Marriage is tough. It’s tough without kids, and even tougher (many times) with kids!
My husband and I, like many couples, adore our two children, but often long for more alone-time, more date-nights, more sleeping in… and more reconnecting. Many days it’s the get-ready-for-preschool, drive all over, do errands, check Facebook 12 times, cook, have-dinner-in-a-rush, do baths, put kids to bed, and then crash without much more than a 20-minute, “Hey, Hon, quick…Tell me about your day.”
[Disclaimer, my lovely husband likes to go to bed much earlier than I do, and because after a long day of “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!,” all I often want to do is watch mindless reality television till midnight or later. (“Real Housewives,” anyone? I’m not afraid to admit I’m a bad-TV addict. Frankly, it’s quiet time – and me time.)]
What I’m also not afraid to admit is that my husband and I go to couples counseling. Sometimes we go often, sometimes we barely go. And, we started going when things were normal (no major fights), because we wanted to be better communicators and be better spouses to each other. Of course, we definitely have sessions coincidentally after a big fight, so they help us talk our anger out in a calm way, and try to best advocate what we both need from each other. Sometimes we disagree on finances, on parenting, on in-laws, on making plans with friends, how to not stretch ourselves too thin in our quest to give our kids the best childhood. (Man, this parenting gig can be a Mother Effer, huh?)
But it’s really important that we don’t forget our spouse’s contributions. We can’t let them feel left out.
My husband and I have had several of those fights when I’m mad that “I’m doing EVERYTHING!!!”… but then again, I don’t like to relinquish anything kid-related, because I feel like it’s my ‘territory.’ (Hence, another reason why we are in therapy, HA! I’m working on relinquishing control. Double HA!)
Our therapist has told us the stress on a marriage after a first baby, is big. But, the stress after Baby #2 is waaaaaaaaay more for many, many couples (even if you ultimately have 4 more kids). It’s just a different dynamic apparently, to add that second kid. That’s when we started our journey to couples therapy – after our second child, and we were noticing some snippy moments, and less-time being spent together, so during a good period we reached out for some sage advice from an amazing therapist.
My friend Nicole is a fabulous mom but she's also a licensed clinical therapist and Imago-trained couples therapist. She agrees with our therapist, too. “With the arrival of a child, the family system changes from a two to three. But the math of this shift is far from that simple. The hopes, wishes and ‘fairytale’ of bringing home baby and transitioning to a new rhythm effortlessly or even with a few bumps for the healthiest of couples is just that, a fairytale. When a child comes home, what develops is the birth of parents, and since we tend to parent how we were or opposite of how we were this is what can then add to more stressors than sleep-deprived nights and endless-diapers.”
(Great point: I totally forgot about lack of sleep, lots of crying, and tons of poop and pee. That makes marriage with kidlets more interesting, for sure!)
Adds Nicole, who has two kids under 5, “Baby's cry because we all need connection to survive. It is a mechanism designed to drive us to meet their needs. In this we are now neglecting our own needs, and then the needs of our relationship for the basic survival needs of our baby. We are also dealing with grandparents, or other family members and what they want to contribute or not to the new person in the family. All of this adds up to a shift that brings up feelings on the part of each partner that can be painful. The various issues that arise can be varied, resentment, desire to have more alone time, overburdened financially, feelings of helplessness, or being unprepared or surprised and annoyed.” She’s heard this line a lot: "I thought we were on the same page about most things, until we had a child.”
My therapist friend wants parents coping with baby/marriage stresses to know they can (and should) learn to fix things. “What I want to share is that what is most important and vital in this time is not the mistakes we make or the crappy things we might say or do out of anger, but that we repair these transgressions.”
“The idea is to share with one another and allow each other the respect and care to be vulnerable enough to accept that we are not prepared for all the crazy, frustrating, gross, or beautiful, fun joyous moments of parenthood. In the therapy I practice it allows communication to be open safe and a way to use the conflicts that arise in a relationship to be pathways to find our best and more whole selves … the selves we long to be but may have lost parts of in our own childhoods. The relationship is a way to get it back, if we are brave enough to be vulnerable with one another.”
Incidentally, we/I am working on letting go of some of my control over the family, and he’s stepping in more to do family and kids stuff … both actions we both want to do, but never believed we could really pull off in a nice, happy balance. Lately, I’m proud to say, we are really succeeding and just gelling as a solid family unit. I'm doubly proud of both of us for working on our communication, and making our marriage a priority amidst a million toddler distractions!
I did want to put it out there that you’re not alone if you’re feeling some of what we are going through, and I don’t think my husband and I are a non-typical couple. I think a lot of parents are going through similar stresses, moments, crazy-times, and realizations that some key things need to get better, and be fixed.
Especially with the stresses of the holiday season approaching (visitors, extended family, trips, cooking for a crowd, buying presents, coordinating the holiday cards/party/decorating, etc.!), I hope this is a timely post. Hey, if you can make kids, have kids, and parent them – you must be one strong cookie in my book. Working on relationships are hard, but when it’s your partner, the co-parent to your kids, it’s soooo worth it. I think it makes me a better mom, in general, when I’m personally happier and in a great place with my husband. We’re a team for these kids, and being unified and showing a deep respect for each other is paramount.
(If you'd like to search for a local therapist/psychologist, Meridian's Provider Search is an excellent resource! Click here or call 1-800-DOCTORS.)