How to avoid the marriage rut after children
With all the sleepless nights, scratchiness and pressure from the in-laws, it’s sometimes hard to understand why so many young people want to get married and have babies as soon as possible. Yes, marriage is a fine thing, but only rarely do people acknowledge the fact that it has its darker extremes – fury, jealousies, and bitter remarks are just as much part of the piece as are cuddles, back rubs, and breakfasts in bed.
Throw kids into the mix, and the pressure can really start to mount. If you’re on the verge of matrimony, get ready for some hard work. Like any intimate human relationship – especially one with such close proximity, high expectations, and sacrifice of independence – marriage has all the conditions for bringing out the worst in us. The stakes are raised after you have children, when you’ll find that beyond the energy you need to devote to child rearing, nurturing your own relationship is among the most important factors in your parenting.
For parents who are married or in a de facto situation, one of the problems is that the very presence of children in the house, with their constant, unrelenting demands for attention, tends to overshadow the needs of the relationship. Too many couples put off resolving their own issues for the sake of spending more time with their children – the result being to threaten the stability of the family itself.
Even so, there are some great marriages and fantastic parents out there, even in a city like this one, with its unique pressures and temptations making it even harder for parenting couples to put themselves first. For local father of two Sean Collins, one of the key factors in keeping an international marriage intimate has been to eschew a few Vietnamese traditions so as to preserve a good measure of husband and wife alone time.
Local wisdom usually sees parents cosleeping with young kids, disregarding the more Western concept of the sanctity of the marriage bed – but Sean advises holding on to that private space. “You have to make time for each other,” he says. “Get the kids their own room, and don’t let them sleep in your room after six months.” Similarly, local hospitality can sometimes interfere with a loving couple’s time. “Try to control the amount of time you have visitors in your house,” he advises. “In Vietnam in particular, that can be a nightmare.”
For local business owner Steve Mueller, 16 years in Vietnam and a happy family home is the result of applying some fairly universal truths to a multicultural situation which can – and often does – go wrong.
“A big part of it is trust,” he says. “I think that being a foreigner in a country where she’s from, you already bring yourself to a level of tolerance and understanding of being in a different society, which helps you understand that ‘I’ve got to work harder at this.’ I knew that going into it, so I didn’t expect her to understand every idiosyncrasy that I have and vice versa. We didn’t come into it thinking that it’s a given thing that we were going to understand each other, so we really had to work hard.”
Steve acknowledges the pressures that living in Saigon can bring to a relationship – particularly with regards to different financial and cultural expectations – but found that having children helped rather than hindered the marriage.
“Kids seal the deal and the bond,” he says. “In the early days, we had our difficulties financially. It would have been pretty easy to say ‘it’s not working.’ We never got to that point, but there were some tough times there. When a child comes along, it’s like – look at this, this is ours. It adds so much to the relationship.”
While living in Vietnam does involve additional difficulties, the one advantage families do have here is the availability and affordability of hired help. “That’s a big deal,” says Steve. “Sometimes we take that for granted. Sometimes we’re like, ‘You know what, this kid’s driving us crazy. Nanny, here you go.’ It’s a luxury here in Vietnam, you can have help in the home. It’s easy to understand how children can bring a lot more stress, but here, we can go out as a couple and not have to worry about our kids. To keep a relationship exciting, you always have to have the balance. Work, play, kids – it’s all got to be in balance. The nanny helps out a lot with that.”
So when you do acknowledge the need for balance in the relationship, how do you ensure that the time you do spend together is everything it needs to be? Mother of two Nix Juban follows some simple techniques that sound more like a couple who’ve just met than a husband and wife who are already a fair way into a lifetime together.
“Don’t stop having dates,” she says. “We have a weekly scheduled date together – we used to call it Mondate, but now it’s moved to Wednesdate. Don’t feel guilty when you do go out, either. We talk about anything and everything without many limitations – there are no rules except being respectful to each other.”
While communication is vital, so is keeping that spark alive. “We still flirt,” she says. “We still try to look and smell nice, have our dates, watch TV series together, and we don’t worry much about the grand gestures – big gifts and so on – we just try to make the little moments count. It’s those frequent little things that are important and not the big ones. It tends to keep the momentum constant as opposed to always waiting for the next big thing.”
Nix has one final piece of simple advice parents everywhere should take to heart: “Have an active love life, if you know what I mean!”
Keeping the Flame Lit
Recent polls show that 55 percent of married couples are only intimate twice a month or even less – if you don’t want to become just another bedroom statistic, here are a few tips:
It’s easier to get the heartbeat racing after the kids have gone to bed if the thoughts have been floating around all day – exchange suggestive texts and emails to let each other know that tonight’s the night.
Date at Home
You can’t just shut the kids in the closet while you go out to catch a movie – but you can get a bottle of wine and candles ready before snuggling up in front of the TV. Extra points for putting the movie on pause while you make out.
Do it Anyway
Half of the problem is getting started – with kids, there’s usually only a limited time for the romantic signals to create the right atmosphere, by which time it can be too late. Trust your body to respond with its own enthusiasm even if you’re not in the mood – your marriage will thank you for it.
You have to take a wash anyway – doing it together saves both time and water, so it’s great for the environment as well as for your libido.
Time to Go to Bed
Lots of married couples do not go to bed at the same time. Remember that both of you have to be under the sheets – and be awake – if anything’s going to happen in there.
How Do I Love Thee
Remind each other that you’re in love, not just bunking together. Compliment each other, hug a lot, and be romantic – try writing love letters and hiding them for each other to find.
Watch this, Kids
You don’t want to behave inappropriately in front of your children, but it’s still important to let them know that you’re happy together. Don’t be shy to kiss or hold hands while your kids are in the room – and teach them to respect your privacy when you need to be alone.
You agreed to be in this relationship for life, so if you’re facing problems the two of you can’t resolve by yourselves, seek professional advice. Ask at one of the international clinics that has a counseling service, or seek medical attention for physiological impediments to your love life – don’t shrug it off as unimportant.