Recently my husband and I went on a date…to the grocery store…without our four kids. Exciting, right? For us it was. It was wonderful and exciting because it was the closest thing we’ve had to a date night in a long time.
Welcome to life in the second stage of marriage.
Eighteen years ago, Mark and I stood before our family and friends and promised to love, honor, and cherish one another in good times and bad, in sickness and health. Now, looking back, I can say we really had no idea what those vows actually meant.
In the first years of our marriage, we struggled to adapt to life with one another and our quirks. This became clear when we had our first major fight over my discovery that he stored the peanut butter in the refrigerator. And he quickly learned my habit of leaving clothes on the floor. Luckily we had the luxury of time to focus on us and work those issues out.
Then our first child, Maddie, came along and everything changed. Suddenly life in this middle stage of marriage meant we were faced with new challenges brought on by parenting. And all those support systems we had in place when we started our marriage were not as readily available. Lack of sleep, differing parenting styles, hectic schedules, and career goals seemed to push our relationship to the edge at times. Time together as a couple took a backseat.
We would commiserate with friends—many of whom found themselves in the same situation—about things such as nearly nonexistent sex lives, financial struggles, house repairs, and a lack of a social life.
The subsequent births of each of our next three children over the next 10 years brought more and new challenges to our marriage—and meant less time for us to spend together. My role as bad cop to Mark’s good cop has caused more than its share of arguments. But we ride out the ebbs and flows, knowing full well that we are in this for the long haul. That’s not to say it is always easy, though.
Over the years, our growing family has not been the only challenging thing in our relationship. In fact, perhaps the biggest hurdle has been when, months after the birth of our son, Alex, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. To say it turned our lives and our marriage upside down is an understatement. Suddenly, everything we knew about ourselves, each other, and our marriage was thrown out the window.
It’s easy to see how so many couples drift apart during this stage of their marriage. Adding to the challenge is what seems to be a lack of support for those couples in the second stage of their marriage journey. Suddenly, the support systems that help couples prepare and get to the altar slowly fade away.
Being married can be relatively easy when things are going well. It’s when couples hit those potholes in life that their commitment is put to the test.
A change in perspective
Relationships can and will change. But for all its challenges, life in this stage of marriage can also be an exciting experience filled with blessings, discoveries, and adventures. Traveling that journey with your spouse has the potential to bring the two of you closer if you work together.
So, yes, date nights might now consist of a rented movie after the kids have gone to bed, or a Friday night at the grocery. And while lunch dates may have replaced dinner dates, the important thing is that we’re together. And now that Maddie is of babysitting age, we are slowly starting to rediscover date nights and more time alone.
The most important thing is to stay connected and remember that we are on the same team. That is as true in this stage of marriage as it was in the beginning and will continue to be into the next stage.
Mark and I have tried to stay connected in little ways and work together to head off any potential trouble spots. We try to have conversations that are not dominated by the kids’ schedules or activities, the next home project, or our budget. But it’s not always easy. And while circumstances may have changed from that day 18 years ago when we were married, the vows and love remain the same.