Welcome, everyone! It’s Jeremy Gilliam. Today’s Millionaire Marriage session is pretty great because we have two special guests: Taylor’s wife, Megan, and my wife, Erica! We’re excited they’re here to join us, because today’s topic is something that’s near and dear to our hearts: marriage after kids, and more specifically, keeping marriages alive after kids.
There’s this unfortunate thing that happens when a marriage already isn’t doing well, and they add kids to the mix. Their entire focus and marriage becomes about their children. And 20, 30, 40 years later, these empty nesters are suddenly like, “I don’t even know you.”
It’s important to learn how to navigate through those challenges so you aren’t creating your whole relationship around your children.
Learn to Balance
It seems like once women have a child and turn into mothers, that’s their whole world. All of their love, time, and affection can be filled with this kid. But it’s important to balance this new little baby with the existing marriage relationship.
Erica said it best:
“It’s about understanding your season and knowing that it can’t be how it was before. It’s not over, but it’s going to be different–and different is not bad. Change causes you to grow. So, if you’re unwilling to change, you’re unwilling to grow and progress and you can miss out on bigger opportunities. Understand that change is going to happen and learn to find a new normal within that.
Really work to find those intimate moments. It doesn’t have to be in the bedroom, but just intimate moments throughout the day to stay connected–a hug, a kiss, a text message, a phone call–just to make sure you’re still prioritizing your spouse. Eventually, it gets easier as you adapt.”
To which Megan offered:
“For some couples, this ‘new norm’ after bringing children into the marriage is also where bitterness starts to take root. It’s not just the wife that’s trying to find her way in this new world. It’s a new world for the husband, too. He has to be able to step up in different ways that he maybe never has before. They both do.”
Give Yourself Grace
You don’t want something to grow in between you and your spouse, hence the roots of bitterness. The fact of the matter is, if you’re not adapting correctly, if you don’t navigate those waters successfully, then it creates challenges down the road.
Just be sure to give yourself some grace. Everything’s going to be okay if you want it to be okay. This is real life; contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a perfect magazine family. Those aren’t real, it just isn’t reality. We don’t live like that.
“Meg and I always said, ‘This is a new normal, but we can still be us.’ We made sure to continue making date night a reality,” Taylor said. “We’re very fortunate both of our parents live close by. So, we’re able to drop the kids off pretty routinely. We’re not having date night every night, we’re just making sure that we can still have a solid relationship even with these little kids running around the house.”
Separate Your Time
Fifty plus percent of couples let their kid(s) sleep with them every night.
Clinically speaking, there are challenges with co-sleeping… more than some parents realize. If done too often, it can become yet another bitter root in our own marriages.
As a marriage/family therapist, I’ve had some couples come in and say, “We’re not talking like we used to talk. We’re not having sex like we used to have.” Sometimes, the issue is this: You’re not separating your time spent with kids and your time spent with your spouse.
With three kiddos, Taylor and Meg established boundaries early on: “I’m getting home from work at 5 or 5:30, and we’re spending quality time as a family from there,” Taylor said. “But the kids know, 8 or 8:30 rolls around, we’re done and they’re in their own rooms. That’s been consistent with us from day one. The kids know that’s their time to unwind and decompress.
So while the kids are having their time, it allows Meg and I to have our time together whether that’s an hour, four hours, whatever time, and I think that’s really important. Something that’s easily missed when you have kids in the middle.”
“Sure, in the beginning, it’s probably much easier to co-sleep, just like it’s always easier to just do everything yourself like dishes, laundry and such,” Meg said. “It’s hard to teach your children how to load and unload a dishwasher, or how to cook their own macaroni and cheese, or how to sleep alone in their own beds. But it’s worth it to put in that hard work to make our kids capable of being self-sufficient people!”
Teach Early Responsibility
Erica and I give our own three children household tasks of that sort as well. We keep them age appropriate, and as they get older, a shift happens.
“We’ve taken some things off as time goes by,” Erica said. “But not completely; they just aren’t ‘chores’ anymore. They turn into responsibilities. We’ll tell the kids, ‘This is just what you do now because you’re old enough to handle it, so now it’s a part of your life.’”
Another thing is, they must complete those tasks before they get any screen time or anything like that. Screen time and things of that sort are privileges that we don’t just “give out.” As soon as they’re of age, it’s important to start raising them to be self-sufficient so they can understand what is being asked of them and what needs to be done–and do it well.
Never Stop Learning
I always try the best I can to continuously be curious about Erica. I want a PhD in Erica-ology. I want to KNOW my wife. Even after being married for 12 years now, I love doing those “would you rather” questions. That’s not just filler conversation; it’s being a constant student of my wife. It’s intentional conversation.
In my therapy sessions, I stress the importance of open questions.
A closed question like “How was your day?” requires a simple “Fine,” “Okay,” or something of the sort. Turn that into an open question like, “Tell me about your day!” and you literally open the conversation up for, again, the intentional conversation.
As Erica puts it: “We’re there for one another with or without the kids. We’re always listening and providing support or feedback to one another. Like, I know he doesn’t care what I wear, but if I asked him, ‘Should I wear these shoes or these shoes?’ he’ll tell me an honest answer instead of just picking a random one. As long as you give meaningful feedback, it really feels like that person is in your corner.”
Don’t Become Strangers
And what about the empty nesters? The ones that are saying,
“I don’t know who this person is.”
“We’re retired and we don’t see each other anymore because we’re doing things separately.”
“We’re sitting in chairs all day long, but we’re not ‘together.’ There’s no communication.”
As a marriage/family therapist, if I had this couple sit across from me, I’d simply ask if they even want this to work. If the answer is no, then how do we get to a yes? And if the answer is yes, what are some things that the two of you are doing that are causing a continuous disconnect?
Because again: Everything you do in marriage before kids, marriage during kids, and marriage after kids should be rooted in communication. Whether that’s verbal, nonverbal, whatever–your presence, and just being there and taking that curious approach with your spouse is vital to keeping things alive.
Taylor said, “It’s all about fitting into their world and remaining present. Definitely let your spouse into your world too, but being able to make room for them and being intentional about getting into their world is super important.”
It’s making sure they know that, at the end of the day, I’m still your husband, I’m still your wife. Get into your spouse’s world and continue to develop as a spouse yourself.
One Last Thought
“I think so many young couples come into parenthood and believe their entire existence now is to be a mother or father to that child. That’s it,” Meg said. “But if you have all of your identity wrapped up in one thing–being someone’s spouse or someone’s parent or your job, whatever–you’re going to lose what your real purpose is here on Earth.”
Husbands, don’t get all of your fulfillment in life from your kids.
Wives, don’t get all of your fulfillment in life from your kids.
We encourage everyone out there, as you’re having kids and moving into these different phases of life, to remember to be intentional with where you’re at. Make room for your spouse in your world, have date nights, laugh together, and never, ever stop saying “I love you.”