Love in Marriage When You Have Littles

Update: Red Tricycle published this post! You can find the article and more awesome momlife related content here: http://redtri.com/love-in-marriage-when-you-have-littles/


When my husband, Sam, and I first got together our love was easy. We’d go to dinner, get drinks, or jump in the car on a whim and go camping for the weekend. We knew that when we had kids, things would change, but didn’t really dwell on it. I had co-workers tell me to wait at least five years after we married before having kids, so that we’d have our own time to enjoy each other and our freedom. Of course, me being me, I did the exact opposite and we became parents as soon as possible. If it weren’t for conception issues, I’m sure I would have been pregnant within months of our wedding.

What I learned soon after having Nash, was that love in a marriage is an organic, ever-changing animal. During those early days and weeks, I knew I loved my husband, but when I was the only one getting up every night to change and feed the baby, the only one struggling with Nash all day while Sam went off to work where he had long lunches and happy hours, our love began to deteriorate.

I realized I didn’t need or want a romantic partner, I wanted a partner that could work and relieve me from some of the drudgery of parenting. My husband hadn’t had to go through 10 months of pregnancy like I had, and wasn’t yet mentally prepared for taking care of another life. I understand this now, but at three in the morning after being around a crying baby all afternoon, that logic didn’t translate. We went through a period of struggle those first several months, and there were times I wondered if our marriage would ever feel like it used to—happy and free, not an endless debate of who changed the last diaper, or whose turn it was to wash the bottles for the next day. I wanted to love and be loved, and not feel forced to make it work because we had decided to have a baby.

To give you some background, I grew up in a home where my mom did everything. My dad worked 18 hour days as a Marine, and was often deployed for months on end, so my mom had no choice but to rise up and take care of everything. I am still amazed at her strength and selflessness. I know myself and my weaknesses well enough to know that I would not have been able to do it with such grace and love. I’m still amicably called a shark in our family, and for good reason. But I never had the impression that mom resented the fact that dad was gone so much working, in fact she carried on like it was normal. If she ever felt like things were unfair, I still don’t know it. Growing up that way didn’t make me want to be like mom, however, I resented the idea and fought it every day which didn’t make things easy at home.

Our marriage, after surviving the first real rough patch following Nash’s birth, began to get better once he was older and began to form a true bond with Sam. It was then that our love changed again. I saw Sam as someone who loved Nash as much as I did, and would spend hours with him after work playing, reading, and goofing off. Then after Nash went to bed happy and tired, Sam would cook dinner and we’d drink wine and talk. As rough as the beginning had been, this new stage of intimacy was so unexpected and fortifying. I looked at Sam with new eyes, or maybe I just saw who he had become through the transformative power that becoming a parent has on someone. I was smitten all over again, and with someone familiar but also completely new.

If there are any take-aways from this, is that in any relationship, there are highs and lows, but that if you can hold on to each other and push through the tough times, you will be so rewarded in the end. I’d never dreamed that I’d feel as close to another person as I do to Sam—in fact as much as I moved around growing up, I never really felt that I belonged to any place or person. Sam has been the avenue to finding myself and a home, and all the hard times and arguments were the resistance needed to realize that and find true peace and happiness.

 

Mindfulness Matters. Here’s How To Get Started.

My relationship with meditation began in 2007, when I was traveling for work to various Native American reservations to assist in probating estates. Unbeknownst to many, the United States government holds most Indian land in a trust, and when a Native American dies, the government must hold a hearing to distribute the land to the rightful heirs.

 

At that time, I was a paralegal assisting with the hearings, and the judge (my boss) would interview the witnesses on record about the deceased person to ensure that the property was being passed down correctly. Our territory covered most of the Midwest, bringing us to some of the most remote and beautiful parts of the country.

It was on one of these trips to the reservations that the judge and I found ourselves in a tiny, Buddhist bookshop café in search of lunch. Our choices for food while traveling were usually scarce, but everyone in town had told us that this place had amazing, local organic food, and we were excited to try it.

While waiting for the food, I browsed through some of the books, and I came across one on meditation. Having traveled into these unbelievably spiritual locations, I had begun to feel a certain yearning to connect to the individuals and land we were serving, and to me this book was a sign.

That night, after a long day of probate hearings, I went back to my hotel room which overlooked a beautiful lake in the upper Michigan peninsula, sat crossed-legged on the floor and began what would become a lifelong practice.

Something I noticed right away when I began meditating was how harsh my daily, internal monologue was. I was embarrassed to see the influence my negative thoughts had over how I viewed myself and interacted with everyone around me. “You didn’t do that right,” my inner critic offered snidely. “Why can’t you…”

I had clearly been viewing the world and myself through a negative lens, and it had stunted my growth as a person. I didn’t want to continue this way, and in hopes of doing things a bit differently, I started a practice of meditation that focused on opening my heart. Until that initial session, I had never realized I was so closed off to the world.

The techniques weren’t glamorous, and it was blessedly simple to start. I began each practice by sitting comfortably on the floor, taking a few deep breaths, and closing my eyes. From there I would focus on imagining a flower opening up in my chest, and breathing in white, pure light, while blowing out dark negative air. I would do this initially for 5 to 10 minutes, and slowly I increased the time to 20 minutes as I got used to being still.

The imagery may sound strange, but it truly helped me shift to a kinder, gentler way of being. That shift to a more positive frequency affected everything, and my life was forever changed for the better. My relationship with myself transitioned from being a highly critical perfectionist, to being loving, accepting and empathetic.

I saw myself as a little girl whom I needed to care for and love instead of judge and deride. I was also able to step out of my thoughts and see them from above. This ability not only occurred during meditation, but carried over into my interactions with others. If a family member said something that would usually trigger a heated reflexive response, I was able to stop, label my initial reaction as thinking, and then move on unemotionally and at peace.

The same premise works in my marriage. So much time is wasted on completely useless fights when all that is needed is some higher perspective, an escape from the trap of believing that thoughts are real. As is so often the case, perception creates our reality, and that is where problems arise. Once I was able to see that my perception was creating an emotional response, not in-line with reality, I was able to bring peace immediately back into the present situation and quell whatever was brewing.

My husband is still thrown off when he’s preparing for battle and I simply laugh and label how ridiculous we are being. It’s saved us from so much unneeded stress and agitation in our seven years together, and has deepened our bond even more than those early, lustful days.

Meditation also helped immensely when I was pregnant with my boys. While I meditated, I focused on sending love and health to the babies I was safeguarding, and envisioned them receiving all the nutrients they needed. I think every mother speaks to their unborn baby, but through meditation, our chats reached a more focused level. I believe they truly felt my love and excitement for their arrival.

During labor and delivery, I used meditation to focus on my breath and not the pain—the result being completely natural and beautiful water births for both boys. I focused on my breathing, labeled thoughts as thoughts and nothing more, and had a strong sense of self-love to carry me through the pain and deliver the boys in a peaceful and harmonious environment. I trusted my body, not my fearful thoughts, and let the natural process of birth take over. It was like riding a wave, and I trusted that I would not drown.

An enormous amount of research has been done to support what Buddhists have been saying for years—that meditation not only makes individuals calmer and happier, but that it actually changes the brain in positive ways. One Harvard study found that meditation helped grow areas of the brain related to learning, memory, compassion, and regulatory neurotransmitters, and simultaneously shrank areas of the brain related to fear, anxiety, and stress.

 

I quickly realized it is one of the fastest, easiest, cheapest activities I could do to bring immediate peace and awareness into my life. In as little as two minutes, which is sometimes all I can fit in a day with two wild boys under five, my blood pressure lowers and I am brought into a higher, more positive frequency. Essentially, it is my way of checking in and removing the roadblocks to my best self.

 

So after a raucous 2016, why not start a practice that involves little more than sitting still? That time can bring real harmony and self-awareness to your life. The effects of meditation will not only benefit you, but as I have attested here, all those you interact with thereafter. And isn’t living happily and healthily with each other what life is all about?

Here’s how to get started:

 

  1. Learn the brain science basics. You’ll find your reason to practice as you understand more about how meditation helps your brain grow and heal. There aremany great booksout there for beginners. My favorites are The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, Real Happiness, by Sharon Salzberg, and Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield.
  2. Trysitting meditation(takes about 10 minutes). It’s simple to teach, simple to learn, but not simple to practice—it may take some getting used to.
  3. Ritualize your practice by making this time a regular part of your day.
  4. Track your progress. How did you mentally feel the first week? The second week? Write down wins so you can remember them.
  5. Continue to practice each day.