Before we had our son, my husband and I frequently found ourselves enthralled in conversations about how our relationship would be post-baby. We chatted knowingly about how our relationship would stay as patient, affectionate, and connected as it had always been. As confident as I was in our relationship, the potential change was my biggest worry going into parenthood.
It was so important to my husband and I to maintain the fabric of our relationship after the arrival of our son. Some of the parameters that we set out pre-baby included: frequent date nights, putting our son to bed early (to allow for time to reconnect each day), having him sleep in his own bed (because we enjoy our cuddles), and having him sleep in his own room (to maintain our sense of “us”). What no one quite told us (or who am I kidding, perhaps they did and we just didn’t listen) is that when you have a baby, your family evolves, and so does the nature of your relationship. When we had these discussions we were a family of two; we couldn’t have possibly understood what it would feel like to become a family of three. Many people give you advice before having a baby about “doing things for yourself” and “date nights”, but here’s the secret that no one shares…you are going to LOVE that baby so much more than you could ever have possibly fathomed and this is where all of those novel ideas get tough. We don’t want our son to sleep in his own bed because remember how I mentioned that we love cuddles?…we want our son to be part of those cuddles, and why would we want him to sleep in his own room?…he feels so safe and secure right between the two of us. Date nights?…try family date nights. You have never seen cute until you’ve seen your 8 month old charming the pants off of every patron in the restaurant while chowing down on Ethiopian cuisine.
So where does this leave our relationship? It’s hard to say. The first 8 months of parenthood have been so exciting, and all consuming. We just love every ounce of our little baby boy, and we want to be with him all of the time. We are riding the upside of a huge wave, but what will happen when this wave subsides? I had concerns that we would be left fizzled on the shore, so I’ve taken a few things into my own hands. And here are a few of my suggestions:
- Date nights…and not the usual! As cliché as it may sound, date nights are extremely important, but grabbing take out from your favorite Thai place doesn’t count! Do something different. I once read that sharing in a new experience together as a couple releases hormones that create a sense of partnership, and I believe this to be true. Try a new restaurant, or go roller-skating for the first time. On our first date night, I created an activity with a theme of getting to know one another. All too often in relationships, people become complacent about getting to know one another, assuming they know everything there is to know after a few years. We’ve been together for over 7 years and I’m still learning. I had each of us write down 10 questions that we would want the other person to ask us (new questions that we thought we’d have secret answers to) and then we swapped questions and took turns asking. This turned out to be so neat because not only did we learn new things about one another, but each question triggered a brand new conversation that we had never had before. I was surprised at the variety and uniqueness of questions that were presented, and while my husband was hesitant at first, he ended up raving about the activity.
- Talk. It might sound obvious, but find time to talk. You’ll quickly find that activities that used to involve talking may not anymore, like going to a restaurant where you’ll find yourself focused on keeping the baby happy, and safe. Find other times to talk. Talk about life, talk about random stuff, and take some time to talk about things that don’t involve the baby.
- Do things that make you feel connected. Every couple has activities, or moments that elicit a sense of connectedness; a deep warmth, calm, and happiness. We feel the most connected during our daily walks, which serve as quality time for us, as well as on road trips. We adore the time we have together in the car chatting and listening to music. We hadn’t been able to enjoy this activity because our little one hated the car seat for several months, but now that he’s getting older, we’re going on longer trips in the car and are so grateful for the time to reconnect.
- Reflect on your relationship.We have found ourselves reflecting a lot lately on where our relationship is. We talk about things that are working, and aspects that we could improve upon. We take the opportunity to share our needs (whether it be for more hugs, or less nagging) and remind one another why we love each other so.
- Prioritize intimacy.I’m not going to go into detail on this one, other than to say that some things that were once spontaneous need to be planned. Try not to let your physical relationship take the back burner, as it’s an important component to staying connected.
My pre-baby self was horrified when friends would tell us about the so-called strains that parenthood places on a marriage; the toll it can take on your relationship, and the decline in intimacy, among other impacts. We thought it was simple; we believed that these couples did not have strong relationships going into the realm of babies. We have always prided ourselves on our relationship; our communication, playfulness, consistent focus on improving ourselves, our love for one another, and our honest to goodness compatibility. We always thought that we would beat the odds that these friends seemed to be alluding to. So have we? Well there certainly are some truths in what these friends had shared, but it’s not all bad (in fact there is some great stuff too).
The truth is that you’re tired, I mean sometimes really tired. I was not prepared for how sleep deprivation would make me feel and I consistently find that on the good days sleep doesn’t feel like such an issue, but on the bad days it feels like it couldn’t get any worse. It can feel like you’re riding an emotional roller coaster. Even the simplest tasks and activities (like cooking meal, or going for a walk) can seem daunting when you’re so tired and it adds injury to insult when you’re also managing (as a family) your spouse’s adjustment to working life with a baby. Our relationship in the past was filled with the utmost patience for one another and constant displays of affection. I think we both find ourselves short with one another these days (a situation that I truly never believed we would find ourselves in). We don’t seem to have the energy to offer those gentle nudges (instead of forceful pushes) when asking for something to be done. And when something grates on our nerves, we seem to communicate it quite bluntly.
Our affection is directed mostly towards our little guy, and cuddles take place in the form of touching our feet together as we go to sleep at night. This might all sound a bit sad, but I don’t feel sad about it at all. You see my husband believes that we should embrace this moment in time and I agree. It is about displaying patience in a new way. Amidst the sleepless nights, and tired days (don’t worry there’s a whole lot of fun in those days too), we have found something remarkable in our relationship…unconditional love. The love that overcomes someone nattering in your ear more frequently (whether it be about picking up laundry, or remembering not to leave your keys in the car overnight…yeah that one’s me), a love that is warm and tender after those particularly exhausting days, one that is reflective at the end of a day with more bickering than usual, and kind when there are tears involved, a love that at the end of the day, brings us closer than we’ve ever been, for our son is a gift that has been given to us both, and there is so much beauty in that.
Although some of this might sound like a harsh reality, there are also a LOT of amazing aspects that a new baby brings to your relationship, here are a few that we’ve experienced:
- Laughter. Some days my cheeks actually physically hurt from laughing so hard. Babies love to laugh, and play, and so do my husband and I, so our relationship involves lots of sore cheeks these days.
- Being awe struck.Every time I open my eyes and see my husband interacting with our son…playing with him, snuggling him, and feeding him breakfast, I am awe struck at how amazing he is.
- Gratitude.It’s easy to recognize how remarkable life is when you’re enjoying the journey of a new baby together. There are also constant reminders of why you chose to journey through like together.
- Lots of learning.When we learn as individuals, we grow stronger as a couple. I learn new ways of doing and being from my husband nearly every day. We all have our own rhythms as parents and learning from one another builds strength and trust.
My advice to couples pre-baby is to accept that you really don’t, and can’t know what life with a baby will be like. Your family, and your relationship will shift. Make sure you take time to check in with one another. At the end of the day, if you are both happy with where your relationship is, then chances are, it’s in a pretty good place. As mothers and fathers of the world say, “this too shall pass”, so enjoy every moment (the ups and the downs) because you only get to enjoy your child as a baby once, and the memories that you make with your spouse during this time will last forever.