the concept of people growing a part. Growth happens whether you want it to or not, that’s simply a part of living. It’s either grow or die. So, if growth is necessary in order to survive, why not be intentional about it? That’s what we’ve decided to do in our marriage. It’s the only reason we’ve made it to 14 years thus far.
Yesterday Samantha made a comment about marriage saying, “I can see why so many marriages fail, particularly at this critical juncture with small kids after you’ve been in the game about 10-15 years. It’s hard work continuing to choose to put in the work both with the marriage and with small kids.”
I absolutely agree. In fact, it’s been one of our biggest struggles over the past few years, trying to find the balance between parenthood and our relationship. It’s not simply a matter of maintenance, it’s really also an issue of prioritizing. Sometimes I come in second and that’s hard to swallow. Sometimes I don’t feel like I show up at all on her list and I’m sure she feels the same. So we work at it. We talk about it. We fail, and then we correct course, and we fail again and the process keeps going until we over time get better.
Here’s what we both know: our marriage isn’t about our children. At the center of our marriage is the opportunity to learn to love another person unconditionally, an intentional act if there ever was one. There’s no one more important to me than her, and vice versa. It’s a strange thing during this phase of life when you have young children to keep that in perspective because their needs are so immediate and seem to take precedence. But just like our relationship preceded our children, ours will last long after they’ve left our home as well. The hope is that we’ve done the diligent work throughout to be familiar with the new person we’ve discovered during parenthood.
Speaking of new people, when we arrived home after our trip we found ourselves initially falling back into our regular patterns. We had somewhere to be and like a drill sergeant, I barked orders trying to rush the crew out of the house. On the car ride to our destination Samantha remarked that it seems like we become different people when we’re with the kids. Initially I took umbrage with this statement, but after thinking about it, she’s probably right (if I had a nickel for every time I said that phrase…). But in discussion, I pointed out that these annoying traits of ours, my intensity and her lack of urgency, are actually complimentary strengths when used intentionally together. Sometimes we need to focus and get things done. That’s what I bring to the table. Sometimes, we need to chill out and be in the moment. That’s what she brings to the table. We’ve just got to do a better job knowing when to lean on each other, and how to get better at minding the gap in becoming the kind of parents we want to be.
Minding the gap is a learning process, we’ve learned that over these past fourteen years. I’m sure there’s more to learn over the next years to come.