I have been married for 16 months and have dated my husband for about seven years. In the last year, we have been through a whirlwind of major events that most people take their entire lifetime to experience. We got pregnant in June, engaged in September, married in January, and became parents in March. Not to mention, in between all of this, I moved to a new city two hours away and found a new job while five months pregnant. It bears repeating: we’ve been through a lot, and it has not been without its trying times.
One thing my husband has always said that has stuck out to me the most lately is that you know how strong your relationship is by how you handle the tough times. I’m not too proud to admit that I haven’t always been my best self through the growing pains of this last year. Becoming a mother and a wife within two months of each other has been a journey I’ve been trying to understand and come into for a while now.
What does it mean to be a mother? What does it mean to be a wife? How do I make time for my son, my husband, and most of all, myself?
I’ve read that the hardest year of your marriage is often the first year after having a baby. Fortunately, and unfortunately, for us that year was not only the first year of being new parents but also the first year of being a married couple. How do we begin our married journey and our new parent journey at the same time and keep our family emotionally and mentally healthy and feeling loved?
I reached out to a few people that I love and care about dearly and decided to get their take on what makes a strong marriage. Here’s what they had to say.
Kendra, age 37, married for 5 years with no kids
At the time of this article, I have been married for five and a half years, and it’s truly the best decision I have ever made. In my experience, the thing that makes a strong marriage is the constant decision to choose your partner over and over again. Choosing to make decisions that were best for our marriage has led us into a wonderful journey.
Does that mean we spend every waking hour together? Absolutely not. In fact, due to our career paths as musical theater performers, we can often spend 6-12 weeks apart, and yet we know it’s the best thing for us. If we chose to be with each other all the time, we wouldn’t be the artists and creatives that we individually thrive as.
Does that mean we don’t fight? Again, absolutely not. Of course we have arguments, but the way we communicate with each other allows us to choose our marriage over and over again. We don’t intentionally hurt one another, we don’t throw each other under the bus, and we express our feelings honestly to figure out a way to understand one another.
Choosing your marriage can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but for me, it means making the best decision for us individually and as a team so that we can move forward together.
Caleigh, age 31, married 2 years and currently 5 months pregnant
My husband and I have been married for two and a half years, and we are expecting our first baby in September. Marriage is one of the greatest gifts on earth, but it doesn’t come without its struggles. My biggest struggle in our marriage was the deep connection I missed experiencing with my husband once the honeymoon phase wore off.
Maybe we became wrapped up in our mundane life, or maybe we got too comfortable and stopped trying to pursue each other. But that desire for a deeper connection was truly fulfilled when we discovered a very important key to a good marriage: communication.
I know, we’ve all heard it a million times. But there is a reason it’s inevitably brought up each time we ask for marriage advice—it’s that important! What I mean by communication is not simply initiating small talk with your partner once they get home from work. I mean that you must communicate everything with your partner, the big stuff and the small stuff. Tell each other how you are feeling, what the deepest desires of your heart are, whether you’ve had a great day or a crappy day.
Ask each other: Are you happy? Are you satisfied sexually? What can I do for you this week to encourage, support, and uplift you?
About six months ago, my husband and I made a pact to sit down once a week and check-in with each other. And boy, we have seen a huge change—I have never felt more in love, more connected or more understood by a partner. Communication has truly impacted every part of our marriage in such a positive way.
For us, this means finding a day and time of the week that works for both of us and sticking to it. We sit down for 30 minutes (with a drink of choice) and check-in with each other. Yes, it can be scary. Yes, it can be vulnerable. But nothing good ever comes easy. If you desire a good marriage, you have to work on it. Speak from the bottom of your heart. You’ll be surprised to see your love grow in deeper ways as you begin to know each other so intimately.
Shirley, age 68, married for 46 years with 4 adult daughters
There are so many layers to having a strong marriage, and although couples can’t always accomplish all of them, it may be in our best interest to work towards most of them. Trust, respect, communication, laughter, closeness, faithfulness, open-mindedness, and a will to forgive are just a few of those things. The list is long, and when going into marriage, we do not realize there will be bumps along the road, so staying connected in many ways is imperative.
Children add another layer to the marriage. Although having children can enhance your relationship, it can also cause strains. Sleepless nights, overwhelming responsibilities, and discipline can be destructive.
My advice is to make sure you stay linked by having “dates,” continue to laugh at yourself and each other, hug, kiss, and touch as much as possible. Also, make time to play and celebrate each other for birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries.
A strong marriage should be your main priority because while children grow up and move away, hopefully the two of you will remain after all is said and done. We all know that it will not always be rosy—there will be dark days, but if you stay cautious and conscious of your main objective, you will certainly have a positive result.
I remember before we were married, my husband said to me “I want to grow old with you and swing together on our porch.” We have managed to do just that.
Laura, Age 33, married for 1 year with a 15-month-old
Growing up, I had great examples of strong marriages from my parents and many aunts and uncles. While I was never the little girl that had her wedding planned out down to the type of cake and flowers I’d have, I did always know that I wanted to be married at some point.
Our wedding and life as a married couple have unfolded in an untraditional path that has come with its adjustments and challenges. Being newlyweds and brand new parents at the same time threw us into two major life events that have taken a lot of patience and understanding to get through. While I haven’t been married for long, I do believe that a strong marriage (and strong parenting) needs three key things: a sense of togetherness, boundaries, and constant open communication.
There have been times when each of us has felt like we were playing on opposite teams rather than together, whether it was in the newborn stage and navigating those sleepless nights, blending our holiday traditions, or balancing parenting and working (especially now). We decided this second year of marriage would be about togetherness and keeping that word at the focus of everything we do in this family.
When you’re frustrated, stressed out, or feeling hurt, it is easy to aim those feelings towards the people closest to you—and your spouse often takes the brunt of it. At times, I am guilty of this, and it is something I am always working on. Lately, when I find myself wanting to say something that isn’t productive, I ask myself if I’d say that same thing to a friend, my parents, or a coworker. If I wouldn’t say it to them, I won’t say it to my spouse. If it is a conversation that still needs to be had, I try to wait until I’m not so upset or frustrated so that I can say it in a way that he’ll be more open to receiving it.
While I believe you should be in a relationship that you can be open, vulnerable, and completely yourself, that doesn’t mean using your spouse as a punching bag or taking advantage of them. It sounds like common sense, but again, sometimes it is easy to get too comfortable and forget about some of those necessary boundaries.
I believe communication is the most important part of any significant relationship, but especially with your spouse. I have found that most of the things I am frustrated about are really just rooted in a lack of communication. Sure, it is important to talk about the big, scary, vulnerable things but often the small, everyday conversations are the ones that get overlooked but still cause disappointments or frustration.
Ask your spouse if they can be in charge of washing the bottles each night after dinner, set up a schedule for who will handle the morning or nightly routines with the kids, ask your spouse to step in 1-2 nights and figure out dinner for the family (take-out is totally an option!), or decide who will wake up and put the kids back to sleep if they wake up. These are just some of the day to day conversations that are important, and while they seem small, they can make a huge difference if you just take 15 minutes to sort it out before becoming frustrated.
All in all, marriage is rarely a Nicholas Sparks book. But as you can see from the women above, no matter the stage you’re at, how long you’ve been married, or how many kids you have it really can be a beautiful, loving, and lasting relationship, as long as you each put in the effort.
Read More: 12 At-Home Date Night Ideas You Can Do Once the Kids Go to Sleep