04/08/2014 04:11 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2014

How to Be (Happily) Married With Children

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I had two conversations about marriage this week that stuck with me. Neither of them was planned or expected. But the important things in life often aren't.

A few nights ago I ran into an acquaintance/new friend in the aisles of Target (we were both admittedly escaping our kids for an hour) and the conversation quickly turned to her fairly new separation from her husband of 10 years and to how she and the kids were coping, how the transition was taking shape (amicably) and how their relationship had been affected -- for better and for worse -- by the demands that parenting (among other things, of course) put on them. She was candid and open and unapologetic about the things that had gone wrong, from both sides, and how their role as parents played into it. Because it did.

Then yesterday I went to get my hair cut and ended up chatting with my stylist, who is newly married and 29, about the pressure she is feeling to have kids. You know it. The minute the walk down the aisle is done, people expect that you are walking straight into motherhood. She isn't quite ready for it. She wants to enjoy her husband and their time as newlyweds and doesn't feel any rush to jump to the next phase without properly appreciating this one. She wants to be free and frivolous and just have some fun as newlyweds. Stay up late, sleep in later... you remember those days.

And it got me thinking about how becoming a parent impacts your relationship.

Inevitably, it does. It will. It has.

No matter how much you read or prep or think you know how having children will change your life, your perspective and perhaps most importantly, your marriage, there is really no way to predict it. No way to anticipate how you and your partner may differ on parenting goals, values, methods until you are facing them head on. No way to know how exhaustion and hormones will alter your approach to everything. How you will find enough energy and time and passion to love everyone fully and completely... all the time.

You don't know until you're in it.

But once you are there, it can be beautiful. It's what I told my hair stylist (I also told her to fully appreciate this period of sleeping in). It can be the most amazing, incredible thing. It can take your relationship to a place you could never imagine. It can make you closer than ever before.

And I do believe you can stay that way.

But it takes work. It takes patience. It takes practice. It takes mutual respect and understanding. It takes prioritization and willingness to let some things fall by the wayside while others take center stage. It takes appreciation and gratitude. It takes collaboration and support. It takes perspective. It takes stepping back and looking around every once in a while. Taking it all in, the good, the bad, the wrong and the right. And assessing it. And knowing when to bend. When to change. When to ask for change.

And most importantly, it takes communication.

I went home after that trip to Target and I talked to my husband. I talked to him about what my friend had told me. What other friends have told me. What marriage means to me. How our kids affect our relationship. How our family dynamic can be bettered. How and why and why not and what if. We talked about it all. Marriage, parenting, discipline, values, family.

We talked about it all.

And it ended up being the most important conversation I had all week.