I was recently traveling with my husband and our 5 and 2 year old daughters for a “vacation.” I use the word vacation in quotes because anyone knows that when you are traveling anywhere with small children, it feels far from a vacation. Vacation implies peace, rest and relaxation. I like to use the words “trip” or “change of venue” when referring to our extended time away from home with young children.
On this particular trip, we headed to the mountains of North Carolina. I tentatively dreamed of hiking to waterfalls, toasting marshmallows by the fire pit, and enjoying some of the local restaurants. And yes, we did successfully make it to the beautiful, serene waterfall, and enjoyed it for all of its glory…but then I also carried a screaming toddler the 2 mile hike back to the car. And I did get to sit and dine at a cute little local restaurant, on a perfect sunny summer day, with a bit of music playing in the background and a hamburger that was to die for. But…..I also ended up eating alone as my husband took our squabbling children out of the restaurant, leaving me to box up the remaining food for him and the kids.
Here’s what I noticed about these situations. In the moment we walked up to the beautiful waterfall and breathed in the fresh mountain air, I thought “This is so amazing! I’m so glad we are all here together as a family to enjoy this! We should do these kinds of hikes every single day! How beautiful!” And then, literally 37 seconds later, as I carried my screaming toddler on my hip for 2+ miles, I thought “This was the worst idea EVER! I’m never ever ever doing this again. What was I thinking?? Traveling with kids is completely insane. We are going home immediately!”
After I wrestled my unbelievably strong 2 year old into her car seat (seriously, how the heck is a 2 year old stronger than me??!) I thought about the wide range of emotions I just felt. I thought about how I went from planning bi-monthly mountain family getaways to swearing off all trips with kids for eternity.
It’s kind of like the days off of work when I stay at home with the kids. They are playing wonderfully together and I hear their laughter echo down the hallway as I’m making dinner. And I think….”I would love to be home full-time. That would be so great to be with my kids all day every day. I mean, they are only young once right?” Then, a half a second later, the bliss turns to complete chaos as my kids are screaming bloody murder over who gets the baby doll with the curly hair and there is pushing, screaming and doors slamming as I say to my husband who calls during the chaos, “I’m going back to work full-time! Let’s meet tomorrow to scout out a daycare with no waitlist.”
The thing about kids is we can’t get rid of them. We can vacillate through this wild range of emotions in parenthood, but there is no “I’m leaving. I’m divorcing you kids.” Even in the lowest lows of parenting, we know we are likely going to stick this thing out til the kids turn 18 and much beyond that.
With marriage, the wild ride of emotions is no different. But there is one major difference…choice. In one minute, your spouse is wonderful and you couldn’t imagine life without them. And the next, when they act like a complete buffoon, you think “I can’t do this anymore!! You are so impossible! I don’t know why I put up with this! Maybe I made a mistake? Maybe we have just grown into two totally different people? Maybe we shouldn’t be together after all?”
And then, when the dust settles and the moment passes, you think, “Maybe it’s not so bad after all….” And, if you are really good at repair and reconnection, you forget why you were even so mad in the first place. However, if you are in a distressed relationship, these spinning thoughts start to feel like absolute truths.
Dr. Sue Johnson (my favorite couples expert ever whom you will hear me credit over and over) talks a lot about the power of reconnecting. How important it is for couples, not necessarily to avoid or perfectly navigate all moments of contention, but to know how to find their way back to each other again, after they lose their minds. Much like with my children, who can push my buttons until I’m seeing red, can minutes later turn to me and whisper “I love you, Mommy” and literally all is good in the world. At this point, I just want to hug and kiss them and their screams over their hotdogs not being cut to their liking seem like a distant memory. When couples know how to restore and reconnect, the impact is EXACTLY the same. Anger turns into a forgiving hug, sadness turns into a shared wiped tear and anxiety turns into a calm embrace. I’m not kidding…the swiftness in which this change can take place is mind-blowing, when you learn to do it.
What to do
Learn the skill of repair and reconnection. It consists of addressing the hurt in your partner or yourself, asking or listening for what is needed that would help it feel better and then doing it until you or your partner does feel better. If you need some help with this, check out any of our posts under our link “marital hurts.” You can also read about it more in depth in Dr. Johnson’s book “Hold Me Tight.”
- Marriage can consist of a wild range of emotions, from love to distress, in seconds.
- All marriages involve distressing moments of disconnection and hurt.
- Long-lasting marriages succeed because they know how to repair and reconnect after these inevitable hurts.
- Use your resources to learn how, i.e. this blog 🙂 or books like “Hold Me Tight” by Dr. Sue Johnson.