When packing up to leave on a family trip recently, both kids were wailing, the house was a complete disaster, and we were running three hours behind schedule. I was on the verge of a meltdown until I looked up and saw my husband. He had the same look of helpless desperation in his eyes. We locked eyes and just burst out laughing. With wild cackles and wailing children, you could say that we were approaching insanity.
Perhaps we are, but that’s neither here nor there. I want to talk about forming and keeping a solid friendship going in the midst of all the chaos that surrounds us as parents. It’s so easy to get caught up in the lives of your children and identifying only as a parent rather than a partner as well. I’m not going to tell you to go on date nights once a week or communicate better, because we’ve all heard that advice one too many times. These are practical little tidbits that will carry you through these selfless, patience-testing, crazy years together.
Remember that you are a team
Becoming parents is a miraculous thing for many reasons, but as soon as that child arrives, your goals as parents automatically align – you both want the very best for him or her. When you’re in the thick of it, and have a toddler throwing tantrums and a crying newborn, it can be easy to think that the world is conspiring against you. Instead of allowing frustration to sink in beneath your skin, look to your partner who is working just as hard as you are. Even if things don’t go smoothly, just knowing that someone is on your side makes life so much easier. Oftentimes, you can feel completely outnumbered, so having that comradery is everything. And remember that even though the two of you may approach things differently, the goal is ultimately the same.
Find common ground
Surely, you and your spouse have at least one thing in common – it’s likely what brought you together. Keeping this bond is so important as kids come into the picture. Choose an activity that the both of you bond over and perhaps something that you can do as a family. For us, it’s working out. As soon as both kids are down for their naps, we change into our gym clothes and work out together. Endorphins are flowing, it’s stress relieving, it’s healthy, and it’s so much fun! Same goes for cooking, biking, photography, reading, paddle boarding, or whatever floats your boat. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. In fact, the simpler the better – that way you’re sure to do it more often and maybe even daily!
Support your partner in their personal passions
As much as I love spending time with my husband, it’s also important for us to disconnect and recharge our batteries separately. As long as there is a balance in where time is being allocated, taking time apart to do “your thing” is totally healthy. My husband, for example, goes on an annual fly-fishing trip with his friends. I know this trip is super important to him, so I do everything in my power to make it happen. Yes, it’s hard work! But I know that when he returns, he’ll be completely recharged and able to be an even more wonderful husband and father. Make sure that the exchange of responsibility isn’t one-sided though. If it is, resentment will be sure to creep up and cause problems later on. Since our kids are small and I’m still breastfeeding, it’s nearly impossible for me to take off for a week-long trip. So instead, I get nights out with my girlfriends, spa days, and time to take my favourite fitness classes. I wish I had a cooler passion like my husband does, but at the end of the day, red wine, pedicures & yoga make me so damn happy. No matter what your personal interest and passions are, make sure that your partner knows that it’s important to you. Pursuing your own personal interests will only bring you closer together.
Do a lot of little things for each other rather than a select few each year
I’m pretty sure we were on our first date when my now husband described his distaste for Valentine’s Day. At first, I thought this was his way of telling me he was cheap. But it didn’t take me long to realize that he treated every day like Valentine’s day. To this day, I still get little love notes and just-because gifts. Just to be clear, gifts don’t have to be monetary at all. For example, my favourite daily gift from my husband is having lemon water and coffee delivered to my bedside each morning. That, to me, is worth more than all the flowers and chocolates in the world. Don’t make it about buying each other “things” because that gets old super quickly. And if you’re stuck, surprises are always a safe bet. It can be as elaborate as surprising your spouse with a getaway or as simple as showing up unannounced to join you & the kids for an activity (my personal fave).
Understand the reasons behind your arguments
Like any couple, my husband and I can bicker from time to time. Over the years, we’ve developed a habit of calling one another out immediately. If something is bothering us, we’ll discuss it, identify it, come up with a solution (or not), and get over (…or not). Each situation is different, but this is typically the pattern. Even if we don’t come to an agreement immediately, at least we’ve addressed it, avoiding any potential resentment or pent-up tension.
The more you do this, the more you’ll understand your partner and the reasons behind your arguments. We’ve all had those fights where afterwards leave you thinking what you were even arguing about in the first place. You can sometimes nip an argument in the bud simply by knowing your partner’s hot spots. For example, if your partner isn’t paying attention or talking to you like he or she usually does, it’s really easy to start quarrelling right then and there. Instead, try taking a step back and ask (without being condescending or assumptive) if they might have had a stressful day, if they’re hungry, or uncomfortable. You can help your partner navigate through their grumpiness and identify something that’s troubling them. By doing this, you’re likely to shift their attitude by showing that you care. And that alone can take care of so many energy-sucking arguments.
Compliment one another
Being a parent is amazing but it’s not like you ever receive a pat on the back or recognition from those mini bosses of yours. So, hearing it from your partner can make all the difference in the world. Something as simple as saying “thank you for your patience today” or “you are a great Mom/Dad” can brighten your partner’s day and give them that much-needed fuel to keep them going. Compliments never get old.
Don’t be scared
I think our generation lives in fear of getting divorced, especially after having kids or coming from split relationships. Many of us saw our parents go through it, and we’re careful not to make the same mistakes. But we’re often told that relationships are difficult and that they take a lot of work. Stop letting people scare you with that wording! Keeping that friendship alive in a relationship is all about awareness and having fun.
Love, peace & loving AND liking your partner