He turned the radio off as we drove down the road with our 6 month old rear-facing in the back seat. Sometimes in the car, it's almost like it was before our daughter was born, before marriage after baby. We can think and talk, hold hands while listening to our favorite band as our baby girl blissfully sleeps in the back. But we weren't holding hands this time. I was quietly browsing Instagram trying to ignore the space that the huge fight we'd that morning had taken up between us.
“We're not speaking each other's language anymore, are we?” my husband said. I knew what he meant — the “language,” so to speak, of how we give and receive love from one another — but I was still staunchly giving him the disconnected-from-you treatment. Our marriage changed after having a baby, and now we're were struggling to figure out how to navigate a new normal. “What?” I asked, like I didn't understand.
“We need to reevaluate how we feel loved and try to love each other in that way," he told me. "I'm obviously not giving you what you need, and I have some thoughts on what I need, too.”
The baby came, and there was virtually no time to spend building our marriage. Even with our attempts to make time for it, we were still failing.
Clearly, he'd paid attention to our argument the day before, the one where I'd given him an ultimatum of sorts — a desperate cry that I couldn't live like this anymore if things didn't change. The "this" I was referring to meant the strain and tension that had been put on our marriage ever since we'd brought our baby girl home. This was not what I'd imagined our new little family life would be like, I told him. And it wasn't all bad. There were so many tender and loving moments we'd shared in this new time. We'd even gone on several dates, celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with a mini-trip to my favorite nearby city (our 3-month-old, breastfeeding baby went with us), and even gone on a overseas trip to visit his family in England. All of those things were at least family-, if not strictly marriage-building events.
But that's the thing: The baby came, and there was virtually no time to spend building our marriage. Even with our attempts to make time for it, we were still failing, and that's why my husband said what he did in the car that day. Since then, we've been trying to reconnect in the new ways we find ourselves best receiving love from one another.
I never would have guessed that the way I connected and felt loved by my husband would change after having a baby. Beforehand, quality time with just the two of us was top of my list. Now, with a baby in tow, I'm more likely to feel loved by my husband when I see him spending quality time with our daughter. If he comes home after work and doesn't want to hold and play with her within the first 10 minutes, I'm hurt — not because I'm desperate for a break after spending all day with her myself — but because I delight in seeing his interaction with her. I feel loved when I know there is an atmosphere of love and togetherness in our home. My husband wasn't trying to create an environment of disconnection. He just didn't know this new way to love me, and neither did I until I took the time to think about it.
I've had to learn that a decision I make that affects my daughter also affects her father, so he should have equal say in that decision.
For my husband, I've always known my words were of the utmost importance to him. He always felt loved by my verbal affirmations of who he was to me and equally by not putting him down when we disagree on something. It's not always an easy task for me with (what I call) my "passionate nature," AKA my hot temper. But since having a baby, it's not just my respect and the love in my speech he craves, he longs for me to value his thoughts towards decisions regarding our daughter.
And even though my husband and I are still very much on our marriage after baby journey, there is nothing quite like the reward.
As a new mom, it was easy for me to view my way of doing things as the best and only way since it was my body she grew in and my labor that birthed her. It was easy to see that process as my right to being the sole person giving permission for anything having to do with her. But marriage after a baby isn't just marriage to each other — it's also parenting together, too. I've had to learn that a decision I make that affects my daughter also affects her father, so he should have equal say in that decision. Before, if I went somewhere overnight on a whim without my husband, for instance, it'd only make a difference to us, but now — and this was a real-life scenario for us — if I go taking my daughter with me, I've usurped my husband's ability to not only help decide something for his wife but also his daughter, making him feel like a powerless father. Not that I've ever intended to divide our family, but I just didn't realize how much of a deal-breaker it was to our marriage until we sat down and talked about it.
Our marriage has always been a series of opportunities to be selfless, which is already some seriously hard work. These changes in the way we want the other to love us since our daughter has joined the picture has made us realize how much more we need to give to make our marriage work. For my husband, going above and beyond in my desire for him to be present, not just my company but our daughter's as well, is a stretch for him and his personality.
For me, giving up my freedom to do whatever I want whenever I want without his perspective on the situation forces me to reign in my independent spirit and strong will. But that's what being selfless is — little sacrifices (even though they don't feel small in the moment) make room for big rewards. And even though my husband and I are still very much on our marriage-after-baby journey, there is nothing quite like the reward of actually living the dream of what I imagined our new little family to be: close-knit, in love, and ready to take on whatever life sends our way.