What They Didn’t Tell Me About “Happily Ever After” and What It’s Taught Me

Here’s some food for thought. I read somewhere only a whopping 13% of married parents report they’re satisfied with the amount of time they get to spend as a couple with their partner after having children. I didn’t do the research and I don’t know where the statistic was pulled from, so I’m not claiming it’s true. I will say, however, that it doesn’t surprise me.

Honestly I have to say I don’t fall into that 13%. Aaron works in medicine, and even pre-covid the field was busy. During quarantine there were no elective surgeries, which drastically cut back his hours. I don’t think I’d ever seen him so much since we’d had children. Overall, though, the pandemic hasn’t changed his schedule. A regular, non-quarantine schedule has him gone before the kids are awake and – more often than not – back after they are in bed. Add parenting into the mix, and he’s working two full-time jobs. He is my Super Man.

I fell in love with him for many reasons, but the top five that come to mind when I get asked that question are always this:

  1. He took the time to court me – and around his busy schedule, he still attempts to court me. That’s a really important point to remember for later in the post.
  2. He handles absolutely everything with grace and a smile. He transitions seamlessly between work, social, and home lives with an amazing aplomb that I don’t know if I can ever achieve – and he does it all without complaining.
  3. He is spontaneous, charming, and fun. I don’t think that even needs explaining. He has been my best friend since the moment I met him, and I fall in love with him more and more as time passes.
  4. When things become difficult, he grabs a shovel and we dig into a trench together to fight our battles – he has never, ever left me alone when I need him. I know I can count on him to be there for me. We take care of each other, no questions asked. As a result, I feel very safe.
  5. He is not afraid of challenging me to be a better person, and telling me no. What’s more he does it in a way that still makes me feel valued and loved, he doesn’t tear me down when he is helping me to become better.
Henry Cavill in Man of Steel © 2013 – Warner Bros. Pictures

I know that list doesn’t seem related to the topic, but I wanted to illustrate something. I can rattle off those reasons at will because we spent a lot of time and energy building our relationship. We have been through a lot, and we had to learn how to make our marriage work. Aaron is not afraid of hard work, and he’s created an amazing life for our family. It didn’t come easily.

Marriage on its own requires effort. Constant, daily, mental-gymnastics-worthy effort that comes from both partners. I did not know this going into marriage. In fact, I could probably dedicate an entire blog page and podcast to the topic of what “Happily Ever After” really looks like, because it isn’t at all what I pictured. What I desperately wish someone had told me was this: All the time, energy, and sacrifice necessary to learn and grow together as a couple gets exponentially more difficult when you decide to have children.

I naively thought that having kids would not change our marriage. Everyone I came into contact with told me how much my life would change – no sleep, no sex, no time, no privacy, etc. No one mentioned the toll it would take on my marriage. No one warned me that all the time, energy and resources children consume are precious resources that get diverted from your marriage.

Maybe it doesn’t look like this for everyone. I certainly can’t speak for all married couples. But I do think the feeling is somewhat universal – I often long to spend time with Aaron like I did before life was so busy, and I can’t complete a simple, five minute task without at least 15 interruptions. Marriage looks different now, and there’s a lot of planning and labor (physical and mental) that goes into preparing for a night out.

All that effort and preparation can suck the spontaneity out of connecting with your partner. It’s not just children, other things soak up time and resources – work, exercise, separate hobbies, etc. When kids are involved, though, it’s not just your marriage on the playing field. A child’s observations of their parents’ emotional connection has a direct impact on their development. A lot of children grow up to model the behavior they witness in their parents’ marriage.

Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover © 2009 – Warner Bros. Pictures

I feel incredibly lucky. While I don’t get to spend as much time with Aaron as I want to sometimes, I’ve found someone who shares my opinion that a healthy marriage is important to raising healthy kids. To that end, I’m back to #1 on my list – Aaron didn’t just date me, he courted me. Although courtship is commonly thought of as dating, (I googled courtship, and they were all variants of this definition) that’s not what I think of when I hear the term “courtship”.

Characters of written works like Pride and Prejudice or Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing immediately spring to mind. I believe they had it right; courtship is to woo and win over the affections of the one you seek to marry. It is the flirtation, the gifts, the evenings out, the non-physical intimacy portion of the relationship. I personally believe it is something that should continue even after you get married. It’s not like your spouse suddenly becomes old news after you walk down the aisle. It can never hurt your relationship to keep treating someone as though they are the most precious and wonderful thing that has happened to you.

After children come into the picture, the frame shifts, and the picture isn’t the same anymore. Life happens. Some people don’t have children, but other things shape the relationship they are building.

From my experience as a parent, we grow and evolve individually and as a couple while we are learning to raise children. Children who we hope one day will be good, responsible people who add something to the world. A friend of mine phrased it well when we were talking about how uncertain parenting can be – the blind leading the blind. We are constantly guiding and correcting our children. We teach them passively as much as we do actively. They learn a lot from watching how we interact with the world. I hope that my sons watch their father and learn that love is more than words.

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

For me, although marriage is not what I pictured (and neither is parenthood), I am certain of one thing. I chose the right man as my partner. Yes, he is busy, and yes, we don’t spend much time together as a couple in this season of life. But he still courts me as we go through life.

I go to sleep every night – no matter what may have happened that day – without a shadow of a doubt that I am the most special, precious, and wonderful thing to him. Without each other, we would not have these children, or this life. It would look different. And we both cherish that knowledge, and work hard to show that love and appreciation in many ways. Sometimes it’s easy, most times it’s hard work. But it’s real, and it’s an exercise in understanding that even if life isn’t what we imagined growing up, we can shape the life we live.

“Nobody said it was easy, nobody said it would be this hard” – lyrics by Coldplay from The Scientist.

3 thoughts on “What They Didn’t Tell Me About “Happily Ever After” and What It’s Taught Me

  1. You got this right. Nothing is ever as easy as it seems. We all think our parents made it look easy, never seeing the behind the scenes interactions. Wishing you continued success on this journey we call life.

    Liked by 1 person

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