Relationships. How can something be so beautiful and such a pain in the butt at the same time?
I mean I love that I get a built-in copilot for life; someone to sit next to me on his computer while I watch Millionaire Matchmaker, someone to listen to me vent after a hellish diaper explosion at the grocery store, someone to tell me I’m beautiful when I’m wearing me retainer and sweatpants. Someone to mow the lawn.
But unfortunately, being in a committed relationship also means that I have to do a bunch of stuff I don’t really want to do– Being in a marriage means that I sometimes have to listen to the “All Pearl Jam, All the Time” XM Radio station, I occasionally eat something besides Lucky Charms for dinner, and I often have to be patient and listen instead of just busting out my side of the story.
The dichotomy of amazing and excruciating is true in all relationships. But the transitions from moments pure bliss to pure annoyance can be so powerfully abrupt for couples who have kids together. I mean, one minute a wife’s heart melts for the man who is reading bedtime stories to her little angels, and the next minute she is annoyed as hell at the man who decides to give those angels chocolate after they brushed their teeth. Or one minute a husband finds himself appreciating his wife’s beauty, and the next minute he’s frustrated because she fell asleep in the kid’s bed again.
During times that there is more rolling our eyes at each other than gazing into each others eyes, my husband and I sometimes do something a little unorthodox: Since my husband is an engineer and I am a couples therapist, we tend to be pretty solution-oriented. Sometimes we are actually nerdtastic enough to literally make a new “relationship contract,” or three or four specific things we both vow to do differently in the future. These “vows” could be anything from “I promise let you remind me to see your perspective even when I’m hurt or angry myself” to “I promise to empty the garbage every time I see it full with a helping spirit instead of an annoyed spirit.” The only rules are that both of us have to agree to uphold each vow, and we give each other the benefit of the doubt that we are trying their best to uphold the new promises.
So the whole idea of updating our vows when things get rocky got me thinking ….
What if couples who were planning on having kids just cut to the chase and promised the right things to each other from the get-go? Could my husband and I have prevented this bizarre process of rewriting our original vows every time new realities and obstacles present themselves in our lives?
I believe that if couples planning on having kids did exactly that, their vows would look something like this:
1) I know that there will be many, MANY times when we are faced with decision to either nurture our relationship or nurture our kids, ourselves, or our hectic lives. I vow to keep in mind that even though you are an adult, you still need intentional nurturing, and I promise to continue to prioritize spending time with you and honoring your perspectives and preferences. I also promise to keep a positive attitude while I tolerate the infrequent, but inevitable times when our relationship will be set aside for the sake of focusing on the kids.
2) I promise to respect you and tolerate your methods of child-rearing, house-maintenance, etc, even when you do it differently than me. I vow to take a step back and ask myself if our kids are going to be damaged for life if you let them have donuts for breakfast, if the house is going to fall apart if you leave the dishes in the sink for a day, if the kids’ lives are going to be ruined if you send them to school in mismatched clothes.
3) I vow to take advantage of stolen moments to hug you, kiss you, squeeze your shoulder, smack your butt (Ahhh, butt-smacking: An important element of any healthy relationship.) or smile at you between the real-life moments of cleaning, parenting, working, car-pooling, and stressing. I vow to intentionally continue to give you those knowing, flirtatious looks, even if it means I have to ignore the fact that you’re changing a diaper in order to do so.
4) I promise to wake up each day with the perspective of “what can I do to make your life easier today and show acts of love toward you?” and I will genuinely acknowledge that you ask yourself the same question.
5) I promise to not keep track of your shortcomings or mistakes. Instead I will keep track of the things you get right, and intentionally remind you and myself of them daily. I will also make an effort to point out what I appreciate about you in front of our kids.
6) I will not simply let you know what’s wrong with what you did (or didn’t do); I will have enough faith in you to ask you directly for what I need and to know that we will negotiate such requests.
7) I expect that with added stress, hormonal changes, and crazy schedules, our sexual responses and needs might shift. I vow to be vulnerable enough to communicate my sexual needs and to prioritize figuring out ways to accommodate both of our needs.
8) I promise to hold your feelings of fear, anger, desperation, pain, and insecurity without defensiveness or judgement. I promise to share my own insecurities, fears, pain, and vulnerabilities without disguising them with anger.
9) I understand that even though we have other important people in our lives to consider and care-for, it is my goal to make sure you know that you matter to me and are respected by me…And I promise to let you know what I need from you to feel considered and respected.
10) If you make a mistake or forget one of these vows, I will lovingly remind you and will be quick to forgive. If I make a mistake or forget one of these vows, I am committed to being receptive to your reminders.
Yes, marriage ceremonies might lose some of their romance, but, if the bride and groom are planning on having kids, you have to admit that these vows capture a little more reality than “I vow to love and cherish you…”