Our friends were all getting divorced.
Were we next?
We told each other that would never happen. Then we started drifting toward private islands. It happened after our first kid. We put on a little weight. We stopped having sex. We stopped flirting.
We thought we were having conversations, but we were really just exchanging small talk before going off to separate parts of the house.
We were tired, and we wanted to be alone.
We told ourselves it was okay.
It wouldn’t last forever.
We had “the talk.”
One night I sat next to my husband in a living room cluttered with toys. I asked him, “Are you happy? Because I’m not...”
He looked at me. “Not really.”
I let him go first.
He told me the lack of physical connection bothered him. We also didn’t talk about anything serious anymore.
It bothered him a little how much time we spent alone. It felt like we were seeking comfort in other things instead of each other.
Turns out, we had a lot of the same problems. Both of us were opting out. The reason was simple. We were just giving up. Marriages are hard, especially when you add all the costs of raising a kid.
If you want any kind of relationship to last, you have to work on it.
It’s not always fun.
We got back in shape.
It’s easy to sit around and talk about unconditional love, but let’s get real. You enjoy sex more if you’re in good shape. You don’t have to be skinny. You just have to put some effort into your body.
That’s not true for everyone, but it helped us.
We made the simple decision to start dragging ourselves to the gym a few times a week, like we used to.
We remembered the pleasure of exercise, even if it was cold or there was a good excuse like, “It’s raining, and I want Mexican.”
We were lucky because neither of us had that much weight to lose, maybe ten pounds. Still, it made a difference in our sex drives.
Sometimes it’s not about how you look in the mirror. It’s about how you feel when you take your clothes off.
That’s what matters, your confidence and self-perception.
We all get there a different way.
We stopped drinking (mostly).
Neither one of us felt like we were drinking that much. Gradually, a few drinks here and there to unwind turned into a few drinks almost every night. We were trying to dull our anxiety about the future.
The worse things got, the more we both turned to alcohol for comfort. It didn’t just add calories to our day. It dehydrated us.
It made us grumpy.
So we stopped drinking. The more we focused on improving our lives, the easier it got. We drink maybe once a week now, and not even that much. Honestly, it feels overrated.
There’s a myth out there that you don’t have a drinking problem unless you’re putting away a bottle every day or two.
A drink should never be the main thing you look forward to at the end of each day. If drinking interferes with your life in any way, then you’ve got a problem — even if it’s just a little one.
You have to deal with it.
We started eating healthier again.
We used to be healthy. Then the stress of multiple jobs and childcare kept luring us into the takeout trap.
It’s hard to eat well when you’re both constantly working or taking care of a kid. We solved the problem by cooking in bulk and storing meals in glass containers. We cut out processed foods.
We gave each other turns in the kitchen.
We made it a priority.
We declared our boundaries.
Both of us were giving too much of our time away. For him it was his friends’ personal problems. For me it was work.
It was killing our mood.
By the time we saw each other at home, we were drained. We’d given all our emotional energy to other people.
We had none left for each other.
So we decided to put a stop to it. We took a step back at work. We retreated a little from our social lives. It replenished us.
We re-negotiated the chore list.
Nothing kills a marriage quite like an unequal work load. Every major change in a relationship brings about a new list of responsibilities.
You move in together, and there’s more chores.
Buy a house, and there’s even more. Now you’re dealing with things that break and repairs that have to be scheduled. Have a kid, and your laundry load doubles. The sink fills up faster.
One person can’t handle all of this.
For us, resentment built up over a few months. He got a little angry at me for oversleeping some mornings, and I snapped at him that I was staying up late to clean the kitchen and fold the laundry, while running a side hustle that put a roof over our heads.
It led to a productive conversation.
Neither one of us were seeing each other’s needs, or how much invisible work the other person was doing.
So we made some changes.
Most importantly, I got more comfortable letting things get dirty. I had to learn to trust that he would eventually do the dishes, or clean all the dried toothpaste off the bathroom sink and mirror.
It gave us more time, and more energy.
Our moods lifted.
We started going out on the weekends.
The first year of parenthood is rough. If you’re like us, you basically become a hermit. You don’t go anywhere because crying babies make people angry. So you stay home or you take them to parks. Eventually, you forget what it’s like to actually go to a movie or a restaurant.
If you don’t live close to relatives, then you don’t have all the free childcare that comes in the form of grandmas and aunts. You’re on your own a lot of the time, and it makes life difficult.
We had to get used to hiring a babysitter.
We didn’t want to initially.
The first time stressed us out. We worried about everything. We especially worried about what the babysitter would think about the absolute mess in our house. Turns out, she understood.
She asked if she could bring her own kids along.
“Totally,” I said.
It’s easier to love your spouse when you can go on a real date with them every now and then. We started to remember that.
We started scheduling time for sex.
It’s pretty hard to have a long term relationship of any kind without sex. You can go a few weeks, or even a few months.
Eventually, it takes a toll.
Some couples can do spontaneous sex. Others struggle. We take a while to get into the mood. Nothing is simple.
My partner has performance anxiety, so he has to take a pill first. He has to make sure he’s fully hydrated and rested.
So there’s some prep involved.
When you add a kid into the mix, that makes it difficult to have as much sex as you used to. You’re tired. It’s easy to put off.
The thing is, you can’t do that.
Sometimes you have to block out an hour a week where both of you are committed to unburdening yourself from outside stress.
You have to do whatever internal work it takes for sex to feel good, or at least halfway nice. Nobody needs to have an orgasm.
You just need to be inside each other.
We started scheduling time for talks.
Babies have a way of eating up your attention.
We have a toddler now. She doesn’t like it when you have adult conversations in front of her. She gets upset.
This isn’t something you solve with discipline. It’s something you solve by being a present parent and filling them up. Of course, that means you don’t always get to say everything to your spouse that you want. A lot of conversations get interrupted.
After our kid went to sleep, we fell into a bad habit of indulging in all the personal comforts and hobbies we’d been kept away from.
During quarantine, this got even worse.
Sometimes we even stayed up too late, trying to reclaim lost parts of our lives. It made everything worse.
We had to stop.
Instead, we agreed to spend half an hour talking. We started having dinner together again, even if we were eating different things. (He’s a vegetarian who loves pasta, and I do pseudo-paleo.)
We remembered each other again. We rediscovered the personality quirks that had drawn us together.
It strengthened our attraction.
We gave each other personal space.
You can’t run a relationship well without giving each other some time to yourselves. You have hobbies and interests. You have your own books and shows, and your own friends.
Our problem was that we weren’t communicating our need for space and time apart. We felt guilty about it.
We tried to hide it.
Now we talk openly about it. We realize when one of us is stressed, or tired, and just needs to relax on their own for a night. If one of us is exhausted, we go to bed and let the other stay up if they want.
We give each other a few hours each day to do whatever we want. We’re grateful for that time. It keeps us sane.
The biggest mistake of any relationship is to assume you’re supposed to love being around each other all the time.
Nobody can handle that.
It’s okay to go into a room and shut the door for a little while. You just have to come to an understanding about why.
You can’t let things slide.
Relationships don’t end because of cheating or fights. They start ending way before that, when we stop investing in them.
The infidelity and fights come near the end, when you can’t avoid the problems anymore. By then, it can be too late.
Don’t let little things slide until they avalanche. It doesn’t matter if you’re married, living together, or just dating.
All you have to do to save a relationship is have one hard conversation. Then you have to follow-through and check up.