“Ryan and I began dating in the early years of high school. It was a giddy, butterflies in your stomach relationship. We spent every weekend together with our families or at extracurricular events. Ryan had his goal set to join the Marine Corps after high school, and I had plans to attend college.
As time went on, we grew closer and closer. Our families recognized that the spark between us was something bigger. That’s when the ‘what ifs’ started. ‘What if we get married?’ ‘What if were to go on this military journey together?’ Just weeks before Ryan finally left for boot camp, he asked for my parent’s blessing to marry me. He proposed one week later.
I knew the risks. I knew that statistics were against us. People just don’t get married young any more. But I knew that if I said no, every ounce of me would regret it. We were in love, and I was ready to commit to whatever life would throw at us.
Life during the next year was a whirlwind. Ryan was away, serving as an active-duty Marine. My life revolved around graduating high school and planning a wedding. It’s still a shock even writing those two things in the same sentence. But just four months before our wedding, I lost my dad to pancreatic cancer. That sent my world crashing down.
There were days when I felt like I couldn’t breathe. When Ryan was home, I would vent, scream, and cry to him. He always listened. He wasn’t one to express much emotion, so he would wrap me in a warm embrace. That was worth more than any words he could have said. Our love for each other radiated, and I knew, with him, I could get through my pain.
Before I knew it, we were married and living at our first duty station.
Our first year of marriage was full of adjustment and challenges, but also a lot of laughs. We went from the comforts of our family homes to navigating living on our own. We had so many questions. How do we manage finances? Why does a cell phone bill cost so much? What in the world do we cook for ourselves? I’ll never forget the first time Ryan tried to make scrambled eggs. He was confident that it would be easy… He set the skillet on fire. ‘How in the world do you set eggs on fire?’ I said, laughing. We had so much to learn, but we learned together.
Despite living off of ramen noodles and ham sandwiches that first year, we were in early marital bliss. That same bliss and love carried us through our first deployment. The separation and stress of his circumstances, along with me being alone for the first time in my life, was difficult. We communicated through every means possible.
I would do my best to put together fun care packages for him and he’d send silly pictures to make me smile.
There were hard days, too. Our voices would often crack over the phone as we tried hard to hold back our tears.
After seven long months, the deployment came to an end. That day was truly something special. There was endless excitement from families ready to reunite with loved ones. The moment Ryan was in my line of view, I broke down. A wave of emotions overcame me, and I wrapped my arms around him. Huge, crocodile tears were streaming down my face, and he leaned in to me telling me over and over, ‘I love you, and I’m home.’ We were together.
We survived it. His deployment was the greatest test of our marriage and commitment.
Just shy of a year of Ryan’s return, we welcomed our first baby into the world. Ryan had no experience with babies. In fact, he wasn’t sure even sure if he liked kids! While I had plenty of experience babysitting and working with kids, I had no clue what it was like to care for a baby all day and night.
The closest either of us had come to raising a child was caring for an electronic baby in high school. It ejected loud, lifelike screams that could not be consoled no matter how hard we tried. I remember Ryan saying, ‘Either this thing is broken or it’s possessed by the devil. No way a real baby is this miserable.’ We gave up and frantically googled baby shut down advice. We found out later that week that our baby was indeed broken.
I had an easy, textbook pregnancy. We were going to be parents and we were elated. We went to every doctor’s appointment together and bonded over choosing baby gear and names. Thinking about creating a life together only made our passion grow. We had a fairy tale image of what our little life would look like as a family of three.
But no one tells you the hard parts. No one tells you the effect a baby can have on your relationship with your spouse. A child knocks you off your feet and, as a parent, you have to change or you’ll lose yourself.
Our son arrived through an emergency c-section after twenty-two hours of labor. We knew there would be adjustments and routines, but we truly thought the terrors from delivery would be our hardest struggle. Then we went home with a baby that had inconsolable cries.
Nothing would end his tears. Not feedings, diaper changes, pacing in the hall, or even singing. Our little guy had colic and severe acid reflux. Sleep came in forty-five minute increments. Ryan was working long night shifts with his unit, and I was diagnosed with post-partum anxiety. We went from regular date nights and weekend outings to sleeping in shifts and barely functioning. The spark of our honeymoon years quickly faded, and life together felt more like survival.
We were states away from any kind of family support system and often complained about missing our past freedom and adventures. We were so consumed in caring for our son and doing whatever we could to calm him and get sleep that our relationship was completely on the backburner. Our season of marriage had changed.
We barely spoke. Not out of anger, but because our entire foundation as a couple had been rocked. It was like our intimacy and connection had gone numb. One day, Ryan looked at me and said, ‘Hey, I miss us.’ That night, we decided we were going to accept the change. Our now wasn’t permanent and we wanted to do anything we could to make time for us. Hours of tiring squatting and baby rocking turned to laughing at our spit up covered clothes as he spoon-fed me ice cream when my hands were busy.
Instead of heading out to the movies, we would order takeout and watch Netflix, our sleeping son in our arms. On the days when my anxiety consumed me, Ryan would demand he take our son so I could soak in a hot bath or get out of the house for coffee. When our son had blowouts, he changed them. When he saw bottles piling up in the kitchen, he washed them. Ryan was present and my partner through it all. He never once walked in the door and refused to offer a helping hand. We were, and still are, equals. The darkness that had hovered over us lifted.
I realized that my love for him hadn’t suffered. It had only evolved into something new and beautiful. We had created joy and connection again through the chaos. There aren’t words to describe the love you feel for your spouse when you see them love your child.
That commitment and love is what carried us through the next five years and to where we are today. We experienced more challenges and delights. We moved to a new duty station. Ryan carried the responsibilities of our household as I grieved the heartbreaking loss of my mother. We added another son and daughter to our family. We bought and sold our first home, and Ryan exited the Marine Corps.
And here we are now, navigating this post military life while raising our three babies. I can count on one hand how many date nights we’ve had since becoming parents, but we make our time together a priority. We still have our movie and dinner nights in. We leave sweet notes for each other. The second Ryan gets home every day, he drops his work at door and we play on the floor with our kids. We pick up the weight for each other. And we laugh and love more now than we ever have.
There is no peak of love with your spouse. Love is everchanging and growing. Be each other’s partners in all aspects of life. Remember that keeping your love alive takes work and willingness. Don’t forget that fiery, exciting passion that started it all. But, know the seasons of life will hit your marriage, and the only thing you can do is adapt and grow TOGETHER.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Marie Hallmark Verdin of California, Marlyland. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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