Taking a vacation in our city helped get my marriage and parenting focus back on track

February 4 | Guest post by Kristin Ireland
Photo by Mondays with Mac Photography.
Photo by Mondays with Mac Photography.

It was early 2011 and I was six years into my relationship with Tracy and two years into our marriage. I was thirty, pregnant with my first child, and life was going well. A former student of mine was in town and invited me for coffee. She had recently come out of the closet and even more recently suffered her first heartbreak.

We talked about lesbians and the ways we connect with one another. We laughed about U-Hauling, and third date cat adopting, and weekend DIY back-splash projects. And we talked about the way we tend to break-up. Never easy or quick — always long and drawn out. Messy and intermingled. We date for six months and then break-up for six years. It's our way.

"What's marriage like?" She asked, eyes wide with curiosity. I thought about it for a few minutes and rubbed my not-quite-yet-showing belly.

"Waking up and choosing to stay married is the easiest decision I make every day." I said telling her the complete truth. I watched as her posture relaxed and she smiled. My answer reassured her. I was playing my part in an It Gets Better script and was happy to be in the position to offer hopefulness.

Two years later things feel so different. My love for my wife is still strong enough to rock me to my core when I allow it. When I sit and think about all that we have, and all that we've done, and all that we are, I can feel my heart burst with gratitude.

If you know me, you know that I adore my wife.

But we were struggling. Parenthood came with all of its work and exhaustion and then postpartum depression hit and we haven't been managing those new challenges well. We went from being each other's warm, safe, place to fall into at the end of the day to adversaries who yell and scream and take out all of our frustrations on the other person. It's not like this every day, of course, but the grumpy, angry, days are creeping in more and more frequently. Like a spec of mold that, left untreated, feeds and spreads and takes over until everyone is sick.

We knew we needed to make some changes. We needed to go back to the simple advice my late mother-in-law once gave me: "Marriage is easy," she whispered hoarsely as getting oxygen into her lungs was a struggle, "you just find someone you like talking to and be kind to them."

Tracy and I used to love talking to one another. We did it all day long every day. We talked long into the evening, our conversations getting muddled and less sensical as one or both of us drifted off to sleep. But lately we exchange as few words as possible. She tells me about her day at work and I half listen while trying to keep our son Mac from climbing the TV and the second she's done her story I don't offer my thoughts or opinions I just move the conversation onto the agenda items I need to address before passing Mac to her so I can head out to one of my commitments. There is very little talking. There is even less kindness.

One day just after Christmas I spent twenty minutes crying in my car before I came in the house. There was no hiding the red eyes from my wife. Instead I sat on the living room floor and let the rest of the tears come. She took her seat beside me and rubbed my back. She didn't ask why I was crying. She just held me and waited. And before long we were both in tears. We leaned onto each other and let the heavy weights on our chests find a shoulder to rest on.

"Do you still love me?" I asked. All blotchy-eyed and snotty-nosed. The look of shock on her face told me that she did. "Do you still love me?" She responded. Always one to turn the tables. Nobody answered. Nobody needed to. Mac was already in bed and we sat on the floor for hours. We talked and we fought. We aired our resentments. And we defended our shortcomings. We put it all out on the table. Parts of it ugly and gory. Other parts beautiful but vulnerable. And once it was there we started to take inventory. We made plans and started negotiations. I see your not leaving dishes in the living room and raise you not being on the phone during dinner.

And so it went. Back and forth. High stakes marital negotiations.

And we vowed to start the new year off on a new foot. We promised to speak with love and to simply speak more in general. I wanted to start off this new year with a surprise trip but we aren't big travellers and are even less likely to travel on snowy roads. So I booked a night away in downtown Ottawa and whisked my family (15 minutes) away for a relaxing vacation.

Within sixty seconds of check-in Mac had scanned the suite and found both remotes. He's basically a blood hound for gadgets. Tracy and I admired the soft looking king sized bed and took turns settling in for a warm bath before heading out on the town.

With Mac happily tucked into the Onya Baby Carrier we started to explore our city through tourist eyes. We had lunch in a new place and ordered a glass of wine in the middle of the afternoon. We shopped at the little shops we usually avoid because they don't have parking. And we held hands.

With Mac napping against my wife's chest we decided to duck into a coffee shop and relax with a cup of coffee. There was nobody there to take our pictures paparazzi-style but that didn't stop me from initiating our very own Re-Engaged Session without the photographic evidence. We talked and we talked and we talked. And we fell in love all over again.

With Mac thoroughly rested we headed back out into the cold to see the lights on parliament hill before returning to the suite for dinner and snuggles. Mac loved watching the cars out the window. And we loved the simple change in scenery. Before heading home in the morning we took our son out for breakfast at the restaurant that hosted his moms' wedding. It was the perfect ending to a perfect weekend. Being back in that space where I promised to love, honour, and cherish the woman sitting across from me helped me to remember all the reasons why we got there in the first place. It was a vow renewal of sorts — even if it was only in my head.

As we arrived back home Tracy put the car in park and reached her hand over to mine. "Thank-you for this," she said, her eyes holding my gaze, "this was the best vacation I've ever had. And the travel wasn't bad either."

If I was to have that 2011 conversation with the broken-hearted young lesbian again now my answer might be a bit longer. I would admit that sometimes marriage is hard work. But I would still tell her that waking up and choosing to stay married is the easiest decision I make every day.

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  1. I don't cry at things I read. Really, I just don't. But my marriage is a little bit difficult just now, and I teared up reading this. Thank you.

    14 agree
    • I'm sorry to hear that it's difficult. I don't think any of us has a marriage that is perfect at all times. But there are enough perfect times to make it all worth while. I hope easier times are on the horizon.

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      • I think so. It's good to have the perspective and remember how much small things can help.

  2. Thank you for writing, thank you for sharing. I actually called in to Dan Savage about how rough our first year of parenthood was, mostly focusing on how it was affecting our sex life, but we also went through/are going through a very similar experience to yours in all ways – and he actually told me "It gets better… for parents." Your piece really helps reinforce that. Thanks.

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    • Things definitely get better! But sometimes we need to take a part in that process instead of waiting for it to happen don't we? Our first year of parenthood was pretty amazing. It seems that the second year has been the most challenging for us.

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      • My depression, whether you want to call it post-partum or not, hit at about the 10-month mark. I was going back to work and things started to seem like such a grind. It is getting better, but I think people focus so much on the first year, when it can be the second year that is quite tricky as you try to get life "back on track".

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  3. Parenting as a couple is such, such a hard thing, and yet it seems so few and far between to read people being honest about it. Thanks so much for sharing the hard stuff.

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  4. I just did something similar with my husband on MLK day. We put our son in daycare (to keep the routine, since it's so new) and explored our town for awhile. It was lovely to see the city through the eyes of a tourist (but not actually have to BE tourists). It made me feel closer to him and re-kindled some 'us' time that we've been missing.

    • Sometimes it can be so simple to make a change isn't it? Then we wonder why we didn't do it sooner!

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  5. Thank you for sharing your story. I love that you freely shared your challenges. So helpful and hopeful for other couples. And the solutions you created-I applaud the two of you for figuring out how to fall back in love again!!

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    • As hard as it's been she's still my favourite adult in the whole world. Sometimes I just need to remember that.

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  6. I really, really appreciate this story. I'm still pretty on the fence about actually pulling the trigger and having kids, and then changes to my relationship are a big part of that, so I'm incredibly appreciative when people are open about the struggles.

    • Parenthood is hard. And amazing. And hard. And amazing. Wishing you lots of peace in whatever decision you make.

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  7. Thank you for this, so so much. After a pretty idyllic few months after having my son, everything changed for me and my partner when I went back to work. It's hard to be honest about how even the best, most loving relationships can be very difficult. It makes sense that you should devote the most time, kindness and thought to sustaining and building the relationship with your partner – but we certainly forgot all about it. Shortly after my son's first birthday, everything came to a head and we almost ended what has been 13 years of fantastic and 3 months of yuck. We're still working through some of the issues that having a child has highlighted -but I feel that we're getting stronger daily. And that ultimately, we will be a better us than we were before. And better role-models for our amazing kid.. xx

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  8. Thank you so much for this! My wife and I are going through a very similar experience. Our son just turned 1 a month ago, and this really has been the most amazing, and challenging, year of my life! She too, is my most favorite adult in the world! And I go to bed every night thankful for her and loving her. But the stressful times make it so hard. Counseling is helping us re-connect, re-respect, and begin to understand one another again. I couldn't imagine spending my life with anyone else. And it really helps to know we aren't the only ones! Thank you!!

  9. I also appreciated the honesty and reflection of a marriage, regardless of genders. My partner and I have two amazing girls and the oldest is 9. While they are the greatest gift, parenting and partnership can be most frustrating, terrifying and frightening along with wonderful, loving and incredible at the same time. It takes work to evolve together and thrive. I am so thankful when I look over at a party at my love of 15 years and she smiles back. We know we are there in the good, the bad and all the days in between. For that, I am so appreciative. Love does make our world go round. May you continue to find that spark. It is so worth the effort.

  10. Wow. This is very inspiring and couldn't come at a better time. With a 2 month old, our marriage is on the rocks to say the least. Last night my husband asked me "When did we start hating each other?" and I wanted to say "8 weeks ago". He has a harder time with my PPD then I do so I just rolled over and went to sleep. I hope we can get back to where we once were.

  11. Such a beautiful post – you had me crying into my coffee this morning! I'm getting married in a year and I sometimes wonder/worry about the stress that comes with having the children we hope to have someday. But then I think about Scarlett O'Hara – "I can't think about that now, I'll think about that tomorrow." Kristin, thank you for your enriching story, I wish your family warm love as you all continue to grow and learn together.

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  12. I teared up reading this. I really needed this. I am going through something similar. Problem is: I'm not sure if this is something my husband AND I are going through or if it's just me. We have the most amazing, beautiful 4 month old but it seems like things are not the same. Of course we argue and bicker, nothing out of the norm. However, I've been feeling distant from him. I feel fed up, tired, sad, irritated but can't pin point why. He is an amazing man, a great father and he is good to me. I love him with all my heart but for some reason I am not happy. When you mentioned the "marital negotiations" it sort of hit a spot for me. He doesn't seem to show interest in spending time with me outside of home. Like going for a walk, having dinner or even coffee. When we are home, he is on his phone (FB & Instagram) and watching his sports. I'm always on Pinterest. I would love to talk things over with him but I know he wouldn't think that there is a problem. I have tried talking with him before and he didn't see or feel what I did at the time. So we ended up arguing and I gave up….regretted that I even initated that conversation. Your post made me realize that we either need to work something out or things won't work out.
    Thank you for sharing….

    • As someone who has totally been one half of a couple that was letting digital distractions get in the way of communicating: I suggest unplugging at a certain point at night when you're home together. For example, my husband and I de-sync our phones so we're not able to use them for anything online at 7pm. Sometimes we watch a movie together, sometimes we hang out and talk, and sometimes we're both reading and not really talking to each other, but we're there together. It has helped us more than I can begin to get into, so if you're feeling the idea… maybe try it out?

      I also think it's important to initiate these discussions without being defensive. That's super hard — in our relationship, we would both immediately defend our actions instead of just hearing the other person out. It took forever for us to just chill the fuck out and listen to each other.

      I am TOTALLY not an expert, but I wanted to offer that up in case it can help!

      • Thank Stephanie. I do appreciate you taking the time to relpy to my "venting", if you would. I think I'll try your suggestion tonight and see how that goes. I tried talking to him yesterday but I held back a lot of what I really wanted to say. Yes, it is sooo hard to ONLY listen to what he has to say without getting defensive. We both are guilty of doing so, however, it is more often just me than him. He really can't say anything to me without me taking offense and he's always telling me to relax, he doesn't mean harm behind his words.
        I guess, aside from my concerns about my marriage, I've been thinking a lot about the type of person I am and how I've always wanted to change but just can't. I don't know….I am confused and not happy but I can't pinpoint why.
        Sorry for rambling on and off subject.

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