Okay moms and dads, I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Marriage is hard, but after kids its down right difficult. It’s not that people don’t love their spouses and it’s definitely not that they lack in want or good intentions. It’s difficult because the very resources that aid in making marriage successful – time, energy, money, emotions, etc. – are the same resources that are drained by jobs, day-to-day life, and especially children.
It is, in a lot of ways, how life seems to go, but that doesn’t mean it’s how life has to go, according to Melanie Smith, a Navy wife, mother and now grandmother. She agrees that it’s possible, and necessary, for husbands and wives to maintain healthy connections with each other after children enter the mix.
Live in the Moment
Her first suggestion is do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
“The worst piece advice you can sometimes give someone is, ‘it is just a season,’” states Melanie. “It may be just a season, but saying it is like telling someone to just do their best to get through it, then things will go back to normal once the season is over.”
That’s not necessarily the case says Melanie, who has seen her share of seasons. As a Navy wife to retired military veteran Harry, she has moved her family around the world. She and her husband have been married for 30 years and were without children for the first two years of their marriage. Now their oldest has started having children of her own, and their youngest is still at home, which means they will soon be facing the shift to an empty nest.
“There is no quick fix in any season,” states Melanie. “And every season brings different challenges. It’s easy to think that things will get easier when the kids leave the house, and some things do get easier. But having an empty house brings its own difficulties. You cannot wait until your kids leave the house to start working on your marriage, and because my husband and I were purposeful when things were difficult, the time we have together now is more meaningful.”
And sometimes the issues a couple is facing has nothing to do with children or difficult circumstances, but rather sometimes difficult circumstances can bring to light issues that are already present in a marriage.
“If you work on those issues in the hard times,” Melanie urges, “It will get easier when you are older.”
Couples must determine to put time, emotions, energy and money aside for their spouses.
“Sometimes you can’t,” states Melanie. “But when it’s not possible, understand that your spouse is not the enemy and try to not blame them. Sometimes it is simply that circumstances are at play and they are beyond our control, and while we cannot control our circumstances, we can try and control how we react to them.”
Valerie Goldade a counselor at Dakota Family Solutions in Williston puts it this way, “Couples need to guard their marriages as a priority.”
Be Intentional; Guard your Connection and Communicate
Valerie is herself a mother of six and has been married to her husband, Terry for 36 years. Together they started Dakota Family Solutions with the goal of counseling and helping families work through difficulties. Valerie was a single mother before she met Terry, and works with teen mothers and single mothers in the Williston area. Her advice to husbands and wives is to be intentional about connecting with each other.
“If couples do not guard their connection with their spouse, they risk going in opposite directions and losing the common threads that brought them together in the first place,” states Valerie. “Not connecting and not staying connected to your spouse puts distance in the marriage relationship, which is not good. Couples need to go down the road together. Don’t lose yourself, but don’t lose your marriage either because you are too much about yourself or your kids.”
One of the best ways to be intentional in marriage, according to Melanie, is to put guidelines in your marriage then follow them whether or not you feel like it. Some potential ideas are to always kiss each other goodnight, always talk at the beginning or end of each day, or always have breakfast or dinner together.
“Whatever it is, find ways to let your spouse know they are the most important person in your life,” states Melanie.
The second suggestion goes right along with the first tip, which is to communicate.
“Make a point to talk to each other. Life is busy, especially with kids. If couples are not careful, weeks can go by where they do not communicate with their spouse,” states Valerie.
“Don’t just talk about to-do lists and calendars, tell each other the good and bad that is taking place in your lives. Be open and honest in your relationship, rather than letting things build up and rock your foundation. Communication is the number one thing that will help keep spouses connected to each other after children.”
Melanie shares that her family is not local, but moved from Texas during the boom. Like most transplant couples, Harry moved to Watford City first to start working.
“I came with Harry to help him get settled, and at one point in the moving-in process, I found myself unpacking alone while Harry was taking care of some other business. I took a post-it pad and just wrote little notes to Harry and hid them all over his apartment. I knew it would be a while before I could bring the rest of the family down to join him, and I wanted to find ways to encourage him while he was without us,” states Melanie.
“He didn’t find them all at once, in fact he was still finding them after we had moved up, but it’s just little things sometimes that can make a big difference and let your spouse know they are important to you. And sometimes little things are all you can do, especially if money is tight or your time together is limited.”
Both Valerie and Melanie emphasize that it’s important for husbands and wives to respect each other, to use speech that lifts each other up and reflects that they are an important, if not the most important person to one another.
Share Common Goals
Another thing that Valerie suggests that goes along with communication is for spouses to have a common goal or purpose in life.
“As a couple, talk about what you are going after in life, and how you are going to go after it together,” states Valerie. “Evaluate it, readjust it as life happens, but communicate goals and dream together about the things you want to do and accomplish as a couple.”
Finally, look for ways to have fun together, and from time-to-time, get away. With a little creativity, there is always something to do.
Some nearby destination getaways for couples in Western North Dakota are always the popular tourist destination of Medora or the Black Hills of South Dakota. Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan, Canada has a nice spa and Chico resort near Bozeman, Montana has a nice resort as well, as do other places in Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. Some of the spas even offer couples retreat specials throughout the winter.
Melanie says that when she and Harry first moved to North Dakota, even getting away to Dickinson, Minot or Bismarck for a night was enough.
“When I’m home, I’m thinking about everything I need to do,” states Melanie. “Getting away takes me out of that.”
Sometimes it’s not possible or not always necessary to get away. There are many creative things to do right here in western North Dakota.
A night out at a nice restaurant is a simple idea, or for those who want a more creative idea there’s always a drive through the north or south unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. On warm days, couples could plan a picnic outside, but in the winter, a picnic in your vehicle could be fun. It’s not necessarily ideal, but then again sometimes out of the ordinary hits the spot in the wintertime.
While at the parks, go stargazing, or go for a walk and look for animals, which is still possible on a warmer winter day, dressed in layers.
If the parks don’t peak your interest, look special activities available locally. Many western North Dakota communities have full event calendars throughout the winter months, especially around Valentine’s Day.
Melanie said that one of the best date night’s she and Harry ever had was simply staying home.
“My kids planned and made a meal for us, then went to a friend’s house for the night,” explains Melanie.
“When you have teenagers, having a date night at your house is a big deal. Teenagers are always up listening. At 10 in the evening is when most couples with young children spend time together, but that goes away with teenagers, because they turn on at 10 at night.”
Melanie says that having a date night at the house and sending the kids to a friend’s house is nice for many reasons; not coming home to a mess that the kids made while you were out, enjoying your space alone and simply having the opportunity to focus on each other, undistracted by the surroundings.
Some home date-night ideas are ordering out or making dinner together. Have a picnic in the living room, or bedroom, or getting out the nice china and candles and turning the lights down low. Turn on some music and dance or pull out some old photo albums and reminisce.
There are many more date night tips online for staying home or going out. And remember in being creative and doing something is more important sometimes that what you actually do.