My partner and I were married for over seven years before we became parents, and during those seven years we went through a handful of tough experiences, from unemployment to moving to a new country to infertility. We grew closer through those challenges, but the unexpected ways our marriage changed after baby were no-less surprising. In fact, because the changes were unique to both our personal situation and process of growing our family, nothing we experienced as a married couple could have prepared us for how our daughter would change our relationship.
Like many married couples, we did a lot together and a lot as individuals. We made our own schedules and coordinated sometimes, but not always. We mostly found ways to ensure we could do just about everything we wanted to do, together and separate, without having to sacrifice too much. We even managed to make it feel like moving to my husband's home country wasn't too much of a sacrifice for me, the one who had the culture shock and struggled to find a job. On a daily basis, we spent lots of time together but satisfied all our own individual needs, too.
Once we became parents, however, everything was instantly superseded by one much bigger (although very tiny) priority: our daughter and her wellbeing. While we didn't just chuck everything we'd learned about marriage or what we needed individually, there was a subtle shift in many aspects of our marriage to align with this new priority. They weren't all amazing and they weren't all terrible, they were just unique and different and educational for our marriage.
If you're in the thick of new parenting with your partner, keep an eye out for these changes you're probably both experiencing:
We Protected Our New Family
Almost instantly after having our daughter, I realized that our marriage had shifted from being something that just hummed along in the background, to a family unit where we actively protected each other. Before having our daughter came into our lives we did our own thing and our couple thing, but now that we are a family with a little one depending on us, we protect that family unit with fierceness that never existed previously.
We Gave Each Other Time
Before we had kids, we took time for ourselves often. We had our own friends and our own plans and our own business trips. Now that we have a baby, we make an effort to give each other time so that we can both unwind. We prioritize letting each other get to the gym most days, and we take turns on bath or bedtime duty so the other can have some breathing space.
We Gave Each Other Second Chances
Parenting made us less apt to focus on the hurtful words that can pop out of an overtired mouth. Instead, we both give each other a lot more grace for that sort of thing than we ever had in the past. We forgave fast, because we needed to get back on the same team to parent together as soon as humanly possible.
We Felt Equal
I'm not saying we didn't feel equal before, mind you. It's just that I didn't really stop to consider our equality all that often. Now, when I consider our work loads and how much we have going on, I feel like we both are doing as much as we possibly can. Not every minute, mind you, but overall, we are both operating equally at full capacity most days. That means more grace for each other when one of us hits the wall of exhaustion.
We Messed Up
This isn't something that had really happened before in our marriage. We'd never messed something up that would affect our marriage, and we'd never had to actively fix it before. In the first several months to a year of being parents, we didn't prioritize our marriage. We prioritized our baby, which I think was natural and necessary, but it also took a toll on us as a couple.
When we realized it, we took steps to correct that course. Our marriage needs to be as strong as possible so that our family can be as strong as possible. As hard as that was for me to realize, especially when motherhood was so new, I can see how crucial our happiness is for our entire family.
We Focused On The Big Stuff
We absolutely had spats over who was going to change the latest stinky diaper (or bigger spats over who was going to clean up the poop in the bath tub) but overall, we focused on the big stuff. We focused on our daughter and the big questions about helping her grow and learn and thrive. We focused on how to make our family happier and stronger overall, and we mostly let the little stuff be little stuff.
We Had A Team Project
The biggest thing we did together on a regular basis before we had a baby was travel together, which does provide learning elements, but is nothing like the teamwork needed to raise a baby. It was actually a really interesting thing to be working so closely on a such a life-changing project, and to learn so much about the other person in the process.
We Tried To Be The Best Version Of Ourselves
Not that we were terrible people before, because we weren't. However, it was obvious, from the early days of being parents, that we were trying to be better for our daughter. Now that she's older and models everything we do and say, I can hear it in both my husband's and my voices that we are trying our best to use the right words and be the best teacher for her. We're also trying to constantly model the way we want our family to speak to each other, so that means when something doesn't get done or someone feels hurt, we're much more careful about the words we use with each other.
We Realized Life Is Short
Becoming parents meant that we quickly grasped just how quickly life was flying by. Heck, the first year of our daughter's life was practically a blink. As a result, we have both made a conscious effort to make the most out of every day. That doesn't mean that some evenings aren't totally lost to a Netflix binge or an Instagram rabbit hole, but during the daylight hours we try to get the best out of every day.
We Expressed More Gratitude
Before we had a baby, gratitude was often more or less implied. Now that we're parents, it has become a vital part of keeping our marriage happy. We express more gratitude for the small and big things we do for each other, because even those small things feel absolutely giant when you've used up all your energy chasing a toddler around all day.