Keeping Your Marriage Vibrant During the Young Parenting Years

I wanted to go to Colorado for our tenth anniversary. We hadn’t had a date in months, and being motivated by quality time, I wanted to have my husband, Randy, to myself for five full days. The only problem was… Randy didn’t want to go. We’re in the middle of building our house, and he only had a few months to dry it in before his scheduled surgery, so the clock was ticking, and he didn’t want to spend those precious minutes holed up with me in an Airbnb condo.

Have you ever heard the joke that the wife wanted a dog, but the husband didn’t, so they compromised and got a dog?

Well, we comprised and went to Colorado.

The daylight basement condo, which we got for a good price because it was the off-season, looked like something from a magazine: all sleek lines and modernist style. The cleaning lady stopped by, asked if I wanted a tour of the upstairs (was that even a question?), and said that the red leather couch had come from Africa, and the white spaceship sinks had come from Spain. The wine rack alone—suspended from the ceiling so the bottles appeared to be floating—cost $5,000.

Seems the owners should’ve prioritized their funds. The morning after we arrived, we discovered the heat didn’t work. My husband had to turn on the stove and open the door to warm up the space. The entire condo also smelled like sewage whenever I ran the shower or did laundry. My husband consoled himself by binge-watching Meat Eaters on Netflix: a show about a guy who hunts and cooks his own meat—very romantic, let me tell ya.

I wanted to hike each day because Pagosa Springs, Colorado, is known for hiking and hot springs. My husband didn’t want to go, so we compromised and went.

The first hike we did, to Opal Lake, was the best, though it sure didn’t start out that way. We got lost, which is fine when you’re in the backwoods of Tennessee and bound to run into some ginseng hunter who knows his way around, but Colorado’s a different story.

At one point, Randy said, “So, you think this is fun?”

I would have heaved a sigh, but the elevation was so high, I didn’t want to waste my oxygen. I took a right, and Randy took a left. I said, “We’ll just follow the tracings!”—the names and dates carved into trees.

Randy quipped, “Famous last words.”

We continued hiking, and I whooped for joy when our off-road path returned to the trail. Elated, Randy cut in front of me, and I moved behind him. Ponderosa pines soared. The wind swayed through their branches, scattering yellow aspen leaves that clung to the pine boughs like tinsel. We crossed shallow streams conveniently bridged with logs laid by previous hikers. Red-bellied fish splashed in circles before finding an opening and darting away.

Up ahead, smoke curled from a smokestack puncturing the top of a green tarp tent. Two mules—one brown, one black—were tied to the trunks of more ponderosas.

Randy said, “I think they’re Amish!”

Sure enough, the Amish father—in a white shirt, black pants, and black suspenders—sat on an upturned log in front of the small fire. Two boys stood beside him. They had matching brown bowl cuts and transition lenses that had darkened in the sun. I glanced back and forth between them and then cried, “You’re twins!”

As if they didn’t already know.

Right then, the tent flap peeled back and a silver-haired woman emerged, smiling at me like Caroline Ingalls. A teenage girl stepped out behind her. They both wore burgundy cape dresses.

“My!” I said. “You’re brave!”

Their family would be elk hunting in the wilderness for an entire week. We exchanged more small talk, about the weather and my husband’s Amish background, and then Randy and I waved and left, circling Opal Lake with its milky margin set around the jewel-green middle.

Over the next four days, we started our mornings with bakery coffee and muffins and hiked in the mountains—stopping to lounge in the sun like cats, just because we could. We talked, and we were silent. We worked through things we hadn’t been able to address back home, because so much of our energy and time is spent keeping our three daughters—ages six, four, and one—alive.

Randy even went with me to the hot springs, and we boiled ourselves in the pools, which were deserted because we purposely went on Monday at suppertime. We sat there until we pruned.

And yes, we had a few squabbles about how long the hike should be or where the trail even was. My husband consumed every episode of Meat Eaters, and I devoured an entire book.

But in between, my husband and I reconnected as husband and wife instead of just parents. Our girls are young, yes, but one day, they will grow up. I don’t want to have to start over from scratch, trying to remember why I married their dad. I want to maintain our relationship now, so that when that transition comes, our life doesn’t stop, but our adventure begins.

Let’s not wait until our children are grown to begin adventuring. We don’t even have to fly all the way to Colorado to seek it out (and my husband says amen). The adventure can begin tonight—with mugs of mint tea while watching the new season of Meat Eaters.

Because, you see, I am learning that marriage is all about compromise.

Read more from Jolina Petersheim in her latest novel How the Light Gets In

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