The Scariest Moment is Always Just Before You Start

When I was young I would pore over National Geographic magazines and dream of adventures like this — train hopping through the Sahara Desert on one of the world’s longest trains.

I had dreamt of the oceans, of the sand, the loud clattering noises of the train, the cold, the wind, the scorching sun. The unknown smells and sounds of the desert, and all the discomfort that goes with it.

That visceral experience was exactly what we got as we slithered night and day through the vast uninhabited desert, sleeping on top of Mauritania’s infamous iron ore train. Our unconventional 700km journey took us right through the Sahara to reach the coast, where we were hoping to find a place of forgotten shipwrecks and unknown surf.

From Nouakchott we worked our way through the interior, on what can barely be described as roads. On one particular day the weather conditions take a turn for the worse and a desert sandstorm begins to form on the horizon. I had stopped to take some photographs and before we knew it, the wind picked up considerably and it started to rain.

Within minutes, the sky darkens and the winds increase to what we guess is around 150km/hr. The stinging and blowing of the sand act as sandpaper and is so intense that I feel like my exposed skin is starting to come off.

We quickly find ourselves pinned to the side of our truck, as we try to find some shelter and reprieve. When the wind dies down and we are finally able to climb back inside the truck there are pieces of shattered glass everywhere. Our back window has completely imploded and the interior is soaked. Our guide, who had been waiting for us in the back seat, has cuts all over his body from the glass. As the storm settles we resumed our journey north through the desert, anxious to find the next unexpected turn of events.

Adjusting to Your Home is no Different than a New Country

I’ve been home from China for nearly three weeks now. While it hasn’t hit me that I’m not going back to China any time soon yet, there’s one thing that both countries have in common. Adjusting to each place can be difficult.

First, there’s the jet lag

There’s a twelve-hour difference between Michigan and China. No matter which country I go to, I have at least two weeks to adjust to time zones.

For both countries, this means I’m in bed insanely early and waking up earlier. If I’m not careful, I look like a zombie for about a week while I adjust.

This means I’ve got to be careful about sitting down anywhere cause at any time, I could fall asleep. The only time I’m okay to be sitting down is when I’m eating. I’ve never been so tired that I’ve fallen asleep while eating. Not yet.

It makes me want to be lazy in my first week I’m in any country. It’s hard to want to do anything when you never know when you’re going to crash.

Then there’s the food

Two countries. Two appetites. Two food cultures. Everything from adjusting to table manners to different kinds of food, I have to re-adjust when I go to both countries.

In America, a lot of the food feels heavy after I eat it, I tend to have a lot of stomachaches after a meal. I’m not sure if it’s what’s being put in the food or the fact there’s way more dairy in the diet than what’s in China. I can taste the sugar with almost every piece of food or drink I consume.

Stop Holding Onto Someone Who Is Already Gone

My ex-husband and I got married with the intention of one day having children.

That was actually a thing after our very first date. He really wanted kids; I was unsure. He told me that if I wasn’t at least open to the idea of having children one day that we wouldn’t have a second date.

I love my children. I’m so grateful I had them. And (since it’s not a “but”) I also know I would have been perfectly fine if I’d never had any. My life would look a lot different, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today, but I would have been okay being child-free. I explored how I felt about it more and came back to him with the equivalent of a vague maybe.

Eventually, I grew to want children a lot, and I even went to great lengths to have the children I got (87 shots, three minor surgeries actually. Thank youuuu, infertility).

Regardless, my ex-husband and I married with the intention to one day have children. We naively thought that children would bring us closer.

Women, not surprisingly, bear the brunt of being parents. Not only do they have to carry the children and go through all of the physical and psychological changes involved with that process, women often have to deal with gender-stereotypical ways of parenting.

Even if both partners have a full-time job, the woman is more likely to be the one who gets up in the middle of the night or has to take off work to pick up a sick child from school. She’s also more likely to handle a greater percentage of the household chores and parenting at home, while the man might spend more time and energy on working to provide financially for their household.

The conclusion?

Having children will change your marriage, and it will be mostly in not good ways.

Knowing these dismal conclusions upfront is important because you can make some solid strides toward bettering your relationship before you have kids, and after.

Here are specific things I wish I knew going in:

1. Whatever problems you have now as a childless/childfree couple will be exacerbated once you have kids.

If you already struggle communicating your needs and how you’re really feeling or resolving fights, you will find this even more difficult once you have kids.

Often questions about your day will be replaced by questions about who is going to make the kids’ lunches or when little Bobby is going to soccer practice and who is going to take him there. There will need to be more negotiation, and if you want to connect with your partner about your day or your feelings, that will need to be scheduled around the time that it takes to handle the business of raising kids first.

Proper conflict resolution becomes even more important too because you will be dealing with a greater amount of stress and lots and lots of disrupted sleep.

If you already know you struggle with these things, attending couples counseling before you have kids or once you learn you’re pregnant can be incredibly helpful. Couples counseling would be a place for you to learn how to communicate what you need to as well as learn how to handle conflict in a way that works for both of you.

2. Romance will be harder.

Romance can be easy to give up when you’re exhausted from parenting or don’t feel all that connected to your partner. It can be so much easier to send your partner a text like, “Can you pick up the groceries?” instead of “You’ve got a cute butt.” Couples often can become more like business partners.

On top of that, many women experience a lot of sexual changes following a pregnancy. Their bodies change. It can be harder to lose that dreaded “baby weight” when they barely have time to shower, let alone eat right and go to the gym. Their self-esteem can drop as well. They also may be far from feeling sexy when they’ve barely been sleeping and have spent most of the day up to their elbows in poop.

Sex also may be painful for a while following a hard delivery, and then women might feel fearful about experiencing that pain again and not want to have sex. Some women completely lose their libidos after having children, and their partners might be confused and frustrated that they can’t be intimate with their wife anymore.

Actively choosing to be romantic becomes important.

It seems counterintuitive to schedule romance, but you have to in a marriage with kids! This could be planning just ten to fifteen minutes every night to check in with each other, making an effort to not just be “business” partners, but romantic partners.

This can also look like scheduling regular dates, once a week or however often you can get away, where you aren’t allowed to talk about the kids. Some couples even schedule when they’ll have sex regularly just to keep it on the table since it’s so easy to put off, or they might see a sex therapist to help with issues following having children.

You can also “schedule” romance by remembering to appreciate each other: telling your partner he looks hot today or thanking him for taking out the garbage. These little things add up.

Again, it doesn’t feel romantic when these things are being scheduled, but it shows that you’re making your romantic relationship a priority and not allowing it to be subsumed by your children and their needs.

While this all paints a dismal picture of parenthood, most parents rate parenting as their greatest joy. The important thing is knowing upfront that it will be tough: having children will exacerbate every issue you already have in your relationship, and it will make romance so much harder. BUT there are things you can do to help, whether you’ve had kids already or are about to have kids.

All great relationships take work, and unfortunately, you are just going to have to work harder once you have kids.

How Much Fighting in a Relationship Is Too Much?

In “Tell Me Why,” she tells the story of a boyfriend with a mean streak. “You took a swing, I took it hard/And down here from the ground I see who you are,” she sings. In “Blank Space,” she addresses a revolving door of unhealthy relationships. “Boys only want love if it’s torture,” she counsels her listeners. And in “Mine,” a song that’s about an apparently good relationship, she discusses the fights she and her boyfriend would have: “And I remember that fight, 2:30 a.m… I ran out, crying, and you followed me out into the street.”

Swift’s predilection for conflict is not especially unusual. Her songs represent the normalcy with which conflict, sometimes involving yelling, angrily pointing, or throwing things, is depicted in American culture. But unfortunately, frequent occurrences of fighting — with some significant exceptions — are generally detrimental to not only the strength of a relationship but also the physical and mental health of the individuals involved, including children who might witness or be aware of the conflict.

The fundamental difference between constructive and destructive conflict is relatively simple: In constructive conflict, the fight ultimately needs to be a means to an end. In other words, the arguing couple should reach some sort of resolution to make it all worth it. And for most couples, the fights shouldn’t be too heated, because yelling, throwing things, and other intense manifestations of anger are harder to recover from.

2019 study found that couples tend to fight about four things: children, money, intimacy, and in-laws—all relatively significant factors in a couple’s life together. More than the subject matter of the conflict, though, the nature of it predicts future relationship happiness or misery and potential dissolution. “Happy couples tend to take a solution-oriented approach to conflict, and this is clear even in the topics that they choose to discuss,” says Amy Rauer, the study’s author and an associate professor of child and family studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in the study’s press release.

Fighting with the intent to resolve the conflict, rather than to “win” or get your own way, is a crucial aspect of healthy fighting and, thus, a healthy relationship. A 2000 study from John Gottman, the pioneering relationships psychologist, discovered that fighting in a high-energy “attack-defend” mode, characterized by rage, belligerence, and contempt, predicted divorce early on in the relationship. Withdrawing tactics, meanwhile, are better—for a while. Couples whose arguments included behaviors like stonewalling, disgust, and sadness were more likely to divorce later on.

According to Terri Orbuch, professor of sociology at Oakland University in Michigan and author of the book Five Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great, some conflict in a relationship is normal. It’s how couples manage it that makes the difference.

“Sometimes conflict can help people resolve their relationship problems, and when it does, it can improve the well-being of both people in the relationship and even others in their lives,” Baker says. “Yet if conflict is chronic, isn’t resolving relationship problems, and is severe (e.g., verbal or physical aggression), it can have profound negative consequences for both people and others.”

Conflict is a way for a couple to work through issues and come out the other side a little better, stronger, and clearer than before. It’s a lesson that Taylor Swift, apparently, has finally learned: Pre-Lover, she threw cellphones at boyfriends and viewed relationships as Red. Now, as she sings in “Daylight,” love’s golden.

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