Whole Parenting Family

Twinges of Cynicism in Marriage

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Cleaning out my closet which has been a project nearly a year in the making, most of that time just in my head, I came upon this journal we had written in during our honeymoon. Nearly six years ago. We had these beautiful goals for our marriage. These really, truly lovely and lofty ideals of how we would proceed in developing our lives together.

I read them with a little bit of a sneer. How idealistic. How childlike. Clearly I hadn’t experienced the devastation of pregnancy on my whole body. Clearly I hadn’t felt the disruption of sleep for years on end. Clearly I hadn’t fought with the haze of long hours without each other hanging between us, that resentment of your hardworking lover whose absence pains you.

Then I read them aloud to AA.

I choked up a little. Okay, a lot.

Maybe because our beloved friends in Scythian have been in town (the kids are WILD about Joey. Very wild about Tim, too!) and I’ve been listening to their new album, Old Tin Can, and weeping copiously especially at Clare to Here and our first wedding dance they played in our front yard, If Ever You Were Mine.

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Why have I become–dare I say?–cynical? Why is everyday about surviving the tests and tantrums, the deadlines and stresses, somehow pulling dinner out of a magic hat, and crashing or retreating to my computer or sewing machine to get revitalized before another day of the same? Why do I scoff at me & my young lover’s heart that longed for beauty and unity at every turn?

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Do you see that Alexander is actually playing the fiddle and the shaker at the same time??

After some processing with my Olson girls at a recent get together over ice fishing and chili, and some interior processing (so much more difficult than blabbing aloud), I’ve reached a few conclusions as to why I’m not actually a cynic but how I could be softer and more loving a heart.

1) Wedding day is simply one day.

You think planning your wedding is so hard. The details! The guest who won’t RSVP! The in-laws! It’s a day in your life to make a commitment in front of your nears & dears. A joyous day, but simply one day that marks a turning tide.

The flowery feelings I had on our honeymoon were wonderful but less mature in many ways than the complexity of feelings we share for each other. As well it should be. It’s been six years and we’ve endured job instability, then kids, now lots and lots of work for both of us and not enough time, watched our extended family grow and recede with births and losses.

I’m more me than I was then, and he’s more him, and we’re also more us.

2) Pregnancy and children force bonding.

I was an autonomous adult woman marrying an independent man. We relied on each other for comfort, verbal affirmation, affectionate love, and sharing the laughs and tears of the day. Then I got pregnant. Suddenly I actually needed him.

Like, really dependent on his patience, kindness, and ability to stomach both another person’s vomit and incessant inability to do a single thing. And now I’ve gone through this three times.

Cue the tiny violins.

I need him. In a real live way. And that’s humbling but actually a wonderful way that I can be vulnerable emotionally as well.

3) Time together is very limited.

Remember me talking about needing to have dating time again? We’ve tried to implement many of the great ideas you guys gave me! Of course, we’ve fallen back into survival mode a bit as life has been really chaotic and fast lately.

Until BabyLoves can be left without one of us in the evening, we’ve embraced the date-at-home motif. But to actually be present to each other and not “get stuff done” around the house when the kids are all asleep is hard. It takes mindfulness. It takes committing time to it. And crowding out the to-do list and just being.

Reading aloud to each other has been a fav lately, whether it’s the news or a book. Just to experience something together. Finding some little gem to share with each other each day has been a special new thing too. Whether a news article, or a funny video of the kids, or a recipe I’m drooling over, just that little nugget that’s for each other.

4) Stop treating your spouse like another kid.

If you’re used to being primary childcare provider, I don’t have to explain this, do I? If you share childcare or both work, I’m sure you endure your marital annoyances in other areas, or maybe you share this one. I can nag, be annoyed, and chock up whatever happened or failed to happen to be having to take care of another person!!!!

To overcome this, I remember that he is gracious enough to overlook my many many faults and never chide me about them. If he forgets something, or many things, or takes lots of reminders to remember, or maybe I should let somethings just slide through my semi-type A fingers. And he takes care of me in more ways than I can count. So suck it up if he forgets to respond to an RSVP or leaves his glasses at home again. I leave cleaning the bathrooms until they are unspeakably dirty, always neglect ironing his shirts, and love to spend time in front of the computer instead of doing these two simple tasks. Talk about acting like a kid!!

5) Love recklessly.

I remind myself we’re in it for the long haul, together. Marriage is for life. When I remember we will have each other for a long time (God willing), I can let go of some of my frustrations that we don’t get enough time together, our children are small and highly dependent right now, and my self-consciousness about aging not as gracefully as I had envisioned. The years will continue to get better if I choose to go deeper and love more recklessly like that newlywed wanted to.

6) Keep saying yes.

Love either goes deeper or out when life is drudging along and mundane. I want to say yes to the early mornings when he’s gone to work and all three kids are crying and I want to hide under my pillow. I want to say yes to making dinner so when he’s home after a long day I don’t just rant and rave about my annoyances from the day while he’s starving because I packed a paltry lunch the night before. I want to say yes to being fully present with him when we are together instead of running through my infinitely unfinished lists.

Just like I said yes almost six years ago. I just didn’t really know what I was saying yes to and it’s slowly unfurling over time.

7) Tell me your wisdom.

I’m like a baby in comparison with so many of my sweet readers who have been married much longer than six years. Tell me what you’ve done when you re-encounter that newlywed vision of marriage and feel twinges of cynicism.

But also, rock out with our favorite band. It really was a magical week with them here. Support them on their tour of the new album & go to the show, tell a friend or four.

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Linking with Kelly & the crew for 7 quick takers.




  1. Camilla on February 27, 2015 at 7:32 am

    Well, I’ve only got 20 years into the marriage thing, but here’s what I would add. First of all you nailed it with the “love recklessly” thing. You signed up to love your spouse until death do you part, and love never fails, so do it fiercely. In any way you can. The other thing I learned is that marriage is a building project. The bigger the building project, the messier and more stressful, and sometimes the harder to see what you’re building. But, as Sarah @ Amongst Lovely Things will tell you, with your family, you are building a cathedral. You and your spouse and children reflect Gods Holy Trinity. When I remember that, I can rest in the chaos and mess (yes, those building plans I gave up on a long time ago because they were not realistic and we started winging it). I rest in Him. I adore and love and serve my husband in anyway I can, to glorify God for giving him to me as a provider, protector, and leader. I reflect on Mary and imitate her love and patience and perfect parenting to the best of my ability (I’m sure she never swore when Baby Jesus woke up in the middle of the night). Sometimes we hold on to pieces for dear life and pray the storm doesn’t blow it all down–the storm of job loss, financial hardship, terminal illness, and we scramble to keep it all together. And when the storm blows away, we found we reinforced some weak areas we never would have worked on. And so now, 20 years in, I feel we are finally mostly built (by no means “finished”). When I look at my husband at any given moment, we are standing on solid foundation, and we look at each other always with a hint of victory at how we have come through it all together, clinging to Christ. We still have a long road ahead, but I’m confident now when I think “I’d do it all again and I wouldn’t change a thing.” I think at six years in you are still pouring foundations and framing. Keep going. Build fiercely. Love fiercely. Keep your eyes on Jesus and cling to Him. It is Him you glorify every minute of your married life, so do it all for Him! Yes, now my coffee is cold. God bless you!

    • Natural Mama Nell on February 27, 2015 at 9:05 am

      Oh I just love all of your wisdom!!

  2. Mary on February 27, 2015 at 7:35 am

    Love these. It’s so so so easy to forget that God desires our Marriage to thrive and be amazing and not just get us by. I think remembering His role and desire for Marriage (over and over) and that He has a unique plan for each couple is what helps keep the cynicism at bay. (When I let it 😉 I did a linkup recently inviting people to share their lessons from the years they’ve been married which may be helpful in the wisdom sharing part…we have a whole bunch of people who shared their thoughts and wisdom and it was pretty great! http://www.betterthaneden.com/2015/02/learning-love-lesson-year-in-marriage.html

    • Natural Mama Nell on February 27, 2015 at 9:08 am

      Wonderful! I really enjoyed your linkup and all the wisdom! Thanks for sharing here.

  3. Christy on February 27, 2015 at 9:37 am

    This is really great Nell. I agree that things change and sometimes it is easy to see things cynically, because that’s just how we feel sometimes. It’s funny because my husband was just reading some of our old emails for about ten years ago and was commenting about how embarrassing and silly they were, but we weren’t completely silly were we?

    • Natural Mama Nell on February 27, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      Maybe we’re realists. Love the old emails. Not completely silly. Just completely in love?

  4. Sully on February 27, 2015 at 9:49 am

    I love your continued honesty about what real life/marriage/child-rearing is. More than that, I love that you are open about striving to improve your (self-perceived) shortcomings. many of the topics (like this!) that you write about become late-night conversation starters for my husband and me, and have provoked some really wonderful discussions about our marriage.

    • Natural Mama Nell on February 27, 2015 at 2:42 pm

      Ah, you’re so kind. I find these self-examinations are so necessary and crucial or I’ll be stagnant forever!!

  5. CJrMom on February 27, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    This is a recap of a conversation between my husband of 13 years just this week. I must say, have kids right at the beginning of a marriage helps create enough “crisis” moments to drive your love deeper more quickly…we had 4 kids in 5 years…and have 6 now. You might enjoy Michael Hyatt’s podcast on becoming your spouse’s best friend, ( http://michaelhyatt.com/season-3-episode-6-how-to-become-your-spouses-best-friend.html ) it was a great reminder for us, as we are entering the teen years in a few months, and the bigger kid struggles make it harder to intentionally nurture that reckless love. Excellent post, thank you!!!

    • Natural Mama Nell on February 28, 2015 at 7:18 pm

      Great suggestion!! Thank you. Very glad you’re here.

  6. Elizabeth on February 28, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    Gosh, these are great. All of the above. And I just love Camilla’s analogy of building a cathedral. It’s the perfect mental image for a note I wrote in my husband’s Valentine’s Day card this year—something about being glad we have the rest of our lives to keep growing together…. We’re only 6.5 years in, but something I’ve found that’s important to remember—especially in the 16 months since our son was born—is that it doesn’t have to be perfect all the time. In these joyful but chaotic years of early parenthood (which will hopefully bring more children and more chaos), we can get worn down by the daily grind and feel like we’re just surviving, but we can take heart in the fact that this is just a season of (God willing) a long life together. We don’t have to rush to fit all of life into this particular season. Right now, we do the best we can, striving to say yes in so many little ways each day, to be present for each other through all the parenting, and in between all the parenting. (And some days we do better than others.)

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 3, 2015 at 2:27 pm

      So true. It doesn’t have to be perfect. And that is okay. It’s okay to not have it perfect. Beautifully said.

  7. Amy @ Motherhood and Miscellany on February 28, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    The bathrooms and the ironing and the computer time. . . it’s like you’re in my head.
    I really enjoyed this post. I used to do couples’ therapy when I was practicing, and I used to always work with couples to not take things personally, like what you were mentioning in #4. I have to remind myself of this all the time, when the dirty clothes are on the floor or whatever, he didn’t do that to me. He just did it and it wasn’t personal. Our relationship is more important than the little frustrations.
    We just went through another wedding basically, to have our marriage validated by the Catholic Church, and it was so amazing to say those vows again after all the things we’ve been through in the past six-plus years. I could go on and on, so I’ll stop there. Thanks for the wonderful post (As always!)

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 3, 2015 at 2:26 pm

      HA! the bathrooms–the ironing–ugh. I love that you bring your rich experience with couple’s therapy into your writing now. And thank you for your insights, as always!! And LOVE that you did your vows again!!! So beautiful.

  8. Amanda on March 1, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    Nell, this is so beautiful. I love all your wisdom and you sharing your beautiful heart. # 2 is definitely something that I learned. It’s been good for me. I’ve always been independent and the I-can-take-care-of-myself type person, but after babies and having two cesareans, I’ve been rocked to a new level of oneness with my husband. It’s been good but challenging. Love this, Nell!

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 3, 2015 at 2:24 pm

      Whew–two c-sections!!!

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