The holidays always take me back to the early days of falling in love with my husband. This is true not just because it’s a romantic time of year — but because it’s our time of year.
We met at a holiday party on Capitol Hill, and two years later we had a Christmas wedding. I clearly remember dancing with him in the twinkling light of the Christmas trees at our reception, thinking, “It is finally time for me to be happy.”
We had total faith in each other, and it seemed nothing could change that. And then we had kids.
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In those first couple of years, we faced a lot of challenges. Starting a family proved much more difficult than we had thought. He joined the Air Force Reserves and had to go away for training, and I lost both of my parents. But through it all, our marriage was unshaken. We had total faith in each other, and it seemed nothing could change that.
And then we had kids.
We were a great team when our daughter was a baby. We shared nighttime duty and quickly found a rhythm in our new life as parents.
But when our son was born the following year, marital bliss hit the skids, and we were thrown into survival mode. I was home with two babies while my husband went off to work, and by the time he got home at night, I had nothing left. I didn’t care to ask how his day was or worry about what he was going to eat for dinner. When he walked in the door, babies were handed to him and he was expected to take over. I was done!
After a while annoyances turned to anger, and anger spiraled to resentment. My husband needed me, needed us, and I had nothing to offer.
This pattern took hold in our lives, and after a while annoyances turned to anger, and anger spiraled to resentment. My husband needed me, needed us. But my head was barely above water, and the last thing I needed was someone else needing me.
What I needed, and what I never asked for, was help. Help in the form of a babysitter so that I could have an occasional date with my husband, or a housekeeper so that time we spent together could be relaxing instead of trying to overcome the constant onslaught of housework. Instead, I tried to manage everything on my own and put our marriage on hold. I loved my husband — that never changed — but he was going to have to wait.
What I didn’t know then was that marriage can’t be put on hold.
I was naive to assume our foundation was so strong that nothing could tear us apart. Even as we started to see other marriages with small children end in divorce, we always thought that could never be us.
But after four or five years of survival mode, it very well could have been us. There were times we both considered giving up on our marriage. I am not proud of that, and I hope to never feel that way again.
There were many ugly fights and more bad days than good for a long time. But, finally, we did three things, and learned from them:
- We sought counsel with a trusted member of our church clergy and learned how to talk to each other again. We were both deeply unhappy but agreed our marriage was worth fighting for, and that was a start.
- We learned to communicate openly and really understand each other’s needs was the first step, and we were able to build trust again.
- We learned to make each other a priority, get a babysitter when needed, even get out of town every now and then without the kids (something we never did when they were little). We are worth the time and money. It doesn’t always have to be all about the children.
Our kids are now old enough now to observe our relationship, and we both want marriage to be something our children consider sacred and important. Our family comes before everything else, and our marriage is the heart of our family.
We now make more time for our relationship and are more considerate of each other’s needs. When the kids grow up and move out of the house, I don’t want to find myself living in a shell of an empty marriage. I want to nurture it now, and help us grow stronger together.
As our 11th wedding anniversary approaches, I’m looking forward to a quiet holiday getaway with my husband — to reflect on just how far we have come.