What does love in marriage look like? What does love look like with three kids under five? What does it look like when nights are full of newborn wake-ups and days are full of meetings and a child has laid claim on my breasts? What does love look like when life can be classified as nothing short of exhausting? Messy? Where is the love in that?
There isn’t a lot of magic in my marriage right now, at least in the traditional sense.
The presence of any long-lasting romance or sparks disappeared right around the time when our first child joined our family. Two children later and we are right in the thick of adult responsibility. We haven’t dated in who knows how long. There are some nights that we aren’t even sleeping in the same bed.
And yet, on this Valentine’s Day, I feel like Dan and I are closer and stronger than we have been on Valentines past.
When things get tough, it can be really easy to take out the frustration on those who are closest to us. It is ironic that the person we start out trying to impress in those early days of dating eventually becomes the person that we are our worst around. They get the brunt of our exhaustion and frustration and anger. They get us on our messiest days.
But herein lies the magic. Magic in marriage isn’t the sparks or the time alone or the late nights in bed. The magic is that year after year, we keep growing closer. We keep getting stronger.
This past summer, my husband and I were both going through an emotional, frustrating experience. It was something that could easily (and has in the past) cause a rift between us. But instead of letting this issue come between us, we leaned on each other. We came together. We endured the messiness together. I was shocked that although I had been dreading this experience and that I legitimately wasn’t enjoying what was happening, I was still being uplifted because I felt so loved. Sometimes it is when things get really hard that we realize how desperately we need our spouse.
The magic happens when we turn to our spouse for support instead of releasing our frustration upon them.
Since this experience in the summer, I’ve noticed that we have weathered the storms together more than we have put the storms between us. I don’t think it was a conscious decision on either of our parts. If it were, we would have done it a long time ago. Everyone wants a great marriage, but it isn’t always easy. For us, I think this has been a result of our relationship’s maturity.
I admit that I was dreading having a baby. And while I love being on maternity leave, I dreaded that too. It isn’t quite the sleepless nights or the endless neediness that I fear, it is the animosity I have felt towards the father of my children in the past when I felt like I was going through the slog of parenting and housekeeping alone. When we both work, my husband and I are good at sharing responsibilities, but it has been hard hard when our daily tasks looked so drastically different.
While this transition from two children to three has actually been easier for many reasons, it has been harder on me. I am taking on more responsibility than I ever needed to during any of the other newborn transitions. I am pretty sure my husband hasn’t even changed one of Logan’s diapers yet. I am essentially the only parent available for most hours of the day for all three children. But, it isn’t Dan’s fault.
Because, it is harder for Dan too. His job is different than it was when Cameron and Gavin were born and he is relied upon much more heavily at work. On top of that, he is also working a second job. I love seeing him use his talents and his gifts in these ways. He is good and useful in both of these roles. But together, they both keep him busy late into the nights and on weekends and he is left burnt out when he finally allows himself to shut down.
In the past, this would have been the perfect recipe to an angry, bitter marriage. And yet, dare I say it? I feel like we might be thriving.
That’s the magic.
Instead of being bitter about what we each have to do, we’re leaning on each other, in our mutually exhausted states. We are talking. We are listening. We are encouraging each other.
When I pictured being married, I looked forward to having the certainty that I would always be loved by someone who chose me. I wanted to share a life with someone. I wanted that safety and commitment of an ever after “I Do.” Being a Mom with the Dad right beside me was my dream. I admit that it is different than I expected. I thought we’d be exhausted all the time from staying up late into the night talking. Instead we are too tired from the day to manage any pillow talk. I thought we’d be able to find more “us” time as we built up this life around us. But those are such simple things. Seven years, three kids later and I can honestly say that I have that marriage that I dreamed of.
We’re exhausted. We’re burdened. But we are doing it together. We aren’t letting these messes get between us. We are talking about work and the kids and our days. We are building each other up. We are taking things on for the other person to ease their load and we’re acknowledging when we want to, but can’t. I don’t think he knows it, but when he tells me that he’s grateful for all that I’m doing it, it keeps me going.
I feel like I have my life partner. I feel like we have each other. I feel like I’m not alone.
Eventually we’ll get back the rest of the “magic”. We’ll leave the kids with the grandparents and we’ll go on a date. Maybe even an overnighter. Maybe even a vacation. We’ll get our room and our nights back to ourselves. But the real magic hasn’t left. The real magic is that life isn’t harder because he’s in it, but better.