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The first few years of parenting, our marriage felt broken—but it wasn’t

There is a scene in the movie Bridesmaids when one of the characters (Becca) gushes over her new husband. She predictably annoys the single and bitter main character (Annie) who couldn't have been less interested. I think Annie's character is relatable in this scene because for many couples, married or not, this sort of fairy tale love isn’t realistic.

Luckily for me, fairy tale love isn't a perquisite for a happy marriage, but it took my husband and I a while to uncover what is.

I don't remember gushing over my husband when we were dating or during the "honeymoon phase" of our marriage. Our relationship grew out of friendship. It was easy, without the college drama that I was used to. We were together for almost four years before getting married and we never doubted our ability to stay together through the hard times.

But at some point in those first few years of marriage, something changed. We found ourselves laughing less and bickering more. We became expert score-keepers, held grudges and let small disagreements turn into big battles. We were so wrapped up in our own perspectives, feelings and needs that we neglected each other. We were in denial that we were equally responsible for our pointless arguments and fights. We were not the same couple that we were in the beginning.

Without realizing it, I was making things worse. The way I dealt with conflict set my husband up for failure and caused further disconnect between us. I held on to his faults and the things I took offense to, waiting for him to make up for all of the ways he let me down. I unloaded my feelings, demanded empathy and then shut down or walked away when he didn't respond in the way I wanted.

I convinced myself that he was the problem—he wasn't sensitive enough, romantic enough, or available enough. I blamed him for the change in our relationship. I blamed him each time we traded a goodnight kiss for the silent treatment and a cold space between us in bed.

During the height of a memorable argument in our second year of marriage, the word divorce broke through the silence. The word was more like a plea and a threat, but also a question. We were both consumed with anger and hurt—feelings that eventually faded into confusion and defeat from yet another misunderstanding. But the idea of a life without each other was the wake-up call we needed. We decided our relationship was worth the struggle.

Our marriage felt broken, but it wasn't.

We had become so focused on ourselves and everything we thought we were supposed to be doing that we left our marriage alone to fend for itself. We thought the hard work of choosing the "right" person had already been done—as if we could cross it off our to-do lists. Instead of growing together, we began to grow apart. We acted more like roommates than husband and wife—two people who spent more time loving on their dog than each other.

We needed to change the way we thought about marriage.

It took us a while to figure out where we went wrong and how we could repair some of the damage to our relationship, but admitting that we were lost was the first step.

At first we looked at other couples—the ones who seemed happy—and we wondered what they were doing differently than us. We wondered how they made it look so easy. Maybe we just needed to go on more vacations, have more sex, or exchange more gifts?

Ultimately, there wasn't a quick-fix for our problems. It wasn't until we put our focus back on each other that we uncovered some habits and behaviors that needed to change.

The first (and hardest) step was to let our egos take a back seat and own up to the reasons why we were so defensive and quick to blame each other.

The second was to stop avoiding hard conversations and hiding from our problems.

And the third step was to stop comparing our relationship to other couples (real or fictional), which inevitably left us feeling inadequate.

We had to adjust our priorities so that we could work on repairing our relationship. We had to set an intention to create the kind of relationship we wanted—a relationship in which we truly appreciate each other, support each other and feel safe sharing our hopes and dreams and fears.

We realized that taking a walk or sitting in the backyard was far more rewarding than zoning out in front of the TV.

We realized that ignoring each other until Friday night wasn't exactly the best way to start the weekend or inspire any type of intimacy.

We realized that the only way to move beyond our struggles was to make time for the uncomfortable, vulnerable and sometimes painful conversations that we so often avoided.

We realized that making our marriage a priority meant that we had to be willing to admit our mistakes and trust each other to move beyond them.

Once we became parents, we had to relearn the importance (necessity) of making time for each other. It has been tempting to ignore our needs in an effort to give our boys what they want (aka all of the attention we can give them), but what they really need are two parents who love each other, trust each other and fight for each other more than they fight with each other.

They need parents who are less concerned with how they look on Facebook and more concerned with how they look to each other.

We can see now that we don't need a fairy tale marriage to be happy or even to be good parents. We just need to love each other for who we are, forgive each other for what we lack and celebrate the marriage we have. If we can do that, our happily ever after should take care of itself.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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