How to Have a Marriage that Can Survive Newborns - Pretty Real

How to Have a Marriage that Can Survive Newborns

8:42 PM

I am no marriage expert and could very easily rattle off things Joe and I could improve upon (communication for instance) and that I, as a wife could improve upon (keeping score for instance). That said, I love learning about how to make a marriage work, I'm not afraid to ask for advice from those with more experience under their belts than me, and I consider our willingness to meet each other halfway a strength of Joe's and mine. Not to mention, we're going on 11 years of marriage during which we've endured 3 moves, buying a house, a job loss, a miscarriage, 3 pregnancies & newborns, and cancer and we still like each other so that counts for something right?!

A friend recently asked my opinion on this topic and after a lengthy text conversation encouraged me to write this post, so that gives me a tiny bit of confidence to 'go there.' But bear with me as I honestly and openly share my thoughts.  Also these thoughts are based solely on my own marriage/experience.  There are extenuating circumstances in every relationship that can make this topic tricky. And I'm well aware that there are some marriages that have years of baggage and hurt that can't be remedied with a few tips in a blog post. Lastly I can't share our experience without outing myself and Joe (just a little), so please be kind!

Here's my first honest admission. It wasn't until after Nadia that I could even fathom why people divorce.  That sounds silly and perhaps naive but I just couldn't wrap my brain around going from butterflies and 'till death do us part' to 'I want out.'  We weren't even close to that point, but I just remember thinking "this is how it happens."  If prepartum depression was a thing, I felt like I had it.  And I unfairly wanted Joe to get that, read my mind, and be there for me all. the. time.  Which was crazy because I couldn't even understand what I was feeling or why.  How on earth could he?  And he disappointed me.  You know- because he's human and not a mind reader. He wanted to hang out with friends and travel to see his best friend.  And then I had Nadia.  And as is the case with newborns, especially those who nurse, it felt like much of the responsibility fell on my shoulders. I was exhausted. We were busy. She was colic. And it was harder to connect, just the two of us. So how can we not let these beautiful innocent little souls, how shall I say?  Destroy our existence? Okay that's a little dramatic but really- how do we avoid sacrificing our marriage at the altar of our children?  Here are a few suggestions/observations.  I really could go on and on with more than these, all of which I need to improve upon myself, but I'm just sharing my top 5.  Do with them what you will.
1- Men seem to get less helpful with the 2nd child.  Sounds terrible but just like the second pregnancy isn't as novel for us, I think the novelty of the newborn phase and being a dad has worn off a little.  And besides now there's that first child (who in our case was only 21 months) who selfishly still needs to be fed and bathed and cared for.  This isn't advice it's just an observation.  I think sometimes simply knowing it's not just your husband can help. Oftentimes having unrealistic expectations is the culprit of much our our unhappiness.  For me, going into the situation admitting that it's going to be different from the first time and possibly more difficult helps set the stage to be pleasantly surprised if it's not and not totally thrown for a loop if it is.

2- Ask for help. This is not rocket science. However, sometimes we feel like we shouldn't have to ask. They should know we're exhausted and drowning in new baby duties (or doody).  And maybe we're right but what if I told you that if we just ask we can avoid a few hours (or days?) of pouting and resentment?  After listening to some very valid complaints from my friend, I offered a few ways she might articulate the concerns to her husband and shared that Joe might not always volunteer or know what I need from him but if I come out and ask he will never just say "No, I can't help you.  You got yourself into this mess." Most often he will do it.  Even if he doesn't want to.  A rule we try to live by is to always give each other the benefit of the doubt.  If I get my feelings hurt by something Joe says or does, I try to say "He's not trying to hurt me. " aloud.  Try it.  Yes you might feel crazy, but I promise you, it helps to just say it. Instead of being mad that your husband is taking a nap while you're starving and exhausted on the couch with a newborn in your lap who will wake and start screaming if you dare move to pee or eat, maybe ask your husband not to take a nap.  Maybe even make your husband a flow chart with some questions he can ask before he decides to nap.  Such as "Have I gotten more sleep than my wife in the last 24 hours?" or "Is there anything my wife needs?"  True story. I made a flow chart. Told you I'd out myself.  and Joe.  Okay so I don't really suggest the flow chart. It wasn't the most loving note I've ever written. But really, speak up and tell your husband "I'm drowning. I really need help."

3. Your spouse is not your enemy.  The baby is. Just kidding on the last part.  But the first part is true.  Sometime in the thick of a trial--even one as beautiful and joyous as a new baby-- it feels like your husband is the enemy.  He's not.  I'm a Christian so I believe there is a real enemy who wants to destroy us, our families, our marriage, and anything else God approved.  But if you don't believe all that, this still works. Your spouse is your partner. The issue is your enemy.  The issue could be exhaustion, lack of finances, colic, etc.  Whatever it is, stand with your spouse and attack the issue, not each other.

4. 50/50 is a lie.  At least in my opinion.  One of my mentors always say "moms do more." And maybe her husband is telling Joe "dads do more" but the point again is expectations.  There really is no positive outcome to keeping score.  We should each be giving 100% and trying to outdo our spouse with loving kindness.  Even if your spouse has some work to do, many will respond to kindness being lavished onto them.  Instead of mentally keeping track of how many times I've attended to the baby, how many diapers I've changed, or how many times I've gotten up to respond to a cry or "mommmm!" I will often try to think of all the things my husband has done that day--for the kids, for the home, for the car, and more.  Including the 8 hours he spent at work making a living so that we aren't homeless. Each person can probably prove that they've done more than the other. If we look at it from that perspective we lose.  I once sent a nasty text to a friend about how Joe was sleeping when I was up with the baby.  (Sorry honey).  When I didn't get the response I wanted--I honestly would've accepted 'stop being a brat,' but of course would've loved 'you're a hero!' I instead started praying for a friend of mine who's a missionary in Haiti.  She has an infant, in a place where electricity is a commodity and she has to wash cloth diapers by hand.  Who cares that I'm awake? My man needs to work tomorrow and while I can look a haggard mess and be incoherent, he actually has to be presentable and be able to carry on at least a quasi-intelligent conversation.  For working moms who also have to get up and go to work, see tip number 3-- ask for help.

5. Make date night happen.  I know it's really hard! Our goal is once a month which really means once every 2 months, which during some phases can mean once in 3 months. But if we didn't have a goal it wouldn't happen at all.  Many of us have challenging commitments that still get met because they are important enough to prioritize.  Even just putting away your iPhone, turning the TV off, having a glass of wine and popcorn, and chatting can be a date night.  It doesn't have to be fancy.  My favorite part of vacation last week was hanging out with Joe after the kids were in bed, talking, laughing, playing games, and dreaming together.  A more provocative way to say it--put your spouse first. I tell the kids "daddy was here first!"  I want them to know that I value and honor their father and that he comes first.  A friend said it best when she said "It can be hard to be so physically needed during this time" in response to my venting about us moms having to get up with the kids.  I get that the babies need us more than it appears our husbands do.  In the early days it's all about survival but I try not to make that a way of life.  It's a phase during which I'm working toward being available to my husband.

At the end of the day the goal is to launch our kiddos out into the world where they will eventually have lives and families of their own.  But us?  We will have our spouses.  We can either be "stuck" with them at that point, divorce because we've grown so far apart that we barely recognize one another anymore, or be excited to start the next chapter with our best friend who we still consider our soul mate.  I don't know about you, but I want the latter.  And the good news? My babies will be better off for it.

What marriage tips do you have for us?!  Please share!

*Photos other than the first and last, by Simply Mella Photography.

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  1. So much wisdom and so beautifully written Tiffany. In particular #3 was profound, "the issue is the enemy."

    1. thanks Brittaney! The "spouse is not your enemy" if I remember correctly I heard at a Family Life conference. It always stuck with me!

    2. I heard that, as well, at a Weekend to Remember Family Life conference. It is a gem. Thank you for this post. I only have one little one, but I am prayerful for more. Bookmarking!

  2. This was so full of wisdom and encouragement! I might need to print and laminate it - so I can keep it handy when baby #3 roles into town... Thank you so much for your honesty and vulnerability. Beautiful!!

    1. aw, thank you Marie!! I'm sure you could add a few tips of your own. ;)

  3. Great read! Good reminders to keep our spouse first. It's easy to let your time be used taking care of kiddos you forget your a wife first. I have to mentally stop bring mommy when the kids go to bed. We have to make time together and I've started asking Pinterest questions on dates so we don't just talk about kids, so easy to do! I'm glad we aren't alone in our craziness of three kids....I love it btw!!

    1. I find it always helps to feel like we aren't alone! I am totally tempted to just focus on the kids's easy to get validation and affection from them plus I'm just. so. tired. But I know when they're grown and gone with spouses of their own I want to still be in love with my best friend! It's worth putting the time in! Thanks for commenting and reading Laura! :)