MARRIAGE AFTER KIDS
We all know that a healthy marriage after kids can be difficult to maintain. If you are a new mother, you may be wondering, “can a baby can ruin your relationship?” Although relationships are harder after having children, they can still be a happy and thriving aspect of your life.It just takes a bit more work.
My husband recently decided this was a topic he wanted to tackle on the blog, as we are very familiar with the struggles that emerge between two people who love each other. Matt is an aspiring author who loves fiction, fantasy, and science-fiction. And his wife and kids too.
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DOES HAVING A BABY STRENGTHEN A RELATIONSHIP?
It can. It can also bring out the underlying issues in your relationship that you didn’t even know existed.
Parenting is difficult by itself. Having a significant other that can carry the load, while worth its weight in gold, comes packed with its own unique set of challenges. Feelings of inequality and resentment are hard to avoid at best.
As with anything though, understanding and awareness are the first steps to balancing the burden.
My wife and I parent two daughters, and they are a handful. Being almost precisely two years apart, we were still reeling from the harsh tutelage of one baby when the second came squalling into the world. This made it necessary to continue our adult education in the topic of toddlers while simultaneously trying to dredge up all the best practices that we learned by harsh trial and error with our first little one.
I work, and she stays home. Right or wrong, when you consider the global landscape of gender inequality, there you have it. Sometimes I wonder if our gender roles are social constructs or genetic imperatives, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic and one that–perhaps–doesn’t factor into the equation.
Anyone who lives this particular life situation knows it: I resent that she gets to stay home and live an eternal summer break full of rainbows and butterflies; she resents that I get to go to work, which is really just another word for going to play with my friends. What could be better? I don’t even have to wipe their bums! How easy have I got it?
Obviously, we have some perception issues that need dealing with.
No one tells you this is coming. It’s like this big great secret that all the parents know, and no one ever talks about.
If your significant other is like me, they have the objectivity to understand that your day is not full of rainbows and butterflies. They get that the daily frustrations of raising children might make you a little short and may give you the benefit of the doubt if you throw a little rage in their direction. Most of the time, anyway.
Even if it seems like you’re taking it out on him, he knows it isn’t his fault the baby painted the wall with <insert bodily fluid>, knows it isn’t his fault that you got <insert another bodily fluid> in your hair. They know it, and eventually, they know that you’ll know it. Ride that wave to the end, and you’ll inevitably both find solid ground.
Easier said than done, I know. I’m sorry to say that you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice.
No one else wants your marriage to survive quite so much as the one with whom your genetic material is shared in your children. And if you adopted or inseminated because of an alternate situation, your children still have a vested interest in the consistency your relationship offers.
To this end, and because it takes a village, here are a few easy hacks you can apply to ensure that same village doesn’t get left holding the bag when you and your significant other destroy each other in a cataclysmic fit of unbridled fury.
KEEPING A RELATIONSHIP STRONG AFTER BABY
Take time for yourself, even if you feel bad about it
My wife is notorious for putting others before herself. She second guesses everything that might put others at discomfort and obsesses about what other people are thinking. Sometimes this is good, sometimes it is bad.
When it comes to buying herself a break, she apologizes compulsively and has trouble letting go of the guilt. This, I imagine, gets in the way of her capacity to let go and enjoy herself when this much-needed opportunity for self-service arrives.
It probably isn’t possible to forget entirely, particularly if you are a new mommy and it is early in your little one’s life. Really dig deep down and push yourself to put the blinders on. Zero in on an activity that will let you escape. Take your sig along if it suits you, or leave him/her in the dust if that’s what you need.
FRIENDS AND A GROUPON
Being social with others is a great idea (assuming you have friends; we’ve never been very good at that). Otherwise, treat yourself to a movie or a spa or some time at a cafe. Reconnect with those things that let you veg before all this crazy stuff redefined you.
You really do deserve a break. Let them think it, let them tell you, and let yourself believe it.
LOWER YOUR SELF-IMPOSED EXPECTATIONS
Limit the deadlines and expectations you force upon yourself
Whether you’re a career woman or a stay-home through and through, you are only accountable to your own measure. Your partner’s expectations are important, but if you’re anything like mine, the bar you set for yourself is the one that you take the most seriously–and, honestly, probably the one that drives your partner the craziest.
Don’t get me wrong. I love that my wife is motivated, organized, and efficient. But sometimes I think that if she makes one more rule for herself and gets short with me because she’s so stressed she isn’t going to abide by it, I might just buy another video game.
I mean it, Audrey! Don’t test me.
Seriously, though, factor what’s important into the vital and non-vital. Consider what impact you’re solving for by holding this standard or rule. Will missing a deadline bring in the fire marshal? Will skipping one tiny step in the maintenance routine incur the wrath of the surgeon general?
Will skirting one small rule in your established routine send your impressionable young child down a skittering path into madness, substance abuse and a sticky morass of emotional torment?
Disclaimer, actually. If you answered yes to any of those, your rules are actually pretty good. Worth worrying about.
If you like working through things on paper, here’s a nice printable that can help you work through your self-impositions. This is a worksheet on understanding what you’re holding yourself to, checking what lives beneath that, and aiding in prioritization through use of an importance scale.
But my point is that you are likely holding yourself to an unnecessarily high standard. Be sure to communicate these things with your significant other to ensure that there’s no misunderstanding, but you shouldn’t be under anyone’s gun about how you do things.
Particularly your own gun.
REMEMBER THAT MARRIAGE IS A PROMISE, NOT A GUARANTEE
The stories and the movies all demonstrate this happy ending, based on the vows they took or the promise they made as children. We all know it’s more complicated than that. Even relationships forged in the most sacred of contracts according to personal beliefs are inclined to fail sometimes.
Treat every moment of your life like a courtship. And I don’t mean party manners. Be who you are, be what you are, and be true to yourself. But run things through a bit of a filter, particularly if you are feeling a little short.
Would you stomp across your significant other’s feelings over as tiny a thing as not getting the litter box clean if you were two weeks new in the relationship? Probably not worth it, with as little commitment and time as you’ve gained so early.
Why, then, would you put their feelings aside so readily five years down the road? Ten? I’m here to say that my feelings have become more sensitive to my wife’s criticism over time, not less.
I’m certainly not saying to expect divorce around every corner. No one should live like that. Instead, expect happiness and faithfulness around every corner, but weigh every step you take toward it as well, so you can always ensure that you’re both walking on the same path to get there.
ESTABLISH CLEAR EXPECTATIONS AND ROLES
This point might be a little difficult if you and those sharing your household haven’t established a clear idea of what needs doing, when it needs doing, and how the balance of work is shared.
Housework is a giant red button just begging to be pushed by either one of an exhausted and overstressed pair of parents. It is the great incitement. If I were to guess, I’d say the Cold War with Russia probably started in a kitchen.
This, in my opinion, is largely due to one simple thing:
When you perform a task, you are the only one that sees how much goes into it.
Do you hear thunder? Did the foundations of your beliefs just shiver and shake? Choirs of angels? Probably not.
This is not an earth-shattering revelation, and yet, it is another one of those things no one ever told me, and I never thought about until our relationship began to take wild shifts due to resentment.
Couple this with the fact that–and yes I’m going to generalize and assign gender roles get over it Audrey–men aren’t always the most observant. I didn’t see the elbow grease you expended and how long you sat hunched over the thing with the soap and the brush, rigorously scrubbing for hours and hours. I may not have even noticed there is a thing to scrub.
As such, my appreciation might be a little limited, by no apparent fault of my own.
The very best way to know what you’ve accomplished and what you expect of me is to write it down. It won’t make things even–there is no such thing as a perfect distribution of work. But, it may establish an equilibrium of sorts.
Sit with your significant other and draw up a list of tasks. I think it’s a good idea to include the obvious things like “work” and “cook” and “pay bills” and “watch the kids”, just be sure they don’t get taken for granted. Try to assign them weights and to ensure that you can both do all within your power to equalize the effort.
At the worst of times, you might feel like you are doing the lion’s share. I think that’s pretty natural. Remember that it always looks greener through the fence. Refer to your list and remember that you’d probably both have complaints sometimes even if your situations were reversed.
It feels incredibly unfair when you shoulder all the work, particularly if you don’t get any appreciation for it. We’ve all been there at some point or another. You might even be there right now.
Trust me: there’s nothing wrong with feeling this way; what is more vital to control is what you do about it. If you turn all of this against your other, you might give the impression that you’re keeping score, even though you aren’t.
Nothing stops up an emotional system quite so much as someone carrying a grudge that gets heavier with every small task.
Share the load, find the balance, and communicate.
SIT DOWN TOGETHER AND MAKE A LIST OF PRIORITY TASKS
Speaking of bending over to scrub that one thing for hours and hours, I remember a quote from an author I deeply respect. And now that I look to make sure he wasn’t quoting someone else, I can’t even find proof that he said it.
So hopefully he said it. And if not, I did! Look at that, I’m famous. Pretty awesome how that worked out.
Great writers don’t clean the grout.
or possibly someone else
or maybe just me
Granted, you might not be a writer. Or you might not have grout. Or both.
The point is that you have to prioritize, and sometimes that means some things must simply go undone if you wish to achieve. The last tip is about whose job is what, but it might be a little dependant on this one, which is what jobs need doing.
The great thing about laying out these priorities and putting them in order is that it will help you identify what is important to both of you.
You may not prioritize things the same order. You don’t have to. Luckily, the tasks that are most important to me can be my top priorities, and my significant other can take hers. Then we can share some common ground tasks and potentially triage out some of those things that we both agree can maybe come second or third or never.
Consider purchasing an awesome calendar white board as this will help you keep better track of what needs to be done throughout the week.
As with anything, it is great to have something in the environment to keep you engaged. Besides, keeping a list like this also gives you the chance to cross things off a list, which is of particular fascination to some types.
Make your priority list fun and personal. Take some time to make it yours together.
SPEND QUALITY TIME TOGETHER
Take time together, even at the risk of “inconveniencing” others
You have to gauge this one for yourself, as everyone’s support system is different. My wife always worries about inconveniencing my mother by burdening her with our daughters. My mom always worries about inconveniencing my wife by robbing her of precious mommy time with my daughters. So they go back and forth.
“Do you want to keep the baby?”
“Do YOU want to keep the baby?”
“Did you want to spend some time with her?”
“Did YOU want to spend some time with her?”
Listen to that for twenty minutes while trying to get out the door to the grocery store.
My mom loves spending time with the girls. Granted, she has her own things to do, but sometimes you have to just take someone at their word if they say “I’ll watch the girls, it’s no problem.” If its a problem, hopefully they won’t offer next time.
You can purchase a date night ideas book if you happen to be lacking in the creativity department. You should try and switch up your activities because doing new things together has been proven to improve your relationship with your partner.
It can be hard, but time alone is important. Otherwise,you forget what there was between you. The kids become your relationship identity, and your raw sexual love morphs into fuzzy familial affection.
GET A HOBBY
Prioritize hobbies and portion them into both your routines
Be sure to layer fun into your routine. Identify those things that help you decompress, and ensure that you both have time to do these things. Keep in mind that they don’t have to be things you do together. It’s a plus, but never having any time alone can be stifling for both of you.
ESTABLISH & ENGAGE MENTORS WHO UNDERSTAND YOUR SITUATION
Nothing is quite so calming as knowing that you have someone you can trust with your pain, who knows your needs, and is prepared at a moment’s notice to step in and give you a chance to get away.
Our first babysitter, whom we happened upon almost by accident, was this type of person. Heather was vulnerable with my wife and shared extremely sensitive details about her own family struggles, allowing us to understand her values and even help her cope. Despite her own challenges–and we all have them–she was unfailing trustworthy with the care of our daughter.
My wife struggled to find someone to replace her when we moved too far away to make use of her services anymore. This took a pretty significant toll.
The more you can confide and expect your confidant to reciprocate, the better. Find someone that you trust, someone whose morals and beliefs align with your own. This can be a friend for a family member, or even just an exceptional babysitter, like Heather.
REMEMBER THAT YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER’S TIME IS GIVEN, NOT GRANTED
We come to expect that we are entitled to the time of our significant other. This gets even heavier with children. Remember that your time is still your own–it doesn’t belong to your partner, or even your children.
The same is true in reverse. If you are to sacrifice time for your partner’s benefit, it should be seen as exactly that. Always. It is not his or hers by right, it is given by choice. Sometimes, it should not be given at all.
Have a healthy conversation about this. Talk about times when you’ve felt like your life wasn’t your own. I can guarantee you’ve both felt it. Knowing how this felt for your other will help you identify times when you need to give or at least stop taking.
DECIDE ON A COUNSELING PROVIDER, AND AGREE HOW OR WHEN TO SEEK HELP
Everyone’s situation is different, and there is no harm in seeking help. There is a reason that counseling takes various shapes and forms. No one family needs precisely the same thing.
Get familiar with your options, talk about what help you think you might need at some point. If you don’t know, investigate general counseling options for families or couples, and call around to meet a few providers.
You don’t have to be crazy to go, and you don’t have to go to be prepared. Get something on the books, maybe even meet once. Knowing you have the option and keeping it visible will help you stay conscious of your own self-health and your ability to read your partner’s needs.
And if things get bad, you’ve already got a plan. If you both agree where you draw your lines and how far is too far, help will be that much closer and you’ll already have some common ground to which you can anchor.