Talk to any parent of a toddler or a teenager and you instantly ache for them. Between teething, potty training, and saying, “NO!” to driving, dating, and ditching school, you know what every parent absolutely must go through during those times (even if you don't have kids, you've heard your friends and co-workers talking about it).
But what no one is talking about are the terrible-twos of a marriage. You know that nobody's perfect and everyone has their share of problems. And even though most people don't air their dirty laundry about their relationship to everyone around them, when you don't hear about it, it's natural to assume that their relationship is perfect.
“Oh not them! They have the best marriage! I never hear her complain about her husband. What's there to complain about? He actually bathes the kids and puts them to bed every night!”
When you're feeling tired and run-down because your son is learning how to use the potty, you know there's an end in sight. Even if your child is kind of slow with the process, you secretly count down how many times he's made it in time versus how many accidents he's had. You can taste the freedom!
However, it's just not the same in marriage. There is no magical countdown for when he's no longer stressed from his boss at work. There's no chart hanging on the wall in your gyno's office that shares, “How to Get Him to Act Interested in You Again.” (Your pediatrician's office is bursting at the seams with pictures and brochures and info on how to get your child to sleep through the night, share, stop biting and more!)
Just like humans, marriages also have certain time frames and milestones. I think one reason why you don't hear about those a lot is that there is no specific time frame for those developments in the same way there is for teething, puberty, menopause, or retirement. You may have heard jokes about The Seven Year Itch, and while that may ring true for many couples, it's a little more complicated than simply being married for seven years.
Knowing what's typical in a marriage (or any committed relationship) can help you to stop worrying and know what to do to help your relationship survive and get stronger as a result. Here's what you need to know:
- Growing pains can be stressful, but they are a good sign. While the unknown is always a bit scary, the fact that you're experiencing them means you've made it to the next phase. Congratulations! Do you know how many couples never make it this far?
- “A change in one, is a change in all.” Breaking that down, it means if mama ain't happy, ain't no body happy. If dad's stressed out at work, then everyone in the family is going to feel it in some way (even down to the baby who's crying more than normal and not sleeping through the night). If your son's baseball practice schedule is intense, everyone is going to feel the pains of late dinners.
- All change is a transition and comes with some hesitation and tense moments, even good change. Think back to your wedding day. A momentous occasion, but stressful. You probably had more spats with your mom over seating charts and invitation lists than you've ever had before or after. Keeping this in mind and adjusting your expectations during the terrible two's can go a long way.
- The hard times don't last forever. Even though you may not have one of those trusty little charts from the doctor's office to guide you through this, you can make your own chart. In your phone or on a calendar, use smiley faces and frowny faces to mark the mood in the air. Once the smiley faces start to get a little consistent, you'll know relief is coming soon!
The terrible two's and teenage years of marriage often accompany some other big change in your lives. Things like a new job, buying a house, moving across the country, having a baby, each milestone that your kids reach, and changes in your own personal lives will affect your marriage. Being prepared and knowing what to expect- but more importantly, knowing that it's normal and it's a good sign of growth and change, can help you to navigate through those moments.