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They say that, “The first crisis many couples face in their marriage is the birth of a first child.” (And I can say with experience, that is probably pretty true.) Over this past year, my husband and I became parents for the first time, and I can tell you we’ve had quite the experience…
Now, this was not the first crisis that happened in our marriage. That came several years before. But, I can say that it has absolutely affected our marriage in ways we probably weren’t prepared for, but have been amazing. Because of this, I want to share with you the five things I’ve learned about how parenting affects your marriage.
My husband and I have a little bit of a different story. You see, we didn’t have a newborn from day one. In fact, it was about a year ago that we were in India about to go to sleep for the last night as a family of two… to wake up and go and get our children that we had never met before from an orphanage and become a family of four. We doubled our family literally overnight.
I asked myself throughout the adoption process many times, “How do you sleep the night before you know you’re about to meet your children?”
The answer is you don’t, and then you never sleep again. (I’m only kind of kidding…)
We automatically went from having just the two of us to having a two year old and a four year old. It was absolutely a shock, but in so many good ways!! If you’re a parent, you totally understand this, but you probably understand that parenting has affected your marriage in ways that it didn’t before, because now you have a whole new set of things to think about… to worry about… to discuss… that you probably didn’t even know would ever come up in your life before!
#1 There’s A Whole New Level Of Exhaustion
Here’s the first thing that I learned in my first year as a parent. Tired as a mother is real, or a father, because equally we do a lot together. I’m not “more tired” than him. He’s not “more tired” than me. We’re both tired, and it’s not even because our kids don’t sleep. They do, but there is this new layer of mental exhaustion that occurs as a parent. You’re constantly juggling your own to do list with the needs of your kids, and then there’s always a lot of noise, a lot of needs, a lot of things that you’re thinking about that you weren’t thinking about before.
Here’s the thing. The reason that takes a toll on your marriage is because before, you had all this extra time in your mind, even just the space in your mind…
- to think about what you were going to do for date night
- or what kind of trip you wanted to go on or anything like that
- or even what new show you wanted to watch together
…You had all the extra time in the world to spend on each other. Pros and kudos to you if you took advantage of that time, because you realize quickly once it’s gone, you’ll never be getting it back.
But, the reason that parenting can be so hard on a marriage is because there is that new level of exhaustion. There’s this new level of irritability, and it’s probably a little bit lower than it was before you became a parent.
If you’re not aware of that in your spouse and in yourself, then it can change the way that you communicate with each other. Because, before, when you had time to talk about things, when you had silence to talk about things, then you probably made more of an effort. But, now when there’s so much noise.
Be Aware Of “Where Your Spouse Is At” Emotionally
When there’s so many needs, when there’s so much going on, the conflict and the fights that you have can increase. If you’re not aware of how each of you are doing internally, even just with the regular parenting needs that your kids need from you, you can start to assume the worst about each other and the conflict can increase.
#2 Be On Each Other’s Team!
Here’s the second big thing that I learned in my first year as a parent. You have to be on each other’s team.
My husband and I thought we had had “all the discussions” before we brought our kids home. We would talk about the things we wanted to do, our dreams of vacations we wanted to have, things we wanted to teach our kids, or ways we wanted to handle issues that would arise.
Even though we had these discussions, when the REAL moment came, things changed. You see, there would be things that would come up we had no clue were going to happen… if I for a minute was against my husband, especially in front of the kids, it led to a downfall of everything (and same with him for me).
If you make a decision in front of your kids and in front of your spouse and in front of family and friends, the last thing that you want your spouse to do is to go against you or disrespect you at that moment.
You have to be on each other’s team in your children’s eyes. You have to be on each other’s team in the eyes of everyone else.
I can’t tell you how many times when my husband and I fight, I will look at him in the middle of it and I’ll say, “I’m on your team.” Sometimes, we forget that. It can be easy to forget when you’re fighting about who’s going to get up and change the last dirty diaper, who took out the trash last, who’s doing more of the housework, whatever it might be. It can be difficult to remember you’re on each other’s team. Remember, you’re here to support each other, and you have to be a unified front in front of everyone else.
#3 Set Aside Time EVERY WEEK To Connect With Your Spouse
Here’s the third thing that I have learned. You have got to set aside a time every single week to connect with your spouse. For us, every Saturday night is a date night.
Now I’m not going to lie to you… there are many Saturdays where I am thinking to myself, “I don’t want to go,” not because I don’t want to spend time with my husband, although sometimes that might be part of it, but a lot of times I’m tired. I’ve been working all week. I just want to lay on the couch and watch Netflix all night long. But, I also realize I have got to prioritize spending time and connecting with my husband outside of our house and away from our children.
A lot of times, we can put our kids first. It’s easy when the kids are the only thing you talk about, and that’s good. You should talk with your spouse about the kids- the funny things they do, how smart they are, how great they are, or the issues that you’re having. Of course you need that! But, you don’t need your kids to become the center of your marriage.
As we became parents, I can see how easy it is to let that happen- to let the ONLY thing you talk about each night having to do with the kids. But you can start to disconnect and start to not really know who each other is. This is why it’s important to set aside time every single week to connect. Do it. Prioritize it. Do what it takes, even if it’s just going into the backyard and having a nighttime picnic after the kids go to bed, make sure it happens.
#4 Be Flexible & Find Your Spouse’s “WHY”
Here’s the fourth thing. No matter how much you talk about how you want to parent, decisions you’ll make, or things like that, things are going to change and you’re going to need to be flexible.
What I have seen in our marriage (as our parenting relationship has unfolded) is that I’ve learned way more about my husband and about his childhood than I ever knew before… But the way that I learned those things is because he would say something, make a decision, or have an opinion about things that I wouldn’t agree with.
At first I would just outright disagree. We would go into the bedroom, close the door, and we’d fight about whatever it was. After a couple of months of this, I thought, “No, there’s something we have got to connect with about this. We’ve got to be on each other’s page,” like I said earlier, we have to be on each other’s team.
Understand Where Your Spouse Is Coming From
Instead of being rigid- trying to get my husband to do things the way that I thought they should be done- I decided to ask him why.
- “Why does it matter to you?
- “Why is it important to you that things happen this way?”
Or whatever it might be, asking, “Why is that important to you?” And what I found out usually led to a story… A story where my husband explained about his childhood and what his parents would do, or fond memories that happened for him. And it was the same for me. For me, a huge part of my childhood was family vacations but my husband didn’t have many family vacations. Instead, they would play a lot of games at home together.
At first, it was very easy for me to say, “We need to go somewhere, we need to do something, we need to get out of the house.” My husband would say, “No, we need to stay in. We need to do things together here as a family and play games.”
When we didn’t understand the WHY behind each other’s reasoning, it was easy to fight about it. But, once I began to understand why he had the feelings he had and where those came from, it actually bonded us closer. We became more willing to compromise on things and be flexible.
#5 Don’t Judge; Change Your Mindset
Here’s the fifth thing that I learned. I needed to change my mindset from, “Look what all I do.” to “Wow, look what all you have done!”
For the first several months of us being parents, I was on maternity leave. When I was on maternity leave, my husband worked full time, 12 hour night shifts, and it was crazy. After those four months, my husband decided it wasn’t good for our family for him to be doing those night shifts.
He ended up quitting his job and became a stay-at-home dad while he’s working on his master’s degree. So, he became the stay-at-home dad and I went back to work. (We’re a family that does it a little differently and it works amazingly for us.)
After I started working again, I would come home at the end of each day not only feeling the burden of working all day, but I might walk into a messy house. And all of a sudden, I would say to my husband, “What have you done all day!?” Now, I have to come in and I have to help with the dishes, fold the clothes, and do this, that, or the other…
What I failed to realize and to even remember from my four months as a stay at home mom was, you do a lot all day! It may never look perfect in the house, but you’re connecting with the children. You’re investing in the eternal value of your children and the family bond with it.
It was so easy for me to come home and make a judgment about what I walked into. And then start thinking of all the things I was doing… the things that were on my plate, when in fact, what I needed to do was change my mindset!
For example, saying to my husband, “Rob, you have done amazing today. Thank you for staying home with the kids. Thank you for taking them to the park. Thank you for making sure that they are fed and that they’re doing well. Look at all of the things you’ve done. How can I help you?”
We need to do this as parents! When we oppose each other, feeling like, “I’m doing this,” and “They’re doing that,” and, “We’re not doing it together,” is when frustration comes. This is when disconnection happens, and you start to turn away from each other. You don’t like thinking about the other person or talking to the other person, because when you do talk all you do is fight. That is what we don’t want in your marriage.
Parenting, as you know, is hard. It presents its own new set of challenges, but also its own new set of joys and feelings of love that you’ve never had before. But, the last thing you want to do is sacrifice your marriage just because you’re a parent. Prioritize your marriage.
In our workshops for marriages, this is something that we hear ALL the time from those who attend…
- they had kids,
- they got busy,
- they started drifting apart…
Then one day, they look up and they say, “I don’t even know you anymore,” and what’s more than that is, “I don’t even like you.” We don’t want you to get to that point.
Our workshops can help you! No matter where your relationship is, no matter what situation your marriage is in, we would love for you to experience the strengthening that can come for your marriage in just three days.
But, we also have online courses and coaching available to you across the world to help you with whatever is going on in your marriage.
Need more information on parenting? Click here to read about what we call “Trickle-Down Parenting” and how it affects your children!