When my husband and I first started dating, the world felt like ours. Time was just a mere construct too limiting for our love! We had forever ahead of us! And then…we had kids.
Too soon, the once endless expanse of our universe slowly contracted and time suddenly became very real. We turned our skills at researching the best weekend getaways into researching the best pediatricians, instead. Our pillow talk turned into shop talk as we managed pregnancy symptoms and a barrage of obstetrician appointments.
Our perfectly planned pregnancy became a high risk pregnancy when the preterm labor symptoms predicted by a test I took turned into early labor, adding a new slew of challenges, worries, and fears – all competing for our collective time and attention.
If you don’t decide what your priorities are, something else always will. Our new health concerns with this pregnancy consumed us. We tackled each obstacle with the kind of ferocity and naivete that only first-time parents can have. Our relationship became reactive instead of proactive, draining our reserves and leaving us depleted. We had to face the paradox that even though our family was growing, we were growing apart as a couple.
We needed structure, some scaffolding to hold us up. We realized some of the things that had come naturally at the beginning of our relationship, we now needed to deliberately do to keep growing as a couple. Here are a few things we learned that brought us closer together.
Make time for each other. We were busy before we had kids, but there still always seemed to be enough time. But our time slowly became scarce, and we felt stretched thin, handling each new thing that came up – feeling run down rather than replenished. It became easier to put off date night because we were too tired (or busy with our favorite kid activities) until the occasionally missed plan became habitual. We realized that replacing date night for a doctor’s appointment didn’t replace the closeness we felt when we took time for just us. Now, we make it a priority to carve out that time together, because there will always be something vying for our attention if we don’t: work, chores, soccer games, homework, you name it. We find little ways to check in with each other, whether it’s having coffee together before our day starts or cuddling at the end of the day to unwind. There are more minutes in a day than hours, and it’s the small, everyday gestures that make up a relationship more than the big, occasional ones.
Don’t get used to each other. There’s that notorious sliding scale of effort that exists in the first year of a relationship; the dichotomy between wanting to impress each other and becoming more comfortable with each other. Skinny jeans turn into sweatpants. Going out turns into staying in. You both exhale a silent sigh of relief at not having to try so hard anymore. It’s natural that with more intimacy comes less mystery; your pre-date ritual is no longer top secret, and you now know what happens when they eat Indian food – intimately. But getting too comfortable can turn into taking each other for granted. Sometimes all it takes is a little shift in perspective: remember how you felt when you saw your significant other for the first time? Or when you only saw them once a week and wished you could see them every day? Well, now you have what you wanted. But don’t get used to it. Look at them like the rare being they are and see if it doesn’t ignite some of the feelings that sparked your relationship in the beginning.
Connect with each other. I mean really connect. Physically and emotionally. When time becomes scarce, the quality of your time together becomes even more important than the quantity. Don’t stop doing the little things that strengthened your connection at the start of your relationship, whether it’s kissing at red lights or just texting them during the day to tell them you’re thinking of them. And yes, be intimate. Have sex — even if you have to schedule it. Spontaneity sometimes has to die on the altar of adulthood, and if it’s choosing between scheduling time to be alone together vs. waiting for the right moment, sometimes the right moment never arrives.
If my husband and I have learned anything from our challenges, it’s that lasting love is an action. It’s like Newton’s first law of motion: love at rest tends to stay at rest, and love in motion stays in motion. Love with purpose, not passivity, and take back your time together.