“That was back when we had a functional family” said my husband as he reminisced about a past weekend away camping in Dorset. It was said in jest but I think we both knew there was an element of truth behind it. Parenting teenagers is flipping hard work; this can sometimes mean that marriage is hard work too.
As far as parenting goes, we’ve had our fair share of struggles over the last two years and I wouldn’t say that we are out the other side just yet. We still attend family therapy once a month (what a joy that is) and one of us will inevitably butt heads with a certain child on a daily basis.
I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news people but bringing up teenagers is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I confirmed to a friend recently that ‘being a mum’ will always be at the top of my jobs list. I’m secretly hoping that one day I might be able to have a *proper* job but right now, motherhood is my main role and will come before anything else.
It doesn’t matter what the job is, time off is crucial.
Due to our circumstances of late, I haven’t had any ‘time off for good behaviour‘ in over a year. More importantly, we haven’t had any time off together (bar the odd 1 hour escape to the pub where we usually end up talking about the kids anyway) in all that time.
I’ve always been a huge advocate for couples spending time together. I stand by the fact that if a marriage isn’t working then the whole family will slowly begin to break. For that reason I’ve always believed that our marriage should be prioritised over everything.
But when life socks you between the eyes, priorities get thrown off kilter. The days out that we carefully structured into the family planner have been squeezed out in place of needing to be at home ‘just in case’. The date nights (I hate that word but you know what I mean) that we had started to put in place are not even on our radar, as flopping in front of the TV seems an easier option.
Marriage is hard work.
Anyone who says otherwise is lying. Just as I despise the whole ‘I’m a perfect parent and my life is ticking along just fine thank you very much‘ facade, I think it’s dangerous to portray an image that marriage is easy. Anything worth having needs fighting for, doesn’t it? Marriage is no different.
When you’re living life on the edge and unusual stresses press in on all sides, that’s when the cracks start to appear. That’s when your spouse is in danger of becoming an enemy instead of an ally, when the daily niggles that might have been overlooked in the past, cause rows that threaten to go on for days. When those little irritations that are all part of sharing a home with another human being, become monstrous obstacles that grate to the point of explosion.
In short, during the times when we need each other the most, we seem to (not so) gently push each other away. I’ve identified five things that have helped us get through the past two tricky years and I want to share them today.
Our relationship is rooted in laughter; it’s something that we both thrive on as individuals and together even more so. I’m so thankful that we share the same sense of humour and even in the darkest times, we’ve been able to laugh heartily, knowing that the other one will totally ‘get it’. Your relationship’s common ground might not be laughter but I can guarantee that there will be one particular thing that brought you together. I would encourage you to look for it and try to bring it to the foreground.
Sometimes we muck up, sometimes we say things that we don’t really mean (or we kind of mean but wouldn’t use such harsh words if we weren’t tired and stressed). When sulking or flying off the handle can seem like a very good option, that’s when forgiveness is required.
Don’t get me wrong, we’ve both had times when forgiveness has taken a little longer than it might have done ordinarily but more often that not, we come back to this little fact: we are on the same team. My husband reminds me of this on a regular basis and it’s so true. Forgiving myself has been right up there as a battle this past year and as I begin to come out on top, I am realising just how crucial this is to a thriving marriage.
I’m not particularly talking about trusting one another here (although that of course is pretty crucial) but more the sanctity of marriage – that what brought us together will keep us that way. God created humans to be in partnership for a reason, that means that He’s for relationships and for families.
Whilst on occasion the memories of our life ‘before’ have been painful, I can now see them as an important factor in reminding us of who we are as a couple; as a family even. They’ve become a source of comfort and of hope, rather than of loss. I guess that might be partly thanks to time (that great healer) but looking through old photographs and reminiscing over past holidays, have certainly helped. Yes the harsh realities of life will change us to a degree but that doesn’t mean those good times didn’t exist. It doesn’t remove who we are at the heart, I don’t think that ever changes.
As you can imagine, I don’t find talking a challenge. Thankfully, you rarely find that both people in a couple love to talk (two people fighting for air time would be utterly exhausting). I’ve had to encourage my husband to share his feelings, to talk through all that is going on in his head and sometimes I’ve had to listen to stuff that has been difficult to hear.
When it’s all got a little too heavy, when dealing with our own ‘stuff’ has left us unable to cope with the other one’s as well, we’ve lent on those around us to be the listening ear. Although it might seem like the harder option at first, talking is where it’s at people – get the stuff out in the open.
You might be wondering why I haven’t included the obvious word in this list – Love. Whilst love has always been lurking in the background, on its own I don’t think that love is enough to get you through the tough times – countless broken marriages are testament to that.
Life has the uncanny knack of throwing curveballs when you’re least expecting it and you need a few tricks up your sleeve to help you through. I know for sure that we will hit a bump in the road again at some point but I think that next time we will be ready for it. Next time we will be better prepared. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?