Thursday, June 13, 2013

What I Wish I Knew Before I Got Married: Monica of A Beautiful Mess

Monica and I became friends when she was a senior at Notre Dame and I was a freshman. Her wedding was the first one I was invited to "all on my own," without my parents, and I was tickled pink about it. I looked up to her so much, and was delighted years later to reconnect through her blog, A Beautiful Mess. Thank you, Monica, for sharing your great advice!

As I sat down to reflect on the things I wish I knew before I got married, only one topic kept coming to mind: the importance of dating your spouse. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it has been one of our greatest challenges during our five years of marriage. Once your life becomes muddled with children and job obligations it is very easy for your relationship to take the back burner. It is so important to keep your relationship fun, exciting, and romantic. You don’t want to wake up one morning and wonder why the heck you decided to marry this person in the first place. Although I have to admit that very thought has crossed my mind on MANY occasions. But it is just as easily erased by a kind word, a sweet kiss, or a few minutes of hand holding. Everyone has emotional needs and it is our job, in a marriage, to ensure that the needs of our spouse are being met. Ideally, with both spouses working to ensure the happiness of the other, the result is one happy marriage!

 Paul and I met at a Vacation Bible School program at the tender age of 8-years-old. I thought he was a pretty cute little guy and he thought I was just an ordinary girl. I won his attention one afternoon by beating him at a game of “Horse” on the basketball court. He paid me the greatest compliment he had ever given a girl by declaring that I was “fairly athletic…for a girl.” Fast forward ten years to our freshman year at Notre Dame where we fell in love under the enchanting shadow of the golden dome.  Our relationship quickly turned serious and by our sophomore year we felt God calling us to be married. Shortly after graduation, we were married and moved away from our family, friends, and relatives to blissfully begin our new life together.  And what an incredible roller coaster ride it has been so far! In our five years of marriage, we have welcomed two beautiful children into the world, bought a house, dealt with financial worries and job insecurities, and mourned the loss of two pregnancies. Paul and I are more in love than ever even though we definitely drive each other bonkers from time to time.

Everyone always warns that the first year of marriage is usually the most difficult. I actually found that to be very untrue. Paul and I loved our first year together. It was so fun and exciting to begin our married life together: moving in with one another, setting up house, dreaming about our future children, learning how to cook together, taking a vacation just the two of us. It was a truly happy time. Don’t get me wrong…it was not all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. We had our fair share of fights, tears, and apologies during that time. One particular incident involving an exploding waffle iron comes to mind. I think the argument ended with Paul furiously driving away to return said waffle iron while I took an angry stomp around the neighborhood. When he returned, I was still out on my walk and he thought that I had actually packed my bags and left him. It was super stupid and we laugh about it every single time we have waffles now.

However, during those early months of our marriage, we spent a lot of time getting to know one another on a more personal and spiritual level. We took long walks together, planned home-improvement projects, played games, ate breakfast in bed on the weekends while working on crossword puzzles, and lazily perused antique shops on rainy Sunday afternoons. We prayed together often and loved attending Mass and saying the rosary together on a daily basis. Finding time to spend together was natural and easy.

All that changed with the arrival of our son, Matthew Patrick.

 Suddenly, our world was turned topsy-turvy. Our entire schedule suddenly revolved around baby feedings, diaper changes, and naps. Our colicky child did not let us share a bed for the first three months of his precious little life because we had to take shifts bouncing him all night long! Attending Mass turned into a weekly affair instead of a daily ritual and involved very little quiet prayer, but rather much stress, sweat, and panic over keeping the baby quiet so as not to disturb the rest of the congregation. We were too exhausted to even think about spending an intimate moment together. Even after the colic period ended and we were finally able to sleep through the night once more, we did not make any real strides towards attempting to find time to spend just the two of us. Going on dates suddenly became more of an issue because of the need to find a sitter. Not to mention, purchasing tons of diapers each month does not leave a whole lot of flexibility in the budget for a dinner out on the town. However, our relationship was definitely suffering. We had more arguments, more misunderstandings. Little things began to bug us more (Paul became increasingly irritated with my penchant for parking the car in our garage at a 45 degree angle and I started getting REALLY ticked about him leaving the toilet seat up – why? WHY? WHY?). I in particular felt unloved, unwanted, and emotionally strung out after spending day-in and day-out giving all my energy towards caring for my son. More than anything, I wanted some personal attention from my husband similar to what I used to receive on a regular basis when we were newlyweds. Needless to say, after one particularly bad day, I began sobbing and all these pent-up emotions suddenly came spilling out onto my poor, unsuspecting husband. Something had to be done!

Paul and I sat down and decided that we simply needed to schedule a weekly “date night.” We’re not talking anything fancy. Maybe putting the kid to bed a little earlier and then making a special late dinner to share. Perhaps renting a favorite movie and snuggling together under a blanket with a gigantic bowl of popcorn. Or even brewing a couple mugs of our favorite tea and playing some card games while reminiscing about good times with one another. The most important thing is that the time is especially dedicated to focusing on each other.  Our most recent “date” with one another was rather spontaneous. We were out shopping with our two kiddos (we recently added our precious baby girl Emma Rosie to our crazy family) and both of them ended up passing out in their respective car seats. We took advantage of the opportunity and went through the Starbucks drive-thru, ordered a couple of our favorite lattes, and then parked the car at a scenic spot facing the lake to chat (and kiss a bit…or a lot). We enjoyed that.

In addition to these weekly date nights, Paul and I have also tried to do little acts of love. On my end, I enjoy packing him a healthy, delicious lunch with a sweet note ensconced inside. Or I might bake up a batch of his favorite cookies to surprise him when he comes home from work. Or I might vacuum out the car because I know how anal he is about keeping our vehicles clean (it’s more important to him than the cleanliness of his wardrobe. Seriously, the guy walks around looking like someone took pot shots at him with a shotgun loaded with diesel oil!). On the other hand, Paul will quietly get Matthew dressed for the day when he comes barging into our room at 5:00 AM in order to let me sleep in a bit longer. He will also set up the coffee pot to brew a couple hot cups of that miracle elixir for me before heading out for work. Occasionally, he will write a quick love note on our refrigerator that never fails to lift my spirits and give me an additional confidence boost to power me through another day.

Paul and I have also tried to pray together more. God is at the center of our relationship so shouldn’t we spend a little time with him together in prayer asking for his help and guidance for us and our marriage? We try to say a rosary together every night as soon as both kids are sleeping. It’s a small start and Paul is usually snoring by the second decade, but the important thing is that we are making an effort! We still can’t swing taking both kids to Mass every day and there is no guarantee that we will hear the homily at Sunday Mass over the whines and wails. However, I know we have freed many, many, MANY souls from purgatory by offering up our parenting frustrations!

Ever since we decided to make a conscious effort to focus on each other, I can honestly say that we have been a much happier couple. I’m not going to lie and say that this has not been incredibly difficult. There are some weeks where we fail miserably at being attentive to one another. And boy, you can certainly tell because we are one crabby couple! It is so easy to allow our children, our careers, or our volunteer work to take precedence while our relationship with our spouse, the very person with which we have chosen to share this beautiful vocation, falls by the wayside. It is easy to assume that our spouse is a given constant in our life, but the reality is that our time together is very short and marriages really do take a lot of work – even if you are soul mates.

Congratulations and good luck on your marriage, Tess and Frank!

You two will be in our prayers for a long, beautiful life together!

Monica Nistler graduated with honors from the University of Notre Dame in 2008 with a degree in Biological Sciences. Immediately following graduation, she married her college sweetheart Paul Nistler and moved to Erie, Pennsylvania where Paul is employed as an engineer for GE. She worked for the Diocese of Erie before retiring in 2010 after the birth of Matthew Patrick to devote herself full-time to motherhood. In March 2013, Matthew’s days as an only child ended with the birth of little Emma Rose. Monica was relieved to finally have another girl join the formerly testosterone-dominated household. An avid cook, Monica shares her favorite recipes in addition to her musings on motherhood and married life on her blog A Beautiful Mess.