How couples cope with the ups and downs of relationship and parenthood
Recently, in the middle of an extremely hectic work week, my husband and I realized we had completely lost track of one another. He was working 12 hour days and I was with our kids from dawn until dusk, and we were both pooped. However, we had very different experiences of being tired because of what our days had consisted of.
I, being with a three year old and an 8 month old, playing, disciplining, cleaning, and having very little adult conversation. My husband, surrounded by adults talking, organizing, strategizing, and interacting. So when he arrived home around 7pm I felt ready to talk and receive help with the kids, and he wanted to sit quietly and transition from the day. Each evening we would fumble through attempt after attempt to connect, and we quickly realized we were not interested in the needs of the other. Dutifully, we would turn our attention to the kids and get them bathed and to bed. After that great effort we would resort to doing our own thing to unwind before falling into bed exhausted from the long day. All the while parallel living without much connection.
Well… This type of living in our marriage only works well for a brief period of time before agitation and misunderstanding begins to arise. I begin to feel ignored and undervalued as the primary care giver for our children, and my husband feels overworked, demanded upon, and as though I disregard the pressure he is placed under at work. Once our defenses have reared up we have very strong notions about how we are being mistreated by the other and completely lose track of the fact that we are both trying to do our best and are exhausted from the demands of life. Eventually, and usually after a heated conversation, we get to a place of understanding and team up to help each other get our need’s met.
After our latest heated conversation we came up with an evening plan. We realized one of the things that gets us irritated at night is having to do dishes after we have put the boys to sleep. We are both groggy from sitting in a dark room and nearly falling asleep ourselves and the last thing that seems appealing is cleaning up a big mess. However, we found a solution that has lightened up this heavy chore. Each night we turn on a funny show in the kitchen. One person washes dishes while the other makes lunch for the next day. We find ourselves entertained by the show, happy to be working together, and equally contributing to make the following day easier. This small ritual takes about 30-45 minutes and inevitably we feel more relaxed afterward. We are also re-connected in our home and our life together.
This simple and mundane ritual transitions us into the rest of our evening. We often find ourselves in a long conversation about our day, sitting quietly reading, or on occasion sitting down with a pint of ice-cream and watching more comedy. Whatever it is we do, there is a strong sense of togetherness.
Throughout our marriage, and especially now with children, establishing simple daily rituals has been very important. They create a sense of unity and togetherness. When we don't apply them we tend to feel more alone in our "jobs" as family members and providers for our kids. When we can join forces in the home there is more strength, and we are less caught up in trying to meet individual needs. Surprisingly once we give up our individual agendas we are much more generous and loving. Consequently, more of our core needs get met.
My husband and I laugh at ourselves a lot in these moments of feeling connected and supported, because we are able to reflect upon how often we get caught in the same cycle of over worked--under valued--heated argument--solution--relaxation. What has been powerful and hopeful about this is that as we have grown more aware of our overworked cycle and are able to cut of the cycle much faster and find ways to connect before we have spent a whole week feeling agitated.
I am always curious as to how other couples cope with the ups and downs of relationship and parenthood. I often ask my friends what they do to connect and stay afloat in relationship. How do you connect? Please share your stories so we can learn and thrive as couples and parents!