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When Marriage Feels Hard

Marriage can feel hard.

In the beginning, it isn’t. My opinion is that it shouldn’t be. It should be mostly rainbows and loving gazes and every night feeling like a date night and “no, I love you more!” (OK my husband has never said that, but you know what I mean.)

Then you have kids.

What used to be disagreeing over where to go out for dinner or which movie to see is now who changes more diapers, who gave the last bath, who is more tired and who works harder.

(The last two will be an ongoing competition until one of you dies. I recommend getting smart watches so you have hard data to compare.)

I know I’m not alone here. I believe that every couple, even the Instagram-perfect one, argues. Maybe they even fight. (And there is a difference.)

I think time plays a big part too. The first few years you’re still in the honeymoon phase. But when you are looking at 7, 10, 13 years together, your love has grown, but you could also write an essay on Stuff My Spouse Does That Makes Me Crazy.  

Why does he have to drink his water like that?

I know I’m not perfect either; this love-annoyance goes both ways. Try as I might, I will always have a pile of “stuff to take care of,” and I know it bugs my husband. And yet, we endure because I love him so much I want to be annoyed by him and only him forever.

I am sharing a list of things that I am trying to do to keep our marriage feeling “more happy than rage-y.”

Schedule Date Nights

Before kids, every weekend night was a date night. (Yes, I roll my eyes when childless married couples claim they are on a date night.) Well, that’s over now. Kids are relentless, adorable little leeches who require care and attention 24/7. (No, you can’t crate them.)

This means you have to carve out time to spend one-on-one with your spouse. Small things like watching a movie together on the couch is a start, even if it means being interrupted by requests for snacks or diaper changes. But I am aiming for at least one out-of-the-house date per month. A date can be as simple as dinner or a movie (or both if you’re feeling fancy, but sitters are pricey and Grandma lives in another state). Therefore, we try to seek out other things like concerts, plays, wine tastings, or bowling to mix things up.

Find something to do even if it’s just grabbing a burger without needing a kid’s menu. And try putting down your phones.

Politely Ask For Help

You will get annoyed with your spouse. It’s science. But you know what they say, “you get more bees with honey.”

Wait, is it flies?

Maybe it’s flies. I’m not sure why you would want flies, but the point is that people like honey more than your surly snarls.  

If you need help, ask for it. Sure, it would be nice if your spouse would exist almost solely to make your life easier, but chances are there will be times when he or she thinks, “she’s got this,” when you do not, in fact, got it.

You are drowning and need the other adult in the house to step up.

“Hey, can you take the trash out?” will get a better response than, “you can see the trash is full just as much as I can, why do you leave it for me to do?!”

Drop the kid on his lap on the couch with a diaper and kindly inform him the baby needs a change; don’t sneer, “don’t act like you don’t smell that. Put down your phone and change your child’s diaper!”

This is a two-part rule: ask for your spouse to help rather than expecting it, and do it nicely.

Don’t Make Empty Threats

No matter how bad the argument, don’t threaten divorce unless you really, truly mean it.

Apologize

When you are wrong, admit it. Holding a grudge doesn’t help anyone. There may even be times when your spouse is more wrong, but you were a little wrong as well. Go ahead and apologize for your wrongdoing. Maybe it will inspire him to do the same. If it doesn’t, spit in his coffee. There, now you’re even.

Do Nice Things

Are you familiar with the Five Love Languages? There are some good ideas there. Figure out what makes your spouse feel loved and try to do those things. Buy his favorite snacks or make his favorite dinner; fold his laundry the way he likes it or get things set up so he has what he needs to get out the door at zero dark thirty without a hiccup. (I’m realizing I sound like a Good Housekeeping article from the 1950s, but these suggestions are for all spouses, regardless of gender.) When he suggests a movie you could care less about, go along with it. Send him a text at work letting him know you love him. 

Touch Each Other

This goes from making hello and goodbye kisses a habit, to cuddling on the couch, holding hands, and not always saying, “I’m too tired” at the end of the night.”

It’s easy to fall into a “roommate rut,” and you can’t remember the last time you touched your spouse in a loving way. Don’t let that happen. Physical touch and intimacy will help keep you connected.

Obviously these tips alone won’t save every marriage.

Some couples need to improve their communication and may benefit from couples counseling. If you feel like you and your spouse need more than some ideas to work on,  seek out a couples counselor to help mediate.

Fun fact: you can self-refer as a dependent for counseling with Tricare. No need to get a referral from your PCM; just find a provider who accepts Tricare and make an appointment!

People have remained married for decades. We have to believe that we, too, can achieve this.

It won’t always be easy, and I think the first time marriage feels hard is when we start to doubt things. But it’s just like staying in shape: We need to exercise and eat right (most of the time) to stay healthy. It doesn’t just come naturally to most people.

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