Ever heard of the 7-year itch? I didn’t believe it was real until this past year when my husband Allen and I went through something similar. I’m not sure what exactly the “7-year itch” is, but for us, it wasn’t an itch. It was more like an open wound.
Hi, my name is Laura Izumikawa and just to give you a quick background, Allen and I have been together for 12 years and this is our 7th year of marriage. Allen works at his own practice as the head optometrist, working 6 days a week and I work from home, round the clock, sometimes into the early mornings, creating content for digital campaigns. Before we had kids, we never fought. We were best friends and did everything together. We had an exciting social life with friends and family and traveled quite a bit together. When our first daughter came, it was the most joyous season in our relationship. We welcomed our new parenting life with open arms and enjoyed everything about it. And then our careers started to shift. Work-life suddenly became so demanding and we started seeing less and less of each other as I traveled quite a bit until I was pregnant with my second daughter. I hardly saw my friends and much less had alone time with Allen.
When our second daughter came, we were excited because we were hoping it would be a chance for us to slow things down and reconnect as a couple again but we ended up choosing to put our marriage on the back burner. Many parents go through this and are able to survive but for us, it nearly destroyed us. Allen and I were both so physically, mentally and emotionally drained from work and family life demands. On top of that, I was extremely hormonal, emotional and still recovering from giving birth. I didn’t really have a maternity leave because I knew I had to get back to work as soon as possible. Allen also barely had time off and had to go straight to work. We put other priorities before ours and in the end our marriage suffered greatly. To simply put it, we didn’t protect our marriage. We didn’t create any boundaries, we simply let it go and just passively hoped for the best.
Pretty soon, my exhaustion turned to resentment towards Allen even though there was nothing he did to make things worse. I was so frustrated at him because I felt like he didn’t understand what I was going through and whenever he disappointed me in any way, I would quickly dismiss him and complained that I felt completely and utterly alone in the marriage. Little did I know that I was piling way too much pressure on him, which I’ll explain more later here.
That resentment later turned to resignation and eventually complete emotional and physical disconnection from Allen. We started to fight and with every fight, it created a bigger hole in our hearts and we found ourselves wondering if we had married the right person and if it would just be better for all of us, the girls included if we were separated and happier individuals. It was the lowest point in our marriage. I threw out the word “divorce” out in our arguments a few times, and the more I said the word, the more likely it seemed it could be. Allen began to believe it too and we lived like “roommates,” just surviving together for our kids, meanwhile growing further and further apart.
It came to a point when we sat and really looked at all the reasons we were falling apart and identified that it was this: We never intentionally created the time to invest in ourselves individually. You thought I was going to say that it was because we didn’t take time for each other right? Nope! We actually found that because we were not giving ourselves the proper self-care we absolutely needed, we couldn’t bring ourselves to each other as healthy and happier partners to do life together. We were trying so hard to find happiness and fulfillment in each other rather than taking care of ourselves first and then joining together to be able to better support each other.
Around this time we had seen a video of Will Smith talking about “love and happiness with your partner” and it kind of woke us up. (Please watch it if you have the time!) It’s not an easy thing to listen to for most people but what we took away from Will’s message was that between Allen and me, we are responsible individually to take care of our personal needs and not expect that our needs to be fulfilled by each other. To expect the other person to fill the various “holes” in our lives is nearly impossible. We needed to make the time to take care of ourselves and that doesn’t mean we don’t love each other and should never take care of each other. But there’s this thing called “self-care” that parents rarely do. So what does self-care look like? For Allen, it was being able to catch up with his friends occasionally after work and catching up on his favorite TV shows and films. For me, it was traveling and just hanging with my girlfriends without him and the kids. After a few months of adopting this new lifestyle, we saw almost instantly how it affected our marriage. We were far healthier and stronger, physically, spiritually and emotionally, and it changed absolutely EVERYTHING for us. We weren’t ignoring each other but we were now even more united. Because we felt full, it was easier to love each other and take care of one another AND our kids! Our close friends strongly encouraged us to take weekly date nights and so we adopted that as well into our schedule. Now every Friday night we go on a date and it’s been literally life-changing for our marriage. It’s like we’ve fallen in love with each other like it was the first time again.
Protecting your relationship with your partner is KEY.
What can that look like? The answer is SELF-CARE. It may look different for you and your partner but whatever it is, identify it and make the time for yourselves, especially individually. Go travel with your friends without your partner and kids AND DON’T FEEL GUILTY ABOUT IT, especially you moms! It is absolutely necessary to take care of yourself. We are all made up of physical, emotional and spiritual needs and parents need to understand the importance of taking care of those needs first so that you can be a healthier partner AND parent. If you feel guilty, just simply don’t. If you don’t have the time, make the time. I believe the investment you make in healthy self-care will positively impact every area of your life and your family will significantly benefit from it.