I remember a time before we co-habited that I would almost burst with excitement to tell my then boyfriend about every detail of my day. We’d chat about everything from what we had for breakfast that morning, to the state of the education system, and then we’d make plans for our future together.
These days the boyfriend-who-is-now-husband finishes work and our eldest son, who insists on our full attention so that he can tell us in frustrating detail what’s been happening at school, interrupts every attempt we make to talk to each other. By the time we’ve made dinner, tucked youngest in bed and fought the eldest into his own bed, we’re both totally exhausted and we collapse in a heap on the sofa, and escape into a screen somewhere.
When we do have the energy, any attempts to talk about our respective days invariably turns into a discussion about the boys. Usually parenting tactics, or how to get broccoli into them without noticing. Husband will, on occasion, begin to talk about his work and I’ll gloss over, my mind on the school uniform that needs washing or the recent meeting of the local parents group.
As a stay-at-home mum there is little that is new and exciting for me to talk about, so I don’t usually bother. It’s not that I don’t care but unfortunately a deep and meaningful conversation with my husband about the state of the economy, unless it has something to do with Family Tax credits, comes somewhere near the bottom of my to-do list. The only time I have the mental capacity to talk to him I’m usually up to my ears in Shreddies and Marmite and before I know it he’s heading out the door to work.
I know we’re not the only ones; plenty of couples suffer from this lull in genuine communication because after so many years together there is little mystery left in the relationship. We know each other too well and there’s not much we haven’t said to each other. Sometimes I even find myself wanting to finish his sentences for him but even that takes too much effort.
This is not an unusual situation. Talk to anyone with kids and they’ll tell you a similar story. “All we ever discuss is dinner options, who is taking the eldest to rugby this weekend, and what’s on the TV,” says a friend of mine, “Conversation falls into a big black hole in our house.”
Sometimes when we’re stuck in a rut it can feel as though a relationship is ill-fated but, as the relationship experts will tell us, we have to recognise that there is contentment in being comfortable and predictable.
So what is the problem with focussing all our discussions on the kids? They are important in our lives and, over and above everything else, they are the glue of most relationships. Talking about them, even if it is mundane and day-to-day, like the progress with potty training or how much TV is permissible for a five-year-old, can help us to remember why we are together in the first place.
It’s also important we accept that relationships change over time; it’s not ever going to be the same as in the beginning when everything was fresh and new and we were just getting to know each other. It takes more effort to stay focused on one another when the monotony of family life settles in. There’s no harm in us each doing our own thing as long as long as we reconnect every now and then, so that when we are faced with an empty nest we don’t look at each other and think, ‘who the hell are you?’