On the day you got married, you proclaimed to the world in front of your closest family and friends, “I do” and “’til death do us part.” You vowed to cherish each other forever in the good times and the challenging ones. But marriage is not the wedding. It’s the life after the wedding—all the laughs, tears, struggles, and joys—that defines a marriage. That middle part between the “I do” and the “’til death do us part” is the core (the juiciest part) of any marriage.
When you decide to have children, the dynamics of the marriage inevitably shift. Kids are a blessing always, but caring for tiny humans can put a strain on a marriage in those heavy-lifting early years. Since they are young and so dependent on their parents for everything, finding quality time with your partner is crucial to maintaining the intimacy and connection in a relationship. Celebrating your anniversary with your littles is one way to honor your love for each other. On the flip side, dedicating one-on-one time for you and your spouse to be alone together to travel, make memories through date nights, and even invest in couples counseling to keep the relationship healthy are also valuable ways to sustain a marriage.
But is there a “secret ingredient” that keeps couples married even after having kids? I talked to two couples near and dear to my heart to find out how they have been able to maintain a loving marriage for decades while also being devoted parents. I had the honor of interviewing my own parents, Carmen and Ignacio, who have been married for 47 years, respect and adore each other, and are each other’s best friends.
I also had the pleasure of interviewing two close family friends, Isabel and Tim, who have been married for over 41 years, have beautiful children and grandchildren, and love exploring the world together as a couple. I asked these two sweet couples to share love advice for all of us parents who are still in the trenches of parenting while also being at the beginning stages of our own marriages. They have shared some true gems with profound insight on the complexities and joys of being married while having children.
What has been the secret ingredient to having a long-lasting, loving marriage?
“Upholding family values that have been handed down to you from your parents. Realizing that love can take many forms, thus allowing the partner to show it in many ways: [for example,] doing your share of housework, watching the family budget, anticipating your partner’s needs, and having a common goal in life.” —Carmen
“Entering into marriage with the idea that it is a lasting commitment, especially if children are involved. Bearing that in mind, other issues become less important and have to be pushed aside to maintain family unity and respect.” —Ignacio
“A mutual love in which each partner sincerely and truly cares about and wants the best for each other is obviously essential, but there are other important factors that contribute to a healthy, lasting, and loving relationship. Trust, commitment, and a mutual agreement in terms of finances, raising children, where to live, and how or how not to incorporate religion into one’s newly formed family are also just as important.
Without trust that your marriage partner is your best ally and friend and with whom you can share anything and everything with, “physical” love won’t be enough … Of course, commitment to your marriage partner, accepting his or her fallibilities, accepting that change will occur over the course of years, and sincerely wanting for one’s marriage to survive and thrive also strengthen the odds that your marriage will be one of the successful and happy ones.
Without trust that your marriage partner is your best ally and friend and with whom you can share anything and everything with, ‘physical’ love won’t be enough.
In terms of practical, daily life decisions that people make in a marriage, being able to agree upon finances can make or break a marriage. Nowadays, with both partners working: ‘Who decides what and how much to spend and from whose income? How do we raise our children? Will our parents be willing to babysit for them? Where are we going to live? Do we live close to our parents? And what about religion and education? Do we send them to private or to public school?’ These are all discussions that couples need to agree upon mutually.” —Tim and Isabel
There is no elixir one can consume to magically have a long-lasting, loving marriage. Every couple needs to determine their priorities in the marriage, including those related to raising children. Compromises and sacrifices come with the territory. Investing in each other’s happiness and accepting that love takes on many forms are valuable components in a healthy marriage throughout the years.
How did children affect your marriage?
“Having children affected our marriage in a positive way. Having them strengthened our bond and allowed us to enjoy life as we experience life through their eyes. In spite of all the demands made on us as children grow, we never lost our enjoyment of intimacy as a couple.” —Carmen
“Simply put, if you have children, you have to [accept that you’re now] #2. Children are totally dependent on parents. That means giving your time [and] providing for them a safe and nurturing environment. Sometimes, it is not easy to be #2, but … it is the way it has to be. We always try to see the good in life with our children. You cannot shield children from every adversity. It’s part of life and must be accepted as such.” —Ignacio
“It’s different for men and women, for those who work outside the home and for those who find that their incomes don’t allow for much more than paying the bills. As a father, I loved having three bright, beautiful daughters. And although I tried my very best to be with them throughout their daily lives, my work schedule and societal role requirements occasionally made it difficult for me to spend more time with them. On the other hand, my wife, who stayed home for the first few years of our marriage and later worked close to home with less spillover commitment, was able to spend more time and perhaps worked even harder at home with household chores, etc. Remember, gender roles have slowly changed over the years.” —Tim
“The big question is: Do both parents want children and what ideas does each person believe in terms of how to raise a child or children? Both parents may not always be on the same page … Having children is a financial and time commitment. Having children is a blessing, while at the same time it’s a tremendous responsibility in terms of providing for them physically, emotionally, morally, culturally, financially, and educationally.” —Tim and Isabel
It is clear that having children affected both couples’ marriages in different ways. Understanding and accepting this sounds like a more realistic approach to a marriage, especially in those early infancy/toddler years. Establishing clear expectations with open lines of communication when children enter the picture (or, better yet, before they enter the picture) can also reduce any conflicts that inevitably may arise.
How did you survive challenging times in your marriage?
“Remember why you got married and try to see the positive in everyday life. Do not ever lose the enjoyment of being together even if it [is] for a short time during the day listening to music, watching TV, or conversing.” —Carmen
“During difficult times, do not lose sight of the commitment you have made to each other. Be aware of the power of words and how hurtful they can be when said in a state of rage. Once words leave your mouth, they cannot be erased, especially the ones that hurt and undermine your partner.” —Ignacio
“What are our expectations of our partner and of ourselves? What do we expect in our marriage? … Are we willing to accept our partner’s ‘unexpected’ imperfections and even serious fallibilities?
We must have a commitment to teamwork in a marriage, to navigating through the most difficult, unexpected, and disappointing times. [We must have] an understanding and acceptance of those imperfections. People change over the years. Expect that. Marriage is like a river that either flows upstream or downstream. It takes that commitment from both parties for success and a willingness to forgive.” —Tim and Isabel
We must have a commitment to teamwork in a marriage, to navigating through the most difficult, unexpected, and disappointing times.
Finding joys in the mundane while also being mindful that discord is inevitable are both themes that showed up in each couple’s responses. Being prepared for difficult times by equipping ourselves with the tools to forgive, accept, and remember the commitment of the marriage can help couples weather any storm together. Avoiding disrespectful words and actions can also contribute to a marriage based on mutual love and devotion.
What is one thing you wish you would have known at the beginning of your marriage?
“I wish we had discussed our lives and how as we grow older, we are to face challenges. Is your partner open to discussing misunderstandings and to grow from differences in points of view? How much are you willing to allow your partner to have his/her own friends and interests? How do you deal with money issues [and] in-laws?” —Ignacio
“I wish I [would have] discussed the way we deal with difficulties in marriage. Do we respect silence or do issues have to be openly discussed?” —Carmen
“As a husband, I wish I had known more about what a woman wants in a marriage and in life. I wish I had been better prepared from early childhood for a better understanding of what makes a good marriage. It wasn’t taught in school, although over the years I probably learned from my parents’ 63 years of their mutually respectful and loving marriage. Of course, theirs too was shaped in part by their generation’s expectations, religion, and gender roles.” —Tim
As a husband, I wish I had known more about what a woman wants in a marriage and in life. I wish I had been better prepared from early childhood for a better understanding of what makes a good marriage.
“I believe that each generation is affected by what their societal norms are and are greatly influenced by what’s expected of couples contemplating marriage and having children. I wish I had not paid so much attention to what society and my Catholic religion expected of me as a man entering marriage. It was much different 41+ years ago when gender roles were well-defined and even laws were so much different from now. All of these factors that related to how much stress was placed on marriages are no longer valid but certainly were then.” —Tim
As with parenting, we learn how to be better partners to our spouses by living life with them. One of the greatest gifts we can give each other in a marriage is allowing space for growth by making mistakes. The challenge arises after the wedding because you do not ever know what to expect through the years as you and your spouse adapt and evolve through life’s journey. Discussing conflict management can positively impact a marriage. Additionally, establishing one’s own role in the marriage based on the needs of oneself and one’s partner appear to be marriage lessons we can all learn from.
What defines success in a marriage for you?
“A relationship where both partners respect each other and continue having a common goal in life.” —Carmen
“The ability to cope with the vicissitudes of life and realize that they are part of our existence. In my view, many marriages fail because of unrealistic expectations.” —Ignacio
“Enjoying each other’s company and the satisfaction for what we have created together in terms of children, personal, and career successes as well as mutual happiness have defined and still define our relationship over these past 41+ years and counting. Being able to navigate the numerous challenges and changes throughout one’s marriage and still enjoy each other’s company each and every day bring much satisfaction to our marriage.
In my view, many marriages fail because of unrealistic expectations.
Compatibility in a marriage doesn’t mean that you have to do everything together all the time. Sometimes, you or your partner may need space, and at other times, you both may want to spend even more time together. It’s truly satisfying and a blessing being able to grow old with someone you have known, with whom you’ve created a family, and lived and shared life’s ups and downs for so many years. What defines a successful marriage is the marital relationship of mutual respect, love, and trust that has developed over the years. We enjoy life and growing old together. That makes us happy.” —Tim and Isabel
Sometimes, you or your partner may need space, and at other times, you both may want to spend even more time together. It’s truly satisfying and a blessing … to grow old with someone you have known, with whom you’ve created a family, and lived and shared life’s ups and downs for so many years.
Success in a marriage is subjective, as it can vary depending on the expectations and hopes of each partner. The foundation of any healthy relationship should be rooted in respect, trust, and love. Also, accept that dark times will come and realize you and your partner are a mutually inclusive, co-parent, and marriage team that is capable of resolving problems that arise.
Taking a positive outlook on marriage and embracing the bumps and the laughs along the way can help couples navigate inevitable conflict. You don’t have to be a mirror of your spouse; instead, valuing differences in a marriage can enhance the relationship and model positive relationships for your children.
Finally, if we are so lucky enough to be married as long as my parents and Tim and Isabel have been, we should remind ourselves (and our children) what a joy it is to grow old together. If you remove all the distractions and fluff in our lives, being with and supporting the one you love is life’s true gift.