As we go through different phases and transitions in our lives, our relationship with our spouse changes and evolves. These changes are the seasons of marriage.
The day I met my husband for the first time, the last thing I was expecting or looking for was a relationship. My life was majorly in limbo as I had left my second year of college to attend an in-patient eating disorder treatment center across the country. I was trying to get my life back on track and had just started a new job as a bank teller. When the bank ladies I was training under introduced Jake to me as "the cutest guy in town", I couldn't have guessed that twelve years later we'd be married and expecting our fourth baby.
I always knew I wanted to be married - to be a wife and mom. But a lifelong struggle with an eating disorder and low self-esteem prevented me from believing that there'd ever be a guy out there who would truly love me. When my husband and I began dating, he knew all about me early-on. I told him all about my eating disorder and was very open and honest. I feel like I came with a lot of emotional baggage...but somehow, he wanted to help me unpack it all. He wanted to love me anyway.
Related: A Story About a Mother Who Placed Her Baby for Adoption
I write this not as an "expert" or someone who thinks she has the perfect marriage - I write these words as my experience to let other women and mothers know that marriage, like any type of relationship, is hard work and imperfect. I've only been with my husband for 12 years and married for 9 of those, so not that long in the grand timeline of life! I have learned so much along the way and continue to learn each and every day.
Through the trials and triumphs of life, we learn more about and understand our partners better every day. Humans are complicated creatures and it's real, raw and honest to go through both ups and downs in marriage. That's how the bond grows stronger - to disagree and to work through it, to learn and grow together, to make each other want to be better people.
When we are dating our partner, we have all the time in the world for each other. We have the ability to put the other person first, give them the best versions of ourselves and spend a lot of time together. The early days of marriage are blissful, timeless and centered around the loving bond of the commitment of two people who are choosing each other as life partners. When you become parents, the dynamic of the relationship changes. Suddenly there is another person that you love with passionate, fierce intensity.
How do we balance our time between spouse and child? How do we make our partners feel wanted and special when motherhood is so all-consuming? Well, we don't. Realistically, there isn't a "balance". Most new parents find that their focus is baby - tunnel-vision. Being responsible for every need of a helpless new-to-the-world human is a big deal and acclimating to life as "mom and dad" definitely refocuses our attention from our spouse to our child.
Just like life, there are seasons of a marriage. We aren't the same as we were when we were dating. By realizing this and embracing the ebbs and flows, we allow the space for both personal growth and growth as a unit.
I feel that there are sexual seasons of marriage too. Most new moms don't feel very sexual for a while postpartum and that can be very difficult for her husband to understand. There is such an intricate dance of hormones during our childbearing and breastfeeding years and our libidos aren't as linear as they once were. There will be times of having zero urge for physical connection and other times when you can't get enough. This is normal!
Related: An Open Letter to the Sexually Frustrated Husbands
Every woman, every couple is different. Typically, men are super sexual and their need for physical connection is really important - that's how they're biologically wired. Women are so much more emotional and it can be hard to "get in the mood" or let ourselves relax enough to enjoy sex. This can be a source of dissention and drive a wedge between couples, leading to further disconnection.
Try to keep in mind that "this too shall pass" and most likely, your sex drive will come back around in full force! It's another ebb and flow of the tides of marriage. It can be helpful to hold hands... kiss... give each other a back massage - the simple acts of human touch. See where it goes, be patient and communicate your feelings to each other.
Sharing life with someone isn't easy and it's unrealistic to expect to agree on everything all the time. Some important keys to building and maintaining a strong bond are mutual respect, honesty, communication, intimacy (physical AND emotional), compromise, kindness, friendship and - a hugely important one to me - humor. Because time isn't going to automatically be carved out for one another, we have to make the time.
Sure, it's wonderful to plan a date night out once weekly or monthly but that doesn't always happen that way when kids are involved. Making time for each other in other ways is highly valuable - sitting on the couch watching tv together can be just as special, if not better, than going out on the town. Just as it's vital and healthy for us to make time for self-care (because you can't pour from an empty cup!), it's healthy to our relationship to make time for each other. That might look like waking up early for coffee together, finding someone to watch the kids while you go out on a date, staying up a little late to watch a movie together when the kids are in bed - do whatever works for your lifestyle!
There may be weeks or months that go by and you realize that you haven't had a lot of special time together. That's real life! But being aware and making the effort to connect is what will keep your relationship strong. Making your partner feel loved and appreciated is so important. I like to write little notes to my husband in his lunch to tell him how much I love him. It's the little things- they are the day-to-day details that keep us connected and feeling good.
We all need to feel and express love differently. It's important to ask for what we need and want, so don't feel guilty about this. It's part of healthy communication.
Marriage is about going through both the best and worst life events together. We are each other's strength at times of weakness. My husband and I have endured the most difficult season of our life this year, losing a child. He has been my strength and my rock when I feel that the intense weight of grief and devastation has me completely trapped and I can't continue. I have been his strength as well, comforting him when he breaks into tears, feeling the massive sadness of our loss.
It's been so hard, but an experience that we walked into holding hands and walk through holding hands - together. Although losing a child has been incredibly difficult, it is something that I couldn't survive without the love of my husband.