Marriage and the Five-Year Itch

Filed under From Marriage to Motherhood on Jan 12 13 by

I got married relatively young—twenty-one, almost twenty-two. Dave was twenty-four at the time. I always thought I would take after my Aunt Cathy and get married at the perfect age—twenty-five of course. Then I would just settle into the new adventure of marriage for two years and have a baby between twenty-seven and twenty-eight. Things didn’t quite work out like that. When you’re dating trans-Atlantic, it gets tough—and expensive. Would I have waited, knowing what I know now at the ripe age of twenty-nine? Maybe. People constantly say, “Marriage is hard work,” but they never tell you what that means.

About five years into our marriage I had finished my degree in teaching, Dave had gotten a job with the juvenile justice system, and we had done quite a bit of traveling together. We had gone to Canada, France, Italy, Ireland, Scotland, England (yes, I realize those last three are technically the same country, but I’m counting all three—and I DID go to the Republic of Ireland, so two out of the three count anyway), and South Africa. We had just gotten back from an amazing winter volunteering at an orphanage for abandoned babies in South Africa. I had fallen in love countless times with little brown faces, and I wanted to bring two or three home with me. It was a huge spiritual high—bigger than the ones coming back from summer camp as a kid—I felt truly in tune with what God had wanted for my life in that season. I started another summer working as a raft guide and high adventure instructor at an outdoor center, and Dave went hiking and helped juveniles who were trying to make better choices in their lives. I felt like Dave’s job had a greater purpose—showing kids that there was someone who cared about them and who knew they could make something of their lives. I was just taking people to “new heights” and bigger splashes on their vacations and school trips. I felt lost—a total letdown from the purposefulness I had felt in South Africa. And on top of that, Dave was working four days on shift, three days off, which meant we saw very little of each other. We both had a different circle of friends, and we interacted with them more than each other; we started to lose who we were as a couple.

After South Africa, both of us started reconsidering our views on babies. We wanted to adopt in the future somewhere; we wanted to be parents to the parentless. I also started to consider what it would be like to go through the womanly right of having a baby, to feel this new life grow inside of me. However, even though we were thinking about growing our family, we were growing apart. I started spending more time at work with friends, even when Dave was home. When we were at home together it felt distant, like we were both changing and didn’t know how to recover the intimacy again. We tried to talk it through, but it often ended in yelling matches, tears, slamming doors, and lonely nights driving around town to “clear the air.” I became very depressed and withdrawn, sharing more details of my life with friends than with Dave. It didn’t help that two of our close friends were going through a nasty divorce, and all our church friends seemed to be taking sides. We didn’t share our problems with anyone—me because I figured they would judge us just as harshly as our friends, and Dave because it’s not exactly British protocol to air dirty laundry. The “D” word was brought up, and we decided it was finally time to seek counseling if we wanted to save our marriage. I was so depressed. I just wanted relief, but I knew in the back of my heart that I would miss my best friend terribly, deeply, if we broke apart. My broken heart might never mend.

Looking back on our relationship, friendship, and seeing how we had grown individually and together, we knew we had to give it another try and do the “hard work” everyone talks about. We chose a Christian and professional counselor, and she didn’t go easy on us. We had homework each week—hard conversations that often made us feel worse about each other and our hope for the future. But she also taught us how to reconnect and how to talk to each other with more love, mercy, and grace. We slowly started to let in a select few people who were close to us to share our struggles. We tentatively sought out a regular attendance at church again, and God drew us to his heart of love for us.

It was a long process, one that we look back on with wishes that we had remembered to “be an observer of [each other’s] life, and care about the little things,” like we had written in our vows. God grew us by miles that year. I know that we are more aware now than we were in our early twenties about what it takes to make a strong marriage. It takes “hard work,” and that means constantly seeking God to fulfill those spots in our lives that no human can ever fill. But it also means doing that seeking together and remembering that “what God has bound together, let no man [or woman], separate.”

When we ended our counseling, I was working as a teacher, and Dave was still working the long shifts. We were different with each other, even though the amount of time we saw each other was basically the same. We sought out each other for comfort, and we knew we needed to have those hard conversations. We stopped walking on eggshells to prevent arguments, but instead tried to talk through the common misunderstandings of being married to the opposite sex. Marriage is still not a breeze, but now I feel as though it is so much stronger. We have weathered a mighty storm, and only with God’s guidance did we make it out to the other side.

We had paused our trying for a baby during this time. And I thank God that he knew his perfect timing and did not allow us to get pregnant during this time of marital turmoil. The next Spring, Dave was laid off from his job, and God started opening doors for a new direction for us. Dave was offered a job at a Christian camp and conference center, and said, “I think it’s time to have a baby,” (ok—actually he said, “I feel like it’s the perfect time for you to get knocked up now,” but I told him you don’t use the term “knocked up” when you’re married to each other). So, our adventure for a baby began again, with us more fully committed to each other, and as “ready” as one can feel when choosing to bring a new little one into the world!

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Leigh Eddy Nelson
Leigh is currently a stay-at-home-mom, or SAHM, ministering to the community around her at The Oaks Camp and Conference Center in Lake Hughes, California. Writing has been a passion of hers since she was a little girl, and God has given her a gift to share her experiences in life, love, marriage, and her journey to, and through, motherhood. Follow her journey here every month!
  • Catherine

    Leigh, thank you so much for sharing this beautiful and intimate experience with us. I’ve always valued your honesty and have such deep respect for you and Dave, both individually and as a couple.