Like anyone who's been married or in a relationship for more than a decade and had small children during that time, I sigh a lot. I think about the past, about the incredible romance I had with my husband in our 20s, and I sigh. Our marriage has become boring. Dullsville. Cliché.
But recently, I've read several things that have made me feel OK about where we're at right now. And I thought, hey, other married/coupled parents experiencing relationship boredom might be needing some inspiration beyond "communicate more" and "make time for yourself." Because while having kids is often a result of some serious passion, I'm sure we can all agree it's a downright mood killer once those wee sweeties are in the world. The little love notes, the spontaneous weekends, the unexpected "I was thinking of you" gifts... there's just not as much time for these acts we associate with love when little people are in your world. I think it's normal for it to get to you after a while and to wonder how, when perfect-looking celebrities with all the help in the world can't stay together, will the rest of us survive?
Without embarrassing my husband by airing the minutiae of our relationship, here are a few things that have helped me work harder and recommit when the going gets dull, frustrating or downright infuriating:
The stats are on your side: First off, it's not all doom and gloom. Denise Balkisoon's "I Do" on the back page of The Walrus was refreshingly reassuring. "The oft-quoted 50 percent divorce rate is out of date: in Canada, divorces have fluctuated between 35 and 42 percent for the past two decades." You can slice and dice the data a number of ways — I'm sure it's possible that the numbers are higher if you have kids — but I prefer to focus on the fact that we're in the majority. The numbers are on our side!
Solo-parenting might seem easy, but it's tougher than you think: Susan Goldberg's post on how she enjoys parenting solo got me reflecting on my own marriage. It's sometimes easier, she surmised, to parent without the other parent there, because there are fewer relationships to navigate, for starters. I nodded in agreement. Parenting without feeling like the other parent might be judging your every action is an amazing freedom where you can play fast and loose with the rules. You run the house the way you like to, you dole out the treats and the scoldings as you see fit, there's one fewer dish to put in the dishwasher. But while it's true that I enjoy some nights and weekends when my husband is out or away, I like the option of having it both ways.
Also, my daughter and I butt heads more than I care to admit and there are many times when I prefer having J there to hand her off to. There's a balance there, even with (or maybe especially because of) our differences. Solo-parenting is fun for a short time, but I know the sigh of relief I exhale when he comes home after a trip. I know that he has my back, tagging me out when I need a breather, playing to his strengths so that I can shine with mine.
Read more: What I miss about being a single mom>
Divorce is the last option: A post on sharing kids 50/50 after divorce titled "The Half-Life of the Divorced Parent" on the New York Times' Motherlode blog reminded me that while solo-parenting can sometimes be easier, divorce is a painful thing. It seems so easy to entertain the thought of doing it all on our own in the heat of an argument or finding socks ON instead of IN the laundry hamper for the 458th time, doesn't it? While not all marriages are salvageable, and not everyone gets a say in whether they get to stay with the people they made babies with, the honesty of women who blog about their post-divorce pain is a reminder of why I have to accept certain things for what they are. In fact I've created a series of mantras to help me through the tough times and remind me that I have to keep working on it and when to hold my tongue. ("Every other holiday," "Every horse thinks his load the heaviest" and "It's not worth it" being the top three.)
The movie and TV version of love is not real: Our relationship columnist, Liza Finlay, wrote about the "Virtues of the Unromantic Relationship" and said, "If I were to make a list of the qualities correlated with successful marriage, romance isn’t at the top — nowhere close. Why? Because our notions of romance have been shaped by Hollywood, and it's time to reframe them. We need to get real." Whirlwind romances — we eat them up! An entire generation of us, learning what love should be from fictional stories we've watched on screens. Kind of crazy when you think of it. (I think my entire concept of love came from The Princess Bride!)
Then I read this lovely post about romance and marriage on Lisa Jo Baker's blog. Real relationships don't often involve sweeping scenes of heroes cheating death for true love, holding up boomboxes under your window or, as in Baker's post, running through airports to stop you from getting on that plane. What Hollywood doesn't sell us is the truth: that there is romance in the boring, quiet, thankless acts of everyday life together.
Baker's words made me teary because there is grace and wonder in the details, even if they don't make for good TV. Our little life is messy, but we've cultivated and curated it as a reflection of who we are, and we're constantly working to maintain it, to tweak as we see fit, to review and improve and make sure we're still on the right course. And dang, it's so bloody hard sometimes — OK, a lot of the time. But there is romance in the generosity of my husband's daily actions, whether it's taking an emotional five-year-old aside to keep her from arguing with her mother, taking out the garbage or making me a cup of coffee in the morning when I'm grumpy. And I need to remember that boring can be beautiful.
Dullsville might not look pretty on Pinterest, but love isn't about appearances — and it's definitely worth giving everything we've got.
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