Thursday, December 09, 2010

Marriage + Multiples: Making It Work

Jason and I spent the weekend away at a marriage retreat (with the kids) and it got me thinking. I've heard that the divorce rate for parents of multiples is higher than it is among parents of singletons. I know Kate Gosselin tried to blame having multiples as a cause of her divorce that made headlines last year. Is it true? Are parents of multiples more likely to have marital issues?
While our kids were down the hall playing, Jason and I spent the weekend talking about marriage. The chaplain from Jason's unit discussed a variety of topics aimed at making marriage work... even in the difficult times. Since we are all trying to reconnect with our spouses after the deployment, everyone seemed genuinely interested in learning more about building relationships that last. But Jason and I left feeling like it must be some miracle that we have lasted nearly ten years together. After having six children in less than 6 years, it almost feels as though our entire relationship has consisted of pregnancy and poop. How have we survived this long?
Parents of multiples certainly have good reason to struggle when it comes to marriage. Common reasons for couples to divorce include money and children. If you have multiples, odds are that you have too much of one and not enough of the other!

The stress of caring for multiple young children can certainly take its toll on any marriage. The financial burden of adding children two (or three, or four) at a time can be daunting. The time required to take care of their basic needs can leave little time for anything else, especially time with your spouse. Sex may become a thing of the past. There are no more impromptu day trips together, because every outing requires packing and planning and praying for sanity. Lack of sleep means patience wears thin. It's a wonder that any parents of multiples ever go on to have more children!
As we were talking about the 5 Love Languages and figuring out what Love Language we spoke, I realized something. Jason and I both crave "quality time" together and we must keep creatively figuring out ways to get it so that we can both stay connected. Having six children means this is never easy. But it must be a priority in order for us to be happy as a couple, which definitely makes us better parents. It seems obvious, right? But I know I forget the importance of time away from the kids and how beneficial it is for our family. I feel guilty if I take a shower alone, let alone make time to be with Jason when there are not kids involved. First resolution for the new year: planning a regular, no excuses, date night each month. I'm going to make that happen.
Another huge light bulb went on in my head when I heard a comment from a fellow Army wife. We were talking about "acts of service" and how our spouses can help around the house to make the our jobs easier. One wife said "I want my husband to know what needs to be done without me telling him. I feel like I shouldn't have to ask him to help. If he can't figure it out on his own then he doesn't deserve me telling him." A big, flashing, neon sign went on, right before my eyes. This is what I've been doing! This is me! Guilty as charged! I will stand in front of Jason, washing dishes or folding laundry or dressing kids or whatever, and he will just talk to me without even offering to help. I want him to help. I silently imagine myself poking his eyes out with rusty forks for not helping. But I don't say a word. Why am I too stubborn to ask him to help?

Am I the only one who struggles to effectively communicate my needs to my spouse? I mean, good grief, Jason just returned from 21 months away from home. He's been living in barracks, hotel rooms, tents, and trailers. He has been alone. He hasn't had to cook, clean, or care for children. Isn't it a bit unreasonable for me to expect him to come home and know what tasks need to be done without actually telling him? But that's what I've done. It's frustrating for me to have to explain how we do things at home... but how else is he supposed to know? And so what if he doesn't do things the way I'd do them myself? Any help is better than no help, right?

Maybe the reason parents of multiples struggle more with marriage (if that's true) is because we need to be better at asking for help. Help from each other, from friends, from family... It's hard to set aside the Super Mom mentality long enough to figure out how to ask for an extra hand. And when you're already outnumbered, an extra hand is really a nice thing to have.
With the backdrop of snow-covered mountains and a cozy fire, I expected that a weekend marriage retreat would be nice. What I didn't expect was the encouragement I felt from hearing other couples talk about their challenges (with one or two children) and the sense of accomplishment I felt from being able to say that Jason and I have survived the last 9+ years and are still madly in love with each other. I still want to strangle him on an almost-daily basis, but that's normal. For us, at least. Sometimes I secretly feel like it was easier having Jason gone because I didn't have the extra work of maintaining our marriage and I only had to focus on me & the kids and our survival. (Does that sound horrible or what?)

There is no doubt that having a baby changes everything. And having two babies at once really rocks your world. But a marriage can survive... even against all odds. Two years ago we had no money, had 6 children under the age of six, and were facing a long separation and move because of the deployment. Somehow we made it through all of that. Time is really the only thing that made it easier. I'm suddenly feeling as though I have survived the toughest part of my life or something. Like things can only get easier from here on out.
If you have multiples, how has it affected your marriage? Has it been harder than you expected? If you don't have multiples, how have you made it through the rough patches in your marriage?

(And hey, if you are a single parent, my hat is off to you!)

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