This year will mark our 12th wedding anniversary. My parents will celebrate their 41st. Both are strong marriages, but when I look at what makes them tick, they are very different.
The basics are the same – the trust, the humour, the openness, the kindness, the tolerance and the love. The all important foundation of shared values. However, our attitudes towards roles are entirely different. We allow different things within the walls of our relationships. I think bringing up young kids has changed drastically since my mum did it. The parameters around what holds your marriage together during those years has altered as well.
I’m not holding myself out to be an expert on marriage, or a perfect partner, or even having the perfect partner. What my husband and I do have is a solid relationship between two imperfect people while bringing up young children.
Here are all the ways we make our marriage a priority.
- We try giving support without necessarily understanding. I have interests and hobbies outside of our family and my career. My husband’s are limited to watching and playing sport. This means I spend more time on my interests than he does, which can be frustrating for him. But he also supports my creative outlets because he’s conscious that I need them to live a full and happy life. He doesn’t really understand or identify with why or what I’m doing, but he recognises the way I like to spend my time and supports it.
- We’re okay with independence. We are both okay on our own — we don’t fret when the other has to go away, we don’t even check in that much with each other when we do. For our marriage, this is important, and it’s even more important that we feel similarly about spending time apart.
- We try not to turn time into a competition. This is something we are gradually working on. We both have a perception that the other person has more time. I work part time, and I can never quite squeeze enough into the days I have with my youngest. He works full time, and my assumption of leisurely lunch breaks, which could be filled with organising things, is unfair. Nowadays, we ask about how much time is realistically available before giving the other a list of to-dos.
- We both act like adults. Some men suffer a convenient blindness when it comes to seeing what needs to be done around the house. And then begging foul and “you just had to ask” when they fail to address the obvious. My man does not do this. It saves a lot of frustration.
- Parents don’t babysit. The housework might not always be split down the middle – working on that – but the parenting is.
- We share the romance. Organising a night out as a couple with young kids is only marginally less complicated than a heading a military campaign. It’s something we both want, so we are gradually learning to both take responsibility for it.
- We know each other’s breaking points. With little kids, breaking points are never that far away. We know each other’s tells and try to protect each other when we can see things are about to boil over.
- We don’t take each other for granted. This is probably the seed of any argument – the feeling that either one of us is being taken for granted. No one wants to feel invisible or that their contribution goes unnoticed. We notice, we say thank-you.
- We give lots of affection. We are both very affectionate people, so kisses and hugs are common place in our house. I’m not being euphemistic here – sex is important – but I’m talking cuddles, tickles and chaste kisses during the day and in front of the kids.
- We support each other’s careers. Before we had kids, our careers were very much on par. I took the stay-at-home role because I wanted to. It has meant that my career has slipped a little while my husband’s has climbed a few rungs. But he gets how important my career is to me. He understands that I cherish it perhaps even more than he does his. And I support his and would if he chose to go in an entirely different direction.
- We share the kid-work interruption. My husband will come early from work to take the kids to soccer practice. There is no assumption as to who stays home with sick kids. We share that responsibility.
- We make time for each other. We lead busy lives, sometimes parallel lives. It’s more often me than him swanning off with friends. So there are times when I know I need to redress the balance. I cancel a few appointments, say no to a night out and devote the time to the most important person in my life.
- We laugh lots. I love to laugh – who doesn’t? In that magic space when we make each other laugh we remember all over again why we fell in love.
- We seek support outside of our relationship. To have all emotional needs met within a singular relationship is a big ask. Particularly when you have a range of emotional needs like I do. Friends, my parents and my sister support me in a way that my husband cannot and shouldn’t be expected to.
- We put our family first. I’m the extrovert in our family and my husband the introvert. I am happiest out and about while he is a home body. This means that I often put unintentional stress on my husband by committing to way too many things outside the home. He sees this as putting other people before our family. While that’s not my intention, I can certainly see how that plays out. So I’m increasingly mindful of it.
- We give compliments. The words we use with each other are kind. We say nice things to each other. It really helps.
- We support each other’s dreams. I’m a part of a few groups of business mums. It makes me so sad when I see the inevitable posts regarding less than supportive partners. Who cares if the dream only makes sense to one person? If it’s important to that person, if it’s not financially insane, if it makes the person happy, it should be supported. I am so grateful that my husband has supported my dreams, even when they have seemed impossible.
- We are clear about what we are seeking. When I tell my husband a problem, he atypically responds with a solution. That’s such a ‘man’ thing to do, isn’t it? Sometimes I just need a sounding board, not a fixer, so I let him know, first up, what I need from him. Assuming our partners can mind-read is a gateway to one hell of a fight.
- We give and take. It’s all a balancing act isn’t it? It’s about giving and taking and trying to do so in the kindest of ways. Whether it’s housework, sex, parenting, time it’s all about finding the balance that works.
- We try not to compare. I’ve just realised that you might read this list and think I have the most wonderful marriage on the planet. Sure, it’s good, but it’s not endlessly good. See, I haven’t let you in on all the dirty, little secrets… and most people won’t. Don’t compare your relationship to the marriages you see around you. That way madness lies.
- We set a good example. This is incredibly important to my husband and I. We know we are setting the example of marriage to our kids. Their own relationships will rely heavily on the blue print we are creating. That’s an exciting and awesome responsibility. We try always to treat each other in a way that we know will make our children’s marriages happy one day.
What’s it all about? Really? I guess it’s team work. Operating as a unit and always, always being on the same side.