Seven years of marriage has taught me a lot. How communicating with my wife (and really listening) when I would prefer to shut down really helps us solve problems. How saying “I’m sorry” should only be used if I truly mean it, because it could lead to further issues if I don’t. How marriage can be the most rewarding relationship I’ve ever experienced if I put in the work, and how it can be incredibly challenging if I don’t.
Yet no matter how much I’ve learned and how much work I’ve put into our relationship since we said “I do,” bringing our son home from the hospital last year has brought about a whole new set of stresses and challenges that, at times, has put a strain on our marriage. I think that tends to happen as attention shifts from spouse to child.
Let me stop here and make it clear that I’m in no way qualified to offer advice about what you need to do to have a happy and healthy marriage. Everyone’s situation is different. So I’m just going to share what has allowed my wife and me to focus on our relationship during the infrequent mommy-daddy times that we can enjoy. If this can somehow benefit you and your significant other in some way, then great. If not, I hope you find what works best for you.
Commentate on reality TV. After a day of juggling a never-ending string of emails, piles of laundry, overflowing Diaper Genies, and dealing with our son’s sometimes unwillingness to eat anything but Puffs and fruit, my wife and I will often veg out on the couch and share a laugh at the expense of reality TV “stars” and their drama. Sometimes we stay up too late watching these mindless programs—and we pay for it the next morning when our son decides to start chatting at 4:30am—but it’s nice to shut our brains off for a while, have a few good laughs, and just relax.
Organize living room picnics. Who doesn’t like to go out for a nice dinner? We miss those nights out on the town, but it can be pricey when you’re paying for a babysitter and dinner. Plus, we’re parents to a 15-month-old—we get tired at, like, 9pm these days. So one solution to get out of the house while still at home is this: Once our son is down for the night, we order takeout and share a meal and a conversation about our day on a blanket in our living room. I’ll take that any day over the picnics we used to have in Millennium Park.
Offer our daily or weekly appreciation. My wife deserves all the credit for this one. How this works is at the end of the day or week we’ll tell each other what we appreciate about each other. This can be as simple as me telling her that I appreciate her cleaning up our son’s dresser or her letting me know that she appreciates me finally deciding to wash the dishes. The point of this exercise is that we’re acknowledging each other’s contributions and not taking each other for granted.
Run. My wife and I both turn 40 this year, so as part of that celebration, we’re running our first marathon this December in Honolulu. While we can’t go on training runs together because the other is at home watching our son, we’ve had babysitters and my parents watch our son while we’ve run more weekend races (5Ks, 10Ks, a 10-miler, a half marathon) this year than ever before. My wife and I talk frequently about best running routes, how to avoid and treat injuries, and what it might feel like when we finally complete our first 26.2. We love our son to death, but it’s been really nice to have a shared goal and a common interest that doesn’t involve him.
Matt Beardmore used to cover sports for ESPN The Magazine and the Chicago Tribune, and contribute to The New York Times Travel section and In Transit blog, but he’d much rather write about a far more important topic—being a dad.