I was wondering if you could share advice/ideas on keeping the marriage strong through a very challenging time. - Jennifer
Ahhh... sleeping in. I don't even know what that means anymore.
We'd always been good at communicating with one another due to dating long-distance for over a year. We resolved conflict quickly and had a deep mutual respect for one another. We naturally thought this would (easily) continue once the kids arrived.
We were so full of adrenaline and love for our tiny newborns at the hospital that our marital bliss continued. The second we came home, something changed. I stopped looking at him as my husband and he became my partner.
Now that's not necessarily a bad thing. I cannot express to you how important it is for your spouse to play a huge role (I'd say 50% is a fair number) in the parenting process. The difference is this: before there were four, there were two. He was my husband long before he became Jude & Sloane's dad. I often forgot that.
When he held a baby, I looked at the baby. When he asked a question, I would bark an answer and then return my attention to the babies. I was (and still can be) a nightmare.
It finally came to a head when the twins were about two months old. He arrived home 45 minutes later than usual, walked in the door and complained about the 90-minute commute that day. In my head I heard, "I just had 90 minutes of uninterrupted alone time and no one needed anything from me." I told him how lucky he was. His eyes widened and he said, "You spent the entire day with our babies. YOU are so lucky." Without admitting it, we were both a) secretly jealous of the other's occupation and b) thinking the other had it easier. Some days he would come home and see me in pajamas and probably wonder if I'd done a thing all day. Those days I was so busy I never had time to shower or change clothes.
We had a long talk that night about everything we'd kept to ourselves for two months. And you know what? So much of what we discussed were good things we hadn't taken the time to share. I couldn't ask for a better dad for my two babies but I rarely told him that. I recognized it every single day but was "too busy" to share it.
I let you in on the above because I want you to know the following advice consists of a lot of things I DID NOT do (and so wish I had).
Twin Talk Disclaimer: The tips on this post are ideas and opinions of the author. The information provided is intended to offer guidance and encouragement. It is not professional advice. Unless being a mom makes you a professional, in which case it is professional advice. :)
1. COMMUNICATE. If I only had one piece of advice to give, this is it. Never let the communication stop. Even if what you have to say isn't fun, say it (although make it constructive).
2. Stop looking at what he is doing wrong and focus on everything he is doing right. For every one thing he is doing differently than you'd like, he is doing five things that are invaluable. Everyone has flaws and it's not your job to point them out (unless the babies are in danger or he's about to set the house on fire).
3. Make sure he understands the hormonal roller coaster you're going to be on once your twins are here. If he thinks he knows what to expect because he was around when you were pregnant, he is about to be blown away. Michael knew me (sane me) well enough to recognize my hormonal times. He was always great at giving me space or talking me through it, depending on what I needed most.
4. When you see each other after work, stop whatever you're doing and hug. I realize this sounds SO cheesy, but whether you stay at home or work outside the home, you've both had a long day and need a hug from your partner. I can feel myself relax the second we hug and it gives you that moment, however short it may be, to reconnect. If you're in the middle of something and absolutely cannot be bothered, at least look each other in the eyes when you say hello.
5. When it comes to the physical aspect of your relationship, expectations need to be set from both sides - this goes back to communication. I'm going to leave it at that.
6. Go on dates. This can feel nearly impossible and oftentimes expensive, but you don't have to leave the house (although if you can, run - don't walk - to the best restaurant you can find). If someone offers to watch your kids, LET THEM. If you're on a budget, go to a park and walk the trail.
7. Don't get frustrated with each other when you're frustrated with the kids. My friend shared this with me and I thought it was spot on. There will be days you spend 110% of your patience on the kids and then your spouse will say something terrible like, "Would you like burgers or pasta for dinner?" and you'll lose it. OBVIOUSLY you want burgers. Hormones. Not his fault.
8. Develop a budget together and spend time discussing the new kid-related line items. This was easy for us because once we decided I'd stay home every line item became $0. :) There are many items that are absolutely necessary and you don't have a choice (e.g., diapers, daycare, etc.). But baby clothes, nursery decor, organic vs. non-organic foods, etc., are all items that have a huge price range. Family finances are typically the most stressful part of any marriage - you need to be on the same page.
9. Split the new kid-related chores around the house. Before kids we'd divided the chores down the middle and it worked well for us. Once the twins arrived we went from two loads of dishes each week to four. Two loads of laundry to five. Needed to clean the pump twice a day. The bottles. The diaper pail. Make sure you divide up the new chores as well.
10. Don't treat him like he's one of your kids. He is not the babysitter. He does, in fact, know how to change a diaper. Many times I found myself telling Michael how to do something that he clearly knew how to do. When you spend all day making every single decision for your children, it's hard to turn off that part of your brain. Find the switch and turn it off.
Bonus: Remember your vows. In plenty and in want. In joy and in sorrow. In sickness and in health. Each of these multiplies once children arrive. There is comfort in knowing a petty fight or rude comment will not destroy the covenant the two of you made. Never let that be an excuse. Keep God at the center of your marriage and you'll never go wrong.