The euphoria of falling in love with our new babies is intoxicating. For me it was such a dominant force, that for a while it overshadowed everything else in my life, including my marriage. Our soul mates, the loves of our lives, the very people who make our children possible in the first place often end up feeling second best.
I took our marriage for granted, assuming it was strong enough to withstand any challenge. And it is incredibly resilient, but when a baby comes along we’re tested like never before. While children bring intense joy they also spell less time, less money, more mess and more stress. Small cracks in a relationship may grow into colossal chasms and threaten the foundation of our precious family units.
Over the past few months we’ve witnessed a couple of friend’s marriages die and it feels like we’re mourning the loss of something very special. While the D word is rarely spoken in our home it’s given me a wake up call and made me realize our relationships with our soul mates may be more fragile than we realize. If we hope to make it through this marathon of love not only together, but happily united, we need to intentionally nurture our marriages.
Our relationships with our partners are just as, if not more important, than the ones we care for so intently with our children. Long after our kids have left the nest and spread their wings, this is the person we hope to grow old, grey and wrinkly with. To cherish our grandchildren with and to look back on a life filled with happiness, laughter and joy.
I definitely don’t have all the answers. My relationship has spanned two decades and it continues to teach and surprise me on a daily basis. But, here are are few lessons I’ve found through soul searching, research and experience, which have helped me nourish and sustain our post-baby marriage.
REFRAME YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Novelist, Nora Ephron, once said “A child is a grenade. When you have a baby, you set off an explosion in your marriage, and when the dust settles, your marriage is different from what it was.”
Accepting your marriage will never be the same again will help you surrender to something which promises to be even better. Give yourself the freedom to evolve with your changing life and revel in the richness a child brings. Go with it, rather than against it and be swept up in the magic of falling in love deeper with your partner as you see them changing and growing as a new parent. Just like in one of my son’s favourite bedtime books, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, it takes time to transform into a beautiful butterfly.
DON’T EMPOWER YOUR EMOTIONS
We’ve moved internationally a bunch of times and each time we do, I say to myself, “Ignore your emotions for the first six months”. I’ve learned feelings of isolation, doubt and loneliness are a normal part of a massive life changing event. Experiencing those emotions allows us to move on to something new, to challenge ourselves and to grow as people. But don’t give your emotions power – recognize them for what they are and set them free.
No matter how much you yearned for a baby becoming a parent is a cataclysmic event. Give each other a break and allow your child to bring you closer together rather than tearing you apart. Your world has been turned upside down – trust that you will find your groove in time but for now accept and revel in the craziness.
In those first few months watching my husband manage the house filled me with intense gratitude, love and comfort. Seeing him step up to the plate, as I was trying to find my way as a new mother made it easy to say THANK YOU over and over. But, as the dust settles and life finds a new normal you may feel you’re doing more than your fair share. Rebecca Rosen, of The Atlantic wrote, “The work is probably evenly split if both partners feel like they are doing upward of 60 percent since a lot of what one partner does is necessarily invisible to the other partner”.
For over four decades Psychologist John Gottman Ph.D has been studying marriages and has uncovered seven principles happy couples have in common. One principle he says is, “Happy couples are scanning the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Unhappy couples are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”
So, rather than practicing gratitude casually, actively seeking out opportunities to appreciate your partner could be one of the keys to a happy marriage.
THEY SAY IT TAKES A VILLAGE
A recent article I read touched on the notion that love is a limitless resource but energy is not: as parents we need to nourish both. We all love our kids but time away from them gives us the opportunity to replenish our energy and renew our relationships. Sarah Hrdy, leading scientific authority on motherhood, suggests it takes in the order of 13 million calories to raise an a child from infancy to nutritional independence, far in excess of what parents can provide on their own – it sure does take a village.
So, if you have family or friends who offer to help, TAKE IT and don’t feel guilty. And if you don’t, create your own village of parents, friends or babysitters. We live an ocean away from our families so we’re in the process of establishing ours – and it’s making all the difference.
MAKE INTIMACY A PRIORITY
For women, having a baby transforms us. Our breasts miraculously begin producing milk, any modesty we had about our femininity is lost and we’re likely to find the last thing on our minds after having a baby is sex. But when the time is right, it seems there’s nothing like playful affection to smooth over an argument or to strengthen our unique connection with our partners.
As parents though time, energy and privacy are in short supply. We co sleep with our son, which adds more complexity to keeping our sex life healthy. But, thinking beyond the master bedroom, making the most of toddler naps for day time sex, scheduling sex, installing locks on bathroom doors and most importantly, making it a priority, may be all you need to keep a little romance alive.
And remember, what kids need most is two happy parents so be openly loving in front of them: it’s not only beneficial for mum and dad but also an invaluable lesson in modelling healthy affection to our kids.
REMEMBER YOUNG LOVE
I recently rediscovered a collection of letters we sent each other many years ago and I’ve reread a handful of them. They make me smile as they transport me to a time when our love was pure, fresh and young, reminding me of the intensity of our passion for one another and highlighting how much we used to communicate it to one another.
So, be it with old love letters or reminiscing your early days together remind yourselves you’re the same two people you were when you fell in love, in spite of the unpredictable madness of day to day family life.
LOVE IS A VERB
Our marriages are the easiest relationship to put on the back burner but the most important one not to. When I was researching for this post I came across a frightening statistic: of all the people who get married, only three in ten remain in healthy, happy marriages – some divorce and some stay together in dysfunction. And I also came across an inspiring statistic: People who stay happily married live four years longer than people who don’t. There is something intrinsically healthy, both emotionally and physically, about being in a happy marriage.
It’s important to talk about our struggles, not just with our partners but with friends and family. Knowing we’re not alone in the challenges we face can give us the reassurance we need to keep going. On that note, I’d love to turn the discussion over to you, the Raised Good Community.