They say the most grueling years of a marriage are the two after you have a child together.
This makes perfect sense to me. Between the stress, hormones, and sleep deprivation, it’s really a wonder any of us survive it.
But they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and that goes double for relationships. Given what I’ve learned over two back-to-back stints of “the two hardest years,” here are what I’ve found to be The 10 Commandments of Being Married with Children:
1. Thou shalt be excellent to each other.
Sound familiar? I may or may not have borrowed this phrase from “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (aka Keanu Reeves’ best performance of all time.) I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to just be kind to one another. Don’t get so comfortable that you take your spouse for granted. Romantic love is not unconditional; it has to be continually earned. It’s important to show love and to be shown love — every day.
2. Thou shalt pick thy battles.
Try to take a step back and decide if something is really worth arguing about. Sometimes having peace is more important than being right. Sometimes just recognizing that you are “hangered” (hungry + angry + tired) helps you get some perspective. I’m not saying you won’t have moments where you lose your cool (or your mind), but be quick to apologize and even quicker to forgive.
3. Thou shalt know the power of thy words.
Flattery will get you everywhere. I love to get texts from my husband thanking me for being a great mom or saying he’s lucky we’re married. Your words carry tremendous weight, and good communication is a must. Conversely, unkind words from people we love can have devastating effects. Think before you speak and make a conscious effort to fight fair. Don’t say cruel things to one another and never use the “D” word. (I meant “Divorce,” not “Douchebag,” but you probably shouldn’t say either.)
4. Thou shalt know the power of thy actions.
Parents know that love comes in many forms. Love is watching the kids so your partner can get a much-needed break (or nap). Love is cleaning up after a blowout, even though you cleaned the last one. Love is getting up with the kids in the middle of the night (whether it’s your turn or not, 3am wake-up calls suck on all accounts). Don’t just vocalize to your partner that you appreciate them; back it up with your actions and eagerness to help.
5. Thou shalt remember why you fell in love to keep it fresh.
Alone time together might be sparse now, but that wasn’t always the case. Sometimes making time to reminisce about your honeymoon phase or share a memory about your first date can bring on a wave of endorphins and other happy-tingly feels.
6. Thou shalt honor thy balance and thy flexibility.
No one likes to feel like they pull all the weight. If I were the only person cooking, cleaning, or changing diapers, I would probably lose my mind. But in order to have balance, you also need flexibility. Reciprocity is important, but don’t get caught up in keeping score. Just be willing to do your part — whether that means cleaning the kitchen or picking up the wine (enough that everyone forgets to care if the kitchen gets cleaned).
7. Thou shalt keep thy business thy business.
It may seem harmless to vent to your friend or family member about a fight that you had or something your spouse does that really irks you. But you wouldn’t want your partner to say anything negative about you to anyone else, right? People talk. Problems get misconstrued and blown out of proportion. Assuming you are in a healthy and supportive relationship, my advice is to only ever say kind words about your partner to others.
8. Thou shalt not let intimacy fizzle away.
I don’t just mean sexy times. Time and energy are rare commodities, but it doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to give your partner a kiss while they make dinner. Making the time to flirt, touch, and laugh with your partner can make all the difference. There are a million PG-rated ways you can show affection for one another in front of the kids. And let’s just say you’re more likely to get into the midnight R-rated show if you make the PG matinee.
9. Thou shalt make time for thine own things.
It’s important to have some alone time to remember what makes you happy outside of being a parent or a spouse. It helps you to be the best version of yourself, and that’s the version that your family deserves. So work with your partner; agree which times you will watch the kids so that the other can enjoy some guilt-free time away.
10. Thou shalt make time for thy together things.
Babysitters aren’t cheap, but in our experience, it’s worth it to schedule at least one get-out-of-the-house-together date a month. We mark it on the calendar and we look forward to it — it’s like the light at the end of the tunnel. But a “date” can be waiting for the kids to fall asleep so you can eat in bed and watch The Walking Dead. What’s important is making time for the two of you to reconnect and have fun together.
Marriage is filled with peaks, plateaus, and valleys. My husband and I have discovered, mostly through trial and error, that appreciating the good seasons will help you get through the not-so-good seasons.
Just love one another, laugh together, and try to make the most of the journey.
A version of this post was first published on Ramblin’ Mama.