I never questioned the strength of my relationship with my husband when we were planning a family. We were a happy couple with complementary behaviors, shared interests, and emotionally supportive parents. We didn’t agree on everything (me: coffee, him: tea), but that would be boring anyway. We were in sync on enough of our joint future plans that transitioning from newlyweds to new parents didn’t seem to threaten our unity. I knew that that accumulation of distance between partners once they became parents was an incredibly common occurrence, but (like, I assume, so many other people on the precipice of parenthood) I assume that "we would be different." It really never entered my mind to be worried that the addition of kids to our relationship would effectively disjoint it at times.
But, of course, so much inevitably changes when you add a baby human to a partnership. Time is governed by the needs of this new, non-verbal creature. All your energy is gobbled up. I was fortunate not to suffer any complications with the birth of our daughter, but I was still a crazy mess of fluctuating hormones and sore body parts. I was so happy, and sad, and confused, and proud, and tired, and convinced I would never want to have sex again. I wasn’t looking at my partner — my baby’s adoring father — and swelling up with love. I was left kind of wanting to know what his point of being there was.
Don't get me wrong, my husband was totally hands-on with our baby. Short of breastfeeding, he co-parented in every way possible. But we weren’t us anymore. I was a mom, and he was a dad, and the success of our marriage seemed solely defined by how soundly our daughter was sleeping. We no longer made plans as a couple; As a working parent, I felt too guilty to leave my kid for longer than was necessary for any kind of “date” night. I felt that I had not yet reclaimed my body, continuing to nurse until our daughter was past two years old, at which point, I was pregnant again (OK, so maybe there were a few times we got our sexy back).
By the time our second child was born, I felt the mechanics of our partnership were in sole service to raising decent human beings. We didn’t even try to pay attention to our relationship. We were happy enough: Our family felt complete, but that feeling of togetherness, where you talk in the first person plural to everyone about your life, was absent.
But feeling disconnected from your partner after having a baby is totally common. And the one thing you need to know is that it is not necessarily a problem.
The disconnection felt weird. Why didn’t I want to act with my partner the way I did before we had kids? Well, for starters, I was exhausted — mentally, physically, emotionally. When you are explaining the entire world to small people for most of your time together, there is very little left for a nurturing couple's sesh. I actually didn’t want to hear about his day. And he was too drained to help me with non-kid stuff I was dealing with (work issues, parent annoyances, the fact that my fave hair product was discontinued).
During these days, we might not have touched much, or even talked. But we were together, in that space, probably washing breast pump parts and reheating dinosaur nuggets for our own dinner. Not a high point in our relationship, but that is OK. We all want to be that family in the J. Crew catalogue, swinging our kids through the breaking surf. But life, and love, come in waves. And it’s perfectly fine if you need some literal space. It's understandable to not feel like touching your partner when your kids are already making you feel touched out.
I know I can’t make my partner my everything. That is not fair to him. No one can be everything to another person, and sometimes the best thing anyone can be is respectfully, lovingly, patiently recessive. We have our respective friends, jobs, and interests. There are some things I don’t bother discussing with him, and that’s OK too. And it’s a relief to me that he has other outlets to discuss horror films and hot sauce. Marriage is work, whether you have kids or not. I think those times when we’re not feeling super-connected are meant to be; We’re figuring our sh*t out so we can come back with more to nourish the relationship. The times when you might lose touch can make the reconnections that much more wonderful.
Images: Abigail Keenan/Unsplash; Giphy(2); Liza Wyles