I recently ran across the article, “So Cute, So Hard on the Marriage,” in The Wall Street Journal. It was all about how about two-third of married couples find the quality of their relationship go down the tubes within three years of having their first baby.
I don’t know about you, but I was surprised to read that stat. I even took the poll that went with the article to see what real people had to say. (Results below.) Out of the 63% of people who responded who actually had children, roughly half said that having kids hurt their marriage. So, if I got this right, first comes love, then comes marriage and the baby carriage, and then all hell breaks loose.
But even more interesting to me was this insight:
Men and women experience the deterioration differently: Mothers’ satisfaction in their marriages plummets immediately; for men, the slide is delayed a few months. Hormonal changes, the physical demands of childbirth and nursing, and an abrupt shift from the working world to being at home with an infant may explain that, says Renay Bradley, the director of research and programming at the Relationship Research Institute.
So, I tried to think back over what has almost been a year since baby arrived and think if my husband and I went through any of this. Honestly, I don’t think so. At least not yet. But statistically speaking, we’ve still got two years to go until we’re out of the danger period.
Part of me thinks we didn’t (so far) because, first, I went back to work, so I didn’t have that whole stuck-at-home-with-baby feeling that I imagine all stay-at-home moms have to feel at some point another. Second, with my husband’s job, he was gone for a big chunk of this first year. So, we didn’t have to fight about who was going to be getting up at 3am to feed the baby because it was always going to be me; not only was I breastfeeding but he wasn’t even around.
But playing a single parent even when you technically aren’t one certainly has stresses that could create similar rifts in a marriage. For me, there are days where I’ve found myself in full mommy meltdown. On those days it seems like everything is out to get me–from the baby to the dog to the house to my job to our finances. (Yes, I have cried several times on the phone to my mother and even once to my dad.) And I’m not going to lie, I have cursed my husband up and down for things like not being around to help me fix the tire on the stroller or never putting his tools back in the right place so I can find a stupid screwdriver.
But being apart at stressful times like that might actually be a good thing in our case. I can curse him up and down in moments like that and not even have to try and say it under my breath. Subsequently, he never hears it, so he doesn’t feel compelled to roll his eyes or say something snippy back, which of course would set me off and voilà, voilà, voilà, we’re in a fight. By the time we get a chance to connect, I’m mostly put back together and can actually have a decent, constructive conversation about whatever it is that’s stressing me out.
I also think one thing that my husband does that really helps our relationship is not pull a father-knows-best and question my decisions. Although he doesn’t like how much he’s had to be away, he gets that I’m the primary caregiver in this scenario, so I have executive decision making authority. He trusts that I have our family’s best interest in mind in every decision, from what time baby needs to go to bed to how often the cleaning lady should come. Relinquishing control to that extent is probably really hard for some people, husband or wife. But he’s found a way to that place and I think we’re better for it.
In fact, I have been so impressed with his ability to not be so controlling that I’ve found myself similarly letting go. I don’t worry about how he, or his mother, or the nanny, or anyone else who’d fall in the category of friend or family does things when it comes to the baby. I’m okay with the fact that I diaper differently than my husband, that my mom prefers to bathe the baby in the kitchen sink over an infant tub, or that my nanny doesn’t mix rice cereal with his food like I do. Seeing how my husband trusts that I’ll take care of things the best way I know how has made me not sweat the small stuff that can seem like big stuff to a newbie mom. I just look at it that anyone who is going to be that close to my baby has his best interest at heart, so I just leave it at that.
The other thing my husband and I also have both gotten very good at doing that has taken a lot of stress off our post-baby life is accepting that our lives are so jammed up with obligations and responsibilities that we have to outsource some functions. The alternative is not pretty. Whereas pre-baby we would’ve never hired someone to till up the garden or even clean the house, we do now. Yes, we acknowledge that these are things we are capable of doing, but it’s also about time. That whole business concept about the time value of money certainly has currency in post-baby family life.
Point in case: It takes my cleaning lady less than five hours to clean our house; pre-baby, when Ian and I would clean, it would take the two of us the whole day. So, for $100 a week, I get five hours of uninterrupted time to go to the gym, walk the dog, or spend time with my son–all things that I would prefer to be doing over scrubbing the floors. That to me is a good value. I come home feeling better about myself and then my house is all put back together and clean and sanity is restored all around.
That’s probably a good segue into the whole topic of money, which after who gets up for 3am feedings, is like the No. 2 source of fights for married-with-baby couples, according to the article. As weird as it may sound, for us, having a baby has made us much more fiscally responsible. We really don’t have any more bills than we had before, but because we’re home more and out at bars less, we’re more on top of them. And because they’re not piling up all the time, there’s less end-of-the-month stress to transfer money from different accounts to make sure there’s enough in the right account to take care of everything.
Not only that, but it turns out that staying home is a lot cheaper than going out, even if it’s not quite as exciting. (We might be the only parents who actually saved more money after we had a baby than before.)
But when I think about what having a baby has done for us, it’s hard not to see it as strengthening our relationship rather than tearing it apart. Maybe it’s just that whatever the chemistry is between my husband and I, it’s of the sort that we get into trouble when we are not focused on a shared goal. The worst years of our relationship have definitely been when we were just kind of going with the flow, not specifically living with a purpose; alternatively, the best years of our lives have been when we were focused on achieving something together. We do better as a couple when things are hard than when life is easy. I think it’s because neither of us can accept losing or giving up, so when there’s a challenge, we kind of let go of the petty stuff and get down to working as a team to, as they say, get ‘er done.
And if a baby isn’t a challenge, I don’t know what is. But because of that, I think our bundle of joy has brought us closer than I could have ever imagined. Post baby, I feel like we are so much more grateful of each other and more appreciative of all the skills and talents the other possesses and less focused on the shortcomings. It’s like our baby is a mirror, reflecting–and reminding us of–the good and amazing parts of each other that are sometimes so easy to overlook in the daily grind.
Maybe this all sounds a little too “perfect” to be believable. But I can assure you, like most every couple, we’ve experienced some seriously dark days over the course of our relationship. But these you-and-me-and-baby-makes-three days are not any of them.