Before my partner and I became parents, we naively believed our marriage wouldn't be affected by having children. We were those jerks who made bold declarations like, "We'll never be those people." As it turns out, anyone can be those people and we were just as susceptible to post-baby hardships as any other couple. Being married and raising babies is tough, no matter how strong your relationship is, but there are the ways I kept my marriage together after having a baby.
I don't think anything can prepare you for how the whole world (well, at least your whole world) shifts when you become a mom, and what that monumental shift will do to your relationship with your partner. When my daughter joined our family, I instantly went into (slightly wacky) mama bear mode and, despite my best declarations pre-motherhood, they blinded me to what my relationship needed for several months. Then, when I realized what my relationship really did need, it took even longer to actually make that happen.
The good news is, even if you get a slow start like I did, there's a whole lot you can do to keep your marriage together after having a baby, including (but certainly not limited to) the following:
We Spent Time Together
My husband and I spent a ton of time together when our daughter was tiny, but rarely was that time spent alone. We'd go out for coffee, and even for dinner, but always with the baby in tow. This set up fooled me into thinking we had lots of quality time together which, of course, is totally not the case. Leaving the baby at home with a babysitter, going out to dinner, and having a conversation that's not interrupted by my daughter's need for a bottle or a diaper change, is totally different.
We Let Go Of Complete Control Of The Baby
In other words, letting a babysitter take over while we spent time together. You know, like real adults. This was the hardest for me, especially in the first few months of having our daughter. Because her adoption wasn't finalized until she was 7 months old, our babysitter options were limited. By the time she was legally ours, I had spent seven months with her every moment of every day. It was very hard to let go of control and leave her with someone else. However, I knew it was critical that I do exactly that in order to spend time with my husband.
We Spent Time Apart
Counterintuitively, time apart was crucial, too. Not just an hour to run to the gym, although that was helpful, too, but time doing something frivolous (like sitting down for two hours nursing a coffee and a cookie) by myself — and allowing my partner to do the equivalent — helped us keep clear heads to be better versions of ourselves in our marriage.
We Listened To Each Other
When there's a new baby at home, or even if the baby is a little older and still making you totally sleep deprived, it can be difficult to truly listen to your partner. There were more than a few moment when I knew my husband was talking, I just couldn't necessarily focus on what he was saying.
However, when we took the time to truly pay attention and listen to one another (and find sleep when we can, so that was possible) we were better prepared to handle parenthood as a team.
We Validated Each Other's Feelings Verbally
I'm terrible at saying, "Your feelings are valid," without following it up with a "but..." I'm probably not the only one, but when you realize that's what you're doing it certainly doesn't feel so great. Validating my partner's fears and feelings and worries verbally, helped keep us from falling into a spiral of negativity.
We Said One Statement Of Gratitude Every Day
Before we had our daughter, my husband and I got into a grumpy patch with each other. We weren't speaking kind words to each other and were acting out because of our own stress.
So, we started a new little task. Once a day, we'd tell each other one thing we were grateful for in the other person. It could be something they did or something they always do, like "I'm grateful you took out the trash because I really hate that job," or, "I'm grateful you always plan our vacations." That single statement of gratitude shifted the way we spoke to each other during the rest of the day. Sometimes you just need an attitude adjustment, especially when things get stressful.
We Outlined Expectations
I have sort of a recurring problem when it comes to making my expectations clear, especially when it comes to housework. I tend to mostly operate out of a "if it bothers me, I should take care of it" mentality. For instance, if the dishes in the sink bother me, I'll just take care of them rather than nag someone else about it.
However, with a new baby in the house, and a partner who is never bothered by a pile of dishes in the sink, that can sometimes lead to a big meltdown. After a few months of being a family of three, my husband and I knew we had to revisit what our expectations were of each other for our household, and it has made all the difference to our general peacefulness together.
We Went To Counseling
My partner and I had never been to counseling before the first year of parenthood, but after experiencing four failed adoptions, while raising a 1 year old, we hit a wall and needed outside help. I'd always thought of counseling as the end of the line for a marriage, but having gone through it and feeling a real shift back to communicating better as a couple, I don't think of it in that way at all. Instead, I think of it as an investment in our marriage that will continue to be the foundation for the rest of our family for decades to come. Sort of like an oil change or a tune-up for your car.
Every so often, you need a little adjustment in order to keep running well. Now I'm on a mission to help other couples understand that counseling doesn't mean you're failing. No, counseling means you're committing to investing in your relationship.