The Wives to Watch in Every Stage of Life series is one that I've been really excited about for a while! Each stage of life looks different and brings unique challenges to every couple. My hope is that you will be inspired by the stories of the women featured in this series. I hope that their experiences will help you find more ways to make your marriage relationship a priority throughout every stage of your own life.
Kaitlyn and her husband Sam are the proud parents of three boys. The two of them met in college, got married, moved out of state for graduate school. While living out of state, they became parents to three handsome boys. They are currently living in their home state while Sam finishes his schooling and works on his research and look forward to their future adventures as a family, wherever those may take them. Kaitlyn was featured on the blog in November 2015 when she shared The Perks of Being Married to a Cancer Scientist.
What does it mean to you to make your marriage a priority?
Before we were married, someone gave us a quote from Spencer W. Kimball that says, when the Lord says 'none else' in the scriptures, it means that nothing else will come before your spouse. I know that the big temptation is to let kids come before your spouse. To me, putting your spouse first and your kids second isn't so much about ranking, but recognizing that taking the time to nurture your marriage properly is what will be best for your kids. It's not really a conflict of interest to me, like he comes first and then my kids will come second. It's taking the time to recognize that I will leave them with a babysitter so that we can have this time together, it's worth it to me.
Sam has been super busy and finances have been tight throughout all the years of our marriage, not to mention the fact that we have three little kids. "Marriage comes first" or "marriage is a priority" doesn't mean that I get the most time, because I don't. It does mean to me that I know that if I had a problem, he would drop everything else to help me, or that if our marriage was struggling, everything else would take a backseat to that. Not on a day to day basis it will come first. It's taking the time to nurture it in the moment but also recognizing that in a moment of crisis, it would come first.
Kaitlyn told me a story about a time when she and her husband were planning on going to a meeting together, but because of her husband's responsibilities and the travel time to the location where the meeting was to be held, it made more sense for them to meet there. She said that she was a little disappointed that they wouldn't be able to ride together but decided that instead, they could go out to dinner together after the meeting was over. When she got to the meeting, she found out that he had taken an older gentleman with dementia to go get dinner before the meeting. Kaitlyn said that she had never communicated to Sam that she had wanted to go get dinner and that wasn't something that the two of them had planned to do. Then she gave this great explanation of when she realized what it means to put your spouse first:
I sat there and I felt so selfish, but at the same time I was thinking, 'Well, what does it mean to put me first?' I wouldn't have said, 'You should have let that man just sit here alone and not get any dinner'. One of the things that I love about Sam is that he sees people's needs and takes care of them! I sat there during that meeting for the longest time just trying to figure out what it means to put your family first. And then the stake president happened to share a story about how President Monson would leave every Christmas Day to visit every widow. I thought, 'How was he putting his family first if he was gone every Christmas day visiting these widows and taking them turkey?' As I was trying to reconcile it all in my head, the answer came so clearly to me that you put the needs of the institution first. Meaning that if our marriage is strong and we don't have a need for more, then go ahead and take the man to dinner. But if it comes to a point where our relationship is struggling, then it is time to put everything else on the back burner and put our relationship first. It's the same thing with parent/child interactions. If one of our kids is having a major disconnect with his dad then it's time to put everything aside and focus on that. This has helped me ever since, with all of the demands of Sam's lab and other responsibilities. As long as our marriage is healthy and thriving and we're giving it the care and attention it needs, and that in a moment of crisis, I know that I'd come first, that's good enough for me.
How have the different stages you've experienced in your marriage affected how you prioritize your relationship with each other?
I've had very good examples for one thing. My mom wouldn't let kids sit between the two of them at events and they had weekly date night. It was always so clear to us that "my children are not going to come between me and my spouse". So I grew up with that, but then also I think becoming parents so soon after we were married has actually make our marriage more of a priority because you don't take it for granted as much. Those dinner time conversations revolve around little kids and their needs and their spills and their little questions about Star Wars and whatever it is. That's why I say, for us, a date has to be no kids because otherwise we aren't going to get that quality conversation. We'll take little babies with us but as soon as they get old enough to talk, they monopolize your time and the conversation.
I think that having children so early in marriage could work both ways. It could work to drive a couple apart, but it could also work to bring them together. I feel like it has worked to bring us together because you have to work harder to make it happen. Date night becomes more of something that we rely on because we rely on that time to have a good conversation instead of just when we see each other every night. It's not like date night every night, we aren't just sitting on the couch watching a movie every night and catching up on our day. I feel like it's helped us be more intentional about strengthening our marriage. I would say both becoming parents right away and also being students. It's required a lot more effort and helped us value our marriage more and make it a bigger priority.
What are some rituals or traditions that you have with your spouse?
Weekly date for one thing and then we have our spiritual rituals like couple prayer and we go to the temple once a month. We also really like leaving each other notes. It doesn't happen as much now as it did when it was just us or one kid because it's hard to find the time. Sam would leave me marker notes on the bathroom mirror or just little notes like he still does sometimes where I'll open a cupboard and there will be a little note from him. Or I'll send him e-mails, he'll write me poems sometimes, and that's just been something that has been really strengthening. It just shows that they're willing to take the time, even if it's just something silly. Holidays are usually more of family things, but I think it's the day-to-day things like the long list of nicknames that he calls me and things that are just between the two of us. It makes you feel more connected to them when you have certain experiences or certain characteristics that are only within your relationship.
How have the obstacles and challenges that you've faced as a couple made you a stronger team?
It wasn't a huge obstacle, but just living away from any of our families. We had to turn to each other. We had hard things with me being hospitalized, with one of our kids being hospitalized and then the birth of all of our kids not to mention the countless car breakdowns that we had and random experiences like that. There were so many times when my mom would say, "I just wish I was there. I just wish I was there to help you!" But I think it helped us create a stronger bond by recognizing that we had each other and that was where we turned to for support. And we had friends that would help out, but they weren't an emotional support. Sam's brother is engaged right now and and as I was watching them I thought, 'It's really neat when you reach that point in your relationship where you know your spouse better than their family knows them.' I feel like those kinds of experiences are things that set you apart as your own family unit. And it makes it something that you've gone through together and that others haven't played a big role is; whatever it is, whether it's big or small.
Other things that come to mind are like challenges with his work or school. He'll come home and I'm the one who he turns to to talk about it or for advice. Being able to grow in trust in that way has really united us. It's not just his work, it's something that we've worked on together and the challenges have made it a joint ownership. I don't feel like we've had any huge challenges or trials but just some of the stretching opportunities make you stronger as a couple.
Tell me about some thing(s) that you guys hope and dream to be able to do together in the future.
I know this involves our kids, but we really hope to create a home that lends itself to creating positive family memories and traditions. That's a place that we feel is worth investment. Both of us are serious penny pinchers and we're really frugal but we have plans to build the coolest tree house in the world because that's something that we see bringing our family together. So we love brainstorming and imagining the giant garden we're going to have and things that some might look at as frivolous recreation but to me they're important. So both of us have big goals for building our family. And although it is for our family I feel like it's more between us because we're the ones who are spearheading that and deciding what traditions we're going to create and what things we're going to do to make memories. That's another thing I feel that you don't really separate your marriage from parenting, but when you put your marriage as a priority, the parenting falls into place.
We have plans for his work that will be starting to come into shape in the next year or so and that's exciting because we've dreamed for so long. And it's not a concrete anything but it's just exciting to think about what he might become and the different opportunities that might come our way.
Any final thoughts?
I think the big emphasis for me is that when you're making your marriage a priority, I don't think of it as marriage first and kids second. I see it as when you prioritize your marriage it's best for your family as a whole. If the marriage crumbles or if the parents aren't united or bonded, the kids are definitely going to suffer and they're definitely going to feel the effects of that. I think that building your marriage is one of the greatest gifts that you can give to your children.
A lot of it is just the underlying theme. Even if you're spending all of your time parenting, if you are looking at it with the underlying question of how are we going to use this to strengthen our marriage or how are we going to keep this strong, that's great! Parenting is one of the most strengthening things for our marriage and it's really hard for me to draw a line between the two because so much of what builds our marriage has to do with parenting. It's just recognizing that marriage is central to the well being of the family and always having that as the underlying theme of what you're doing.