When you become a parent it’s no secret that life changes. However, your marriage does too. But with forewarning and hard work you can keep your marriage happy and healthy.
Two Becomes Three
Becoming a parent is an amazing life event. But it’s also tough.
Early motherhood for me was from far rosy. My eldest cried incessantly.
The golden hours for tears were the evenings. For hours. Holding him in a particular position temporarily helped. My husband and I took turns to rest our arms, but we couldn’t escape the ear piercing discontentment of our highly sensitive baby that had been suddenly launched into a world that was too loud, too bright and too busy.
There were sleepless nights.
Pressure of work for my husband. Business travel.
It was a tough time for us both.
The Needs of a Highly Sensitive Child
Our eldest starting pre-school was a drama. For those two mornings a week my first born made it clear he wasn’t enamoured by school. He screamed and kicked at drop off. Emotions ran high for both my son and me.
And then he had to adapt to the arrival of his little brother. His baby brother cried lots too. For even longer periods. His crying bouts started in the afternoon and continued long into the evening. Every day. For months.
By the time my husband came home I was frazzled. My bucket was overflowing and he was forced to hit the ground running when he walked through our front door.
There just was no time or energy for ‘us’. For our marriage.
Preschool turned into junior school for my eldest. The drama grew. He hated school. He wasn’t understood. We were bombarded by school meetings and a host of external parties trying to navigate a path through for him.
Less than a year later our youngest was born. He spent his days crying too. And nights. All night long. We were physically broken. Mentally shattered. I ended up back in hospital from sheer exhaustion.
Threats to Your Marriage
The children were our priority. Our parenting was child centric to say the least. Parenting ended up like running a business.
“Parents often become more distant and businesslike with each other as they attend to the details of parenting.” FORTUNE: Decades of Studies Show What Happens to Marriages After Having Kids
We parented without family close by to support us. Without the understanding around us of how it is to raise highly sensitive children.
Babysitters were out of the question in the early years. Sleepovers were a no-go.
Social isolation is crippling.
Our children were never asleep when they should have been. Our children wandered around in tears at night. For years there was always a child between my husband and I, wherever we were.
We were never alone. We stopped seeing it as an issue. It was a fact of our life.
The lack of time as a couple is a big threat to a marriage.
Head deep in school issues, time issues, family issues and work issues we stepped into a long phase of crisis management.
Stress can spiral and splinter a marriage in no time.
At some point we stopped talking about anything other than the day to day issues that needed solving. Evenings became earmarked by slumping in front of the television in exhaustion. Communication faltered.
Lack of communication is deadly for marriages.
Invest in Your Marriage
With hindsight my husband and I can easily see the traps we fell into. We can easily highlight the mistakes we made. We’ve reached the lowest point of our marriage (we hope) and we will always live with the consequences of neglecting our relationship.
Here’s how you avoid the same mistakes in your marriage:
- Know that a marriage needs work. Every day. Every single day.
- Keep talking. Not about the kids but about you. How do you feel? What are your expectations and hopes? Are you feeling resentful about the responsibilities that have fallen on your shoulders? What makes your heart soar? Share it. Address it.
- Make sure you regularly have time alone together.
- Keep it intimate. The little physical touches, the hugs and the kisses are important.
- Remember with every conflict that you are on the same side. It’s you two against the world, not against each other.
- Do something kind every day for your spouse – it could be as small and effortless as making a coffee, or rubbing those aching feet. Make each other smile. Think of each others happiness.
- Find a marriage counsellor if you are floundering. Get external help.
- Trust your instincts. If it feels like something is affecting your marriage act on it. The ostrich approach to marriage problems is not an effective one.
- Do things together that you used to do before you became parents.
- If you suspect depression get help. Depression cannot be ‘fixed’, it needs professional attention. (Read Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig – he tells it much better than me (UK Version here)).
- Make sure you have a hobby or activity of your own.
- Lean on those around you to help you parent. Get support wherever you can.
- If there are differences in your parenting styles talk it out. Seek advice from a professional; take parenting classes.
- Work as a team.
Of course it’s better to avoid the damage in the first place but don’t lose hope; a damaged marriage can recover with hard work.
Remember too that there are children watching and learning about relationships from you both. Make your marriage a positive example.
Take care of your own needs. Take care of each others needs. Parent together. Don’t trade in being lovers for being parents. Make the roles compatible. Somehow. Anyhow.
Becoming parents will inevitably impact your marriage, but with continual work on your relationship it doesn’t have to be a detrimental one.
The Four Horsemen: The Gottman Institute