Thursday, April 29, 2010

Checklist for Preparing Our Relationship for Pregnancy

A kindred spirit left a thought-provoking comment on this post last week. I realized that Matt and I need to write "An Action Plan for Maintaining Our Marriage Through the Difficult Years of Raising a Child."

But before we do that, I feel like we need a "Checklist for Preparing Our Relationship for Pregnancy."

Hmm...this is a daunting task!

Let me take a stab at it...

  1. Equally distribute household responsibilities: Matt and I are doing well with this one. Because we both work full-time, we pretty much divide chores evenly. We made a list of everything that has to get done on a weekly basis and split it into two lists. One week someone will clean the kitchen, take out the compost, wipe down all the table surfaces, and clean slobber off our windows. The other person will clean the entire bathroom, shake out the rugs, and vacuum. The next week, we swap tasks. Then we each have our list of weekly chores that remain constant. I empty the dishwasher, do the laundry, coordinate our finances, and run Hoss four times a week. Matt does the yard work, runs Hoss two times a week, checks on the chickens daily, and cleans out the coop once a week. Once a month, someone will wipe off the baseboards, dust the office and bedroom, and wipe out the fridge. The other person will wash the rugs, dust the living and dining room, and sweep the front porch. The next month we switch. This kind of system works really well for us because neither of us gets resentful or bitter about the fact that the other person is doing more.
  2. Fight in constructive rather than destructive ways: We need to continue to work on this one. Matt and I fight about a variety of things, but we try to use different strategies to attempt to turn our fights into problem-solving conversations rather than assaults. If we're both tired, for example, we try to stop the fight and say, "Let's come back to this when we're not so emotional." We will also occasionally repeat back what the other person is saying to ensure that we are really listening and understanding.
  3. Agree on an approach to money: This is one of our strongest ones. Matt and I combined our finances a few months before we got married. Then we sat down together and created a monthly savings plan. We asked ourselves: How much can we set aside each month for: a mortgage? a baby? retirement? a car? home repairs? eating out? groceries? vacation? Then we set up automatic transfers each month, so our savings accumulate without much thought. We try to keep ourselves on a very specific budget for expenses related to joint entertainment, eating out, groceries, and dog care. We also give ourselves $70 each every month to spend however we want. Of course we still get in disagreements occasionally about what should be considered a joint expense versus an individual expense (mainly because I'm stingy and Matt is generous), but our system works pretty well for us.
  4. Make time for each other: With my penchant for taking on more projects than I can handle and Matt's addiction to running, it can be hard to find time for each other sometimes. We try to be home to cook dinner together or eat out by 6:30 every night, and we try to plan fun things on the weekends.
  5. Figure out an intimacy frequency that works for both of us: Matt wants sex more than I do, so we constantly talk about how to help him feel satiated without making me feel obligated. It's definitely something we're still working on.
  6. Make time to cultivate our selves outside of our marriage: We try to encourage each other to spend time with friends and colleagues without being joined at the hip.There are times when it makes sense to compromise our own tastes, interests, and preferences in order to spend time together, but other times we should maintain our personal authenticity and do what we want to do.
  7. Show appreciation: It can be easy to fall into a pattern of taking each other for granted. Matt and I try to verbalize our appreciation for each other (for both big and small things) on a daily basis.
  8. Support each other to undertake healthy habits: Mustering enough willpower to live the kind of healthy lives we want to lead can be difficult. It helps to encourage and support each other (not in nagging ways!).
  9. Delineate the dreams we have beyond the baby: We need to make sure that the baby doesn't become our everything. We need to make a space for our other dreams.
  10. Create an action plan for maintaining our marriage through the difficult years of raising a child: That's the next checklist!
It might be cool to show this list to Matt and have each of us rank the items in order from what we consider to be our strongest areas and our areas that are in need of most growth. Then we can compare lists and engage in a really good conversation.

Before I do that, do you have any suggestions about how this checklist should be revised?

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Anonymous said...

I'm curious, how does your husband feel about the world knowing about your sexual appetites? He must know in the back of his mind that at every family, friend, or student outing the people he's with know that increasing the frequency of your sexual intimacy is on your very public to-do list. As common as a difference in sexual appetite may be, I think my husband would be mortified to sit at Thanksgiving dinner and know his mother-in-law read that he wants sex more often than I (or worse that my student knew). I hope you don't find my curiosity offensive; I just find interesting a public airing of what in my life is a very special and intimate secret that my husband and I share with only each other.

LauraC said...

(what up anon? That drives me crazy about blogs!! Own your comments people!)

I love this list. I would definitely put money VERY VERY high on the list for post-kid. The money seems to go out the door for everything and we're the kind to buy used, reduce, reuse.

I also don't know if you can create an action plan to maintain your marriage through raising a child... before the child comes. Every child brings its own unique challenges, and you never know how it will impact your life.

In our case, we had preemie twins in NICU and it brought us very close together. The entire first year of twins it was 'live together die alone' HA HA. Then they turned 1 and needed us less and that's when we had tougher times in our marriage.

(I also think sharing household duties is important not just for equality, but to model to children. I refuse to teach my boys some skills are mom jobs and some are dad jobs. Kids learn best by action so I think your actions are very important!)

Sara said...

This is an awesome list. A friend of mine just sent me your wedding blog (which I also love) and today i found myself here. Your down to earth sincerity and honesty is so refreshing. I'm guessing my husband might grumble if I were so publicly open about the state of our intimacy, but i wonder if that is just a guy thing. Talking about these things honestly with my girl friends, we find most of us are in the same boat. There is something so good about sharing such a core experience.

But I digress, my husband and I are beginning the process of starting a family right now. I am not quite the planner that you are, but have certainly thought about all the things on your list. I can see that formulating ideas into a simple and thoughtful list has its advantages. I'm especially interested in #9 - "Delineate the dreams we have beyond the baby." I love the idea of this - of finding a balance, maintaining a piece of the core of who we are pre-baby and carrying it over. I've watched several of my friends have babies now and what I've decided is that while it is great and important to have these intentions for ourselves, you really never know what you're going to get with a baby until you get it and then you really don't know what that will bring out in yourself until it comes out. I think babies inherently do become our everything on some level. That is one of the many things that make the prospect of parenthood so terrifying and appealing at the same time. Anyways its fun to daydream about now before the hypothetical children take over :-) Thanks again for taking the time to write this great blog!

Anonymous said...

Easy there LauraC, I'm an avid follower and commenter on this and other blogs. I think it's a bit personal of a question that I asked and I opted for the veil of the anonymous option, which Sara chose to make available. My question had very little to do with this list, which I think raises constructive issues that any couple should consider. My question was more focused on the to-do list on the main page of this blog, which I happened to see today when I clicked through from a reader. As a fellow blogger I am genuinely interested in what Matt thinks of all of this public exposure.

Sara E. Cotner said...

Whoa. Yesterday was a rough day on the blogging front. (Matt got upset about the post on because he felt like it was disparaging toward his family (which hurt me because I didn't intend for it to be like that--in fact, I adore Matt's family!). And then there was the anonymous comment here. I've had lots of accusatory and potentially hurtful comments over the years, and I've definitely been growing duck feathers as a result (to let things just roll off). But sometimes the comments make me question something deep inside (which is really good but also hard).

When I read the comment, I started to wonder: Am I compromising my relationship with Matt in order to share myself more fully in the world? (since, clearly, I had upset him on my other blog that very day). And the truth is, my inner relationships are the most important things to me.

But then I was able to talk with Matt about it when he got home. He was okay with what I posted on this blog because we both agree that it's important to acknowledge and address the issues we have in our relationship. And if I do that publicly, then all of us can learn from and help each other (which, from my perspective, is the point of blogging!). It would be so easy to just highlight the healthy and inspiring parts of our relationship. But that wouldn't be authentic. That wouldn't be honest. At worst, it might make others feel insecure or unsatisfied with their own areas for growth within their relationships.

Additionally, Ariel over at Offbeat Bride just wrote an amazing post about the reading she did in the Bay Area. One of the audience members asked her "how to craft memoir writing in a way that inspires and encourages people, instead of just coming off as self-centered." And I loved her response. Ariel said, "When you write about yourself, you have to include the full narrative, including your challenges, your imperfections, and your humbling moments." Yes!

As for my penchant to see the world through the lens of a perpetual to-do list, it stems from my belief that at the end of the day, we are pretty much what we do and how we do it. In my mind, actions really do speak more loudly than words. For example, I can't control my immediate emotional response to a situation, but I can control what I literally do in response. These mindsets push me to focus my energy on my actions: what I'm doing and how I'm doing it.

In the back of my mind, I am always trying to watch myself through another lens: "Is this habit or approach to living part of your neurosis? Should you work on changing it to free yourself and realize your full joy and potential?"

Anyway, my point is that I appreciate criticism and feedback. It's like free therapy at times! But I also have to say that this blog is about me and my experience (no matter how flawed or irritating my experience and I can be!). If list-making and over-analyzing everything and planning and publicly discussing things you think should be private irk you, then fortunately there are a gazillion other blogs to frequent. That's the beauty of this online community. You can choose "your people."

To wrap this up (I need to get to work!), thank you, Anonymous, for your comment because it did foster a discussion with Matt to make sure we are on the same page about what I share.

And thank you to all of you who leave comments. They keep me company every day during my lunch period!

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