I don’t typically dole out marriage advice because I don’t set the best example, but if you want to learn from my experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly, I can offer some words of wisdom based on our first 10 years.
The first year was difficult. We traveled often for work and only saw each other on the weekends. We weren’t making time for one another. About 6 months into our marriage, we had a “come to Jesus.” If we did not prioritize each other and our marriage, we weren’t going to make it to our first anniversary. Thankfully, we were able to rearrange travel schedules. We began a tradition of eating breakfast together every morning at a local restaurant. That tradition continued from 2007 until 2015 – through kids and moves!
Getting pregnant the first time for us wasn’t easy. It may have been my age, my cancer diagnosis or a variety other factors, but we discussed becoming parents prior to marriage. We knew if we couldn’t conceive on our own, adoption was definitely in our cards. We were meant to be a parents. As uncomfortable as these discussions are, they must be had.
Bringing a child into a family is challenging, to say the least. Roles and responsibilities should be defined for each person to feel supported. It is the hardest job and one you cannot resign from and find a new one. You are partners in this new company, figuratively and literally. When we had Sam, Dan was a pioneer – he took 4 weeks FMLA (unpaid) to be at home to help with Sam. Dan, I love you, but “Help?” Let’s be real – our garage was never cleaner. “Help” was a stretch. (Don’t worry, readers. I make amends for this comment). I realize now you were overwhelmed and unsure what to do, so you kept yourself busy during those first 4 weeks and cleaning the garage was your way of dealing. Thank you.
Enter November 2009. Without going into a lot of detail, on his own, Dan made the decision to stop drinking. He has been sober since. I couldn’t be more proud of him because Lord knows, the kids and I give him plenty of reasons to grab a cold alcoholic beverage.
Life brought us a huge blow when we lost my brother, Michael, in January 2011. While it was not a drug overdose, drugs certainly played a huge role. And, not just recreational drugs, prescription drugs were involved. (This is, indeed, a crisis we need to address in the U.S.) Dan and I, again, were faced with some tough challenges as a couple. My brother had died, we were living in IL, 15-hours from my family and all I wanted to be home…in MD, with my family.
I was sad and becoming depressed. Upon Dan’s suggestion, I sought therapy from a grief counselor, who also happened to be a marriage counselor. I highly recommend marriage counseling, and not when your marriage is in a bad place. Learn the tools you need to communicate when you are in a good frame of mind with your partner. Trust me, those tools come in handy…often.
We were blessed with Amy in November 2011. We weren’t trying to conceive at that point because I was still dealing with the death of my brother, however G-d knows when intervention is required. Thanksgiving is a holiday we always spend with my family and that first Thanksgiving without Michael was going to be tough. Amy was born Thanksgiving weekend. A blessing to ease the pain.
She completed our family. For us, having a second child made life easier. And, I like to share this with expectant parents. It’s encouraging to hear – it eases some of their anxiety, and it was the truth, for us.
Dan and I married at a more “mature age.” I had Sam at 37 and Amy at 39.
That means for the majority of my adult life, I lived alone. I was able to focus on me and my 4-legged children. I was selfish because I could be. It was all about Rachel, living in Rachel’s World. Bringing a partner and children into your life means you will never be selfish again. You will learn to prioritize your needs to care for yourself (or you will at least strive to do this), but as a life partner and parent, it’s really difficult to be selfish. Rarely can you do what you want, when you want, when you are in a marriage, particularly with children. By having 2 children, there was no more keeping score as to who changed the last diaper, who fed Sam last. It became a man-to-man defense. A tag-team effort. And, for us, that was, and remains a better dynamic for our family unit. We do regularly remind each other, “You have Sam and I have Amy,” but again, it comes down to good communication and supporting one another. Dan and I find we have to work on this ALL.OF.THE.TIME. Just recently, I reminded him “we are on the same team.”
I will treat the recap of this article as my 10-year marriage vow to my husband:
“I, Rachel Mennell, promise to you, Daniel Mennell, to:
- Prioritize you and our marriage
- Work with you as a partner in parenting “we are on the same team” and to have those tough discussions, even if I don’t want to
- Define roles and responsibilities, stick to that plan and not try to control everything (this is gonna be tough, but I am going to make it happen)
- Remind you how proud I am of you for making the decision not to drink
- Not “keep score,” although I do believe you are owed a few “men’s nights.”
- Utilize the tools we learned marriage counseling (including not chasing you into other rooms to continue discussions you are trying to break away from to cool down and remain calm)
- Share our positive experiences with other parents instead of scaring the heck out of them with stories of failures, and
- Practice good communication skills.”