I love romance novels and I have a particular fondness for friends-to-lovers tales. Probably because I am living my own friends-to-lovers romance. I married my best friend, and five years of marriage — 10 years together — later, he is still my absolute favorite person in the world. But I won't say that it has always been easy. Every romance has its conflict, its highs and lows. And I won't say that it has always been good. It just has never been bad for very long. After becoming parents, however, our marriage changed; for the better, and in a lot of ways: We now have so much more love to give. But becoming a mom has helped me realize that while parenting is hard, marriage is harder. Because while I know that I will always love my daughter, my love for my partner is a choice that I must work for — everyday.
Falling in love is easy and falling in love isn't a choice. We met when we were 20 and 22 years old — certifiable babies when I look at us from the perspective of a decade's old hindsight. The thing I fell in love with — and still love — most about my husband wasn't his good looks. Though, he's quite handsome. And it wasn't his kindness. Though, he's very kind. It was the way he made me laugh. The kind of unstoppable, hold your sides, laugh until you can't breathe, and your face is soaked with tears kind of laughter. Our relationship has been based on that laughter and the joy that it creates from the very beginning.
At the beginning of our marriage, I didn't want to have children. A large part of my reluctance was because I didn't think my heart had enough room in it to love anyone more than him and, honestly, I didn't want to make the space for anyone else, either. What I didn't realize then was that your heart doesn't divide itself up into unequal sections to mete out its love. Your heart grows to make room for every new addition to your family.
But at the end of the day, I will always love my daughter. Even when I don't like her. And that makes parenting easy. I'm not sure you can say the same for marriage.
Once we did make that choice to be a mommy and a daddy and not only a wife and husband, I got pregnant very quickly. That was about the only easy part of my pregnancy. My morning sickness was intense. It was 24 hours a day and lasted my entire pregnancy, but that was nothing compared to the nightmare of finding out in my second trimester that my daughter would be born with four congenital birth defects affecting her brain.
Through it all, my partner held my hair back when I vomited, held me close to him when I cried. He worried with me, made life as comfortable as possible for me, and most of all, he reminded that no matter what happened, we would love our daughter; that all of the pain I was experiencing at the time would be worth it in the end; that laughter could be found in tears. He was such a support to me and we were so in sync with each other that I thought no matter what life threw at us, we would be OK.
Now, our daughter is here and she's healthy and happy. She's the incarnation of our love and joy. Being a parent to her is hard, don't get me wrong. Breastfeeding hurt, late-night feedings hurt more. Temper tantrums, poop everywhere, and a horrible sleep schedule are all things I could have lived without. Plus, as she gets older we can only sit and wait to see if, and how, her birth defects might encumber her development. And then there is the pressure of simply raising a human being in this world, teaching them to be kind, to try hard, to understand their privilege where they have it; and, to just generally not be a jerk. All of that is hard. But at the end of the day, I will always love my daughter. Even when I don't like her. And that makes parenting easy. I'm not sure you can say the same for marriage.
It felt like his life outside our home only grew larger while mine became more and more isolated.
The first six weeks of parenting were amazing. We are lucky enough to live in a country that not only offers me year-long paid maternity leave but my husband was able to take six weeks off from work to stay home with us. Those first few weeks were a blur of no sleep and cluster feeds and hour-long productions just to get us out of the house. But most of all, that month and half was filled with laughter. We had the best time together. Maybe it was the euphoria of being new parents combined with the delirium from zero sleep, but my partner and I just clicked as parents, clicked in a way we never had before. We were — literally — finishing each other's sentences, laughing together at 2 in the morning, and just generally being in love with each other and our daughter.
But then, slowly, things started to change. Our world's didn't revolve around each other anymore. Our schedules changed. We spent less time together and the time we did spend together now included a little person that needed more of our attention than we did. I started to resent him. For his freedom (as I saw it) to be able to walk away because he went back to work, because it felt like his life outside our home only grew larger while mine became more and more isolated.
We stopped listening to each other. When he'd get home from work and I'd finally have time to write for a few hours before her bedtime, I didn't listen to him when he told me how his day went. Sometimes I didn't ask. We ate dinner on the couch, watching Netflix, instead of hearing what the other person had to say. We went to bed and instead of chatting to each other like we used to do before we'd fall asleep, we turned out the lights or read a book. We stopped going out on dates. We snapped at each other, we let the little things build up and fester until they became big things.
My marriage is harder because I have to choose to do it, to be here, present, an active participant in it.
Nothing huge had changed. We still loved each other. We still wanted to be together. But somewhere along the way we made a choice, an unconscious one but a choice none-the-less, to stop laughing. We stopped putting in the work.
Our marriage will always have a deficit that it simply can't overcome when you compare our love for each other with the love we have for our daughter. Human instinct and hormones tell me to love my child. They tell me to protect her and that she is definitely the most beautiful, adorable, smart, funny, human being on this planet. More beautiful, adorable, smart, and funny than anyone has ever been before. But there is no instinct that tells me to continue to love my partner or — more accurately — to make my marriage work. Loving him is a choice I make for myself, everyday. Even when I'm tired. Even when I'm sad. Even when I resent him for reasons unfounded or otherwise. My marriage is harder because I have to choose to do it, to be here, present, an active participant in it.
So now, we make a concerted effort to listen more. We hear each other. We eat dinner face to face. We go to bed and we talk and we laugh. We give each other the benefit of the doubt. We make time for just us. And we don't call it "mommy and daddy time." We call it what it is: husband and wife time. Because before we became a mommy and a daddy, we chose to be each other's husband and wife, partners for life, best friends, the other's absolute favorite person. My marriage is harder than parenting but it's work that I am happy to do because no matter how hard I love my daughter — and oh, do I love her fiercely — he came first, and I wouldn't have her without him. When I look at it like that, it makes putting in that work so, so easy.