Fifteen years ago, I met a woman that I instantly became best friends with. We sat in her car talking about our lives, families, childhoods. The bond grew to the point where we agreed on a signed contract of dedication to one another, for life. The essence of that contract is not the Hollywood version or definition of marriage one would traditionally expect. Christina and I made a vow to ensure we would each have a life partner and companion that would challenge the other to be the best version of themselves possible.
Yes, sometimes it sucks.
It sucks in the way it does when a sports coach pushes you harder and harder when all you want to do is sit on the sidelines for a while and catch your breath, hydrate and go home and eat some chips already.
A few days ago, Christina and I had the opportunity of sitting down and being interviewed by Christopher Ryan, a New York Times best-selling author with a popular podcast called "Tangentially Speaking." During the podcast interview, Christopher mentioned why he was drawn to interviewing us (I had been wondering) and asked us to give away some of our secrets to making up such a great team as a couple. To be honest, I don't remember my response as I was a little bit taken aback by the flattering question. However, Christina and I have since discussed it at length, and well, perhaps we do have a few pearls to offer the world on this topic. At the end of the day, our dedication to our friendship has been a great strength of ours. To check out our actual, in-the-moment response to Chris on the podcast when it comes out, click here.
While "finding" time is not an option, "making" time is.
With 5 kids under the age of 11, it's nearly impossible to find time alone or have a thought or idea mentioned uninterrupted. Making things is usually a lot more time-consuming than finding them. However, when you put the time into making something, it is generally tailored perfectly to suit one's needs! Since arriving in Guatemala, we have poured uncountable hours into arranging our lives and schedules to match our family priorities. We have "made" our schedule and it's a true beauty. It goes a little something like this:
Since there are 5 children, each gets a day of the week that is their own "Special Day." Our firstborn gets Monday, our second Tuesday right up to Rosalinda, our fifth is claiming Friday. These special days involve the children coming to work with Chrissy or me to further our projects, the possibility of a small treat, and some good one-on-one time to talk about problems, solutions, goals, and the steps needed to achieve said goals.
Then there is OUR day. Saturday is date day, love day, sex day, the sacred day everyone knows is untouchable. On Saturdays, Christina and I pack our bags for the day, hand over our children to a couple of young ladies we trust, and head off to have the love affair we have been looking forward to all week with each other.
Planning and scheduling intimacy and only once a week... It might sound boring to anyone without kids. But to anyone that already has kids, I bet it sounds fantastic. And yes, it is.
We usually flip a coin about whether we walk around the lakeshore to the neighboring town or take the water taxi. Either way, we arrive at a ridiculously cheap but charming and clean little hotel with a great view of the lake. We sit on the deck outside our room, chat, and catch up. Talking about insane ideas and dreams that seem beyond impossible? -Always a turn-on.
We had a few rules about the things we don't talk about, but the rules now remain unnecessary for the most part. We both know we are there for a good time. Was it awkward bartering with a hotel clerk for an hourly rate arrangement with my wife? Yes. Was it worth it?
Our last few months in Canada were so busy, and our first few here in Guatemala were, um... with our new home consisting of just two rooms, our living arrangements are much less private. Having an entire day to ourselves has meant we can continue to dream together, work together, play together and prepare for the week ahead. Interestingly enough, before we had this schedule worked out, we jokingly (with sobs) began to call the giving experiment "the chastity experiment."
For us, putting the work into making the time has meant the difference between tackling our daily problems as a team or alone in our heads, guessing what the other is thinking and feeling.
So there it is. That is the most significant piece of marriage advice we can offer. If you have kids, a solid plan is needed to plow some time into that schedule for just the two of you to stay friends and lovers. It doesn't have to be a full day, and you don't have to move to Guatemala. Start with a few hours and keep weekends to the family.
We will not be signing our kids up for any extracurriculars that ever involve Saturdays or Sundays in our home. It's just not worth it.
The second most prominent piece of advice? Keep a coin handy and flip it for the tough decisions. When the coin decides on the toughies, no one can be blamed when things go wrong. Equally, you can both take credit together, as a team, when things go great! Tough decisions include: what restaurant to eat at, what country to move your family to, etc. None of it really matters now does it? 100 years from now, we'll all be under 6 feet of ground anyways.
Owen Dargatz is a father of five. He writes about his experiences as a daddy, husband and what has worked well for him personally over the years and what hasn't. He currently lives in Guatemala with his children and wife. To learn more about their family project and what they are doing in Guatemala, click here.