Let me preface this by saying that I am no expert on relationships. I only know what I know and can simply cross my fingers that anything I say maybe helps someone else. Also, I’m aware that “keeping your spark” is a cliche – I couldn’t think of a better way to say it so, deal with it.
A question we were often asked before having the twins was “are you worried that having kids will change your relationship dynamic?”
“Are you afraid of all of a sudden having limited alone time?”
“What are you doing to reduce the impact having kids had on our marriage?”
“Do you have regular date nights planned to make sure you have alone time? Because no dates = dead marriage.”
“Oh, and say goodbye to your sex life because once kids come around, that game’s over.” (Isn’t that what literally every rom-com that involves parents teaches us?!)
There was some degree of fear mongering about how much having kids would impact our relationship and, I mean, I can’t say it fell on deaf ears. Of course it was a concern. Had we just permanently fractured our relationship by making this choice to have kids? Naturally, that notion is a bit nerve wracking. Truly that isn’t exclusive to having kids – every big decision you make is taking a chance on what the ripple effect will be. Deciding to move in together, when you make the first big purchase, deciding to get engaged, deciding to get a pet… these are all big life moves that can generate ripples!
(We were told countless times that getting married would “CHANGE EVERYTHING” about our relationship. This proved to be entirely untrue).
We’ve been together since high school, nearly 11 years now – not a lot either of us do is surprising to the other, however, this was uncharted territory. It had always been just the two of us and not only would our attention now be split, it would be doubly split! Could we handle that? Could we tolerate that change? Could our relationship shoulder that change?
I would say this is a factor in having kids that isn’t widely or openly discussed necessarily because it’s scary. Feared behind closed doors and talked about quietly. Nobody wants to admit that after having kids their relationship changed let alone perhaps not being happy with all of those changes because then that sends the message that your kids weren’t worth it or that your relationship was too weak. There’s a sense of shame surrounding the conversation and that in and of itself is a shame.
We went through plenty of change after the twins were born and all I have to offer is advice based off of those changes. I read once that “sometimes when people are offering advice they’re simply talking to themselves in the past”, and maybe there’s some truth to that.
Open. Dialogue. Always.
This seems very straightforward but truly open communication will never be more important than after you have kids. Especially in the first year when for most of it you’re in a sleep deprived delirium that hardly lets you think straight let alone be a top notch partner all the time.
Arguments can start about things you didn’t notice or care about before having kids but with your whole world flipped upside down socks on the bedroom floor now invoke deep rage. If you find yourself in the position we did where one parent is staying home while the other returns to work – that’s the sweet spot for the creation of problems and resent.
Once a month we have a super blunt conversation about our feelings in a judgement free, consequence free environment. I tell him if he leaves clothes on the floor one more time my head will explode. He tells me it’s frustrating to come home after working 10-12 hours and I list off all the things I need done the second he walks in the door. We’re never not going to annoy one another sometimes when our realities are polar opposites so – talk about it.
Sometimes we don’t talk about the things that are bothering us for a week because it just needs to settle before we can communicate effectively and not emotionally. It’s very important that you vocalize those things clearly otherwise they can fester so incredibly quick that before you know it there’s a mountain of things you’re mad about and you end up exploding.
Nighttime Arguments Don’t Count
I’ve mentioned it once before in another blog but nighttime arguments do not count. You are hardly a human being at 3am – especially during newborn days, teething days, sleep regression days… give yourselves a big fat break. We’ve been up in the middle of many, many nights, and generally, we exist in silence. It’s better that way for everyone. We both know our roles and responsibilities, no need for discussion. Do your part effectively so we can be back in bed in the shortest amount of time. Simple.
Don’t put all of your eggs in the “date night” basket
Don’t be too hard on yourselves if you don’t have weekly or monthly “date nights”. We have twins, we don’t have extra disposable income to be treating ourselves to nights out regularly. There’s lots of ways to make space in every single day to have time together. We try very hard to sit down at the table and eat dinner together everyday. Sometimes that’s at 8pm after the babies have gone to bed and that’s fine. Survivor every Wednesday is our weekly tradition – we get very competitive, embarrassingly over invested and we regret nothing. Will the Island of Idols be a game changer this season?! I DON’T KNOW YET BUT BOSTON ROB IS BACK AND IT’S A BIG FLIPPING DEAL.
We haven’t been inside a movie theatre in probably close to 2 years. The last time we went for a fancy dinner was for our anniversary in August. Truly calling it fancy is a stretch considering our idea of “fancy” now is ordering delivery from Nando’s. If you can make date nights happen by all means do it. If you can’t, don’t be too hard on yourselves or your relationship – there’s plenty of workarounds.
Do The Little Things
I make Derek’s lunches every night and hot coffee every morning, he brings me home Mars chocolate bars and makes sure I have a healthy stock of slipper socks. One of the simplest things Derek did early on when I was still in the Matrix breastfeeding was filling up my water bottle. It may seem like nothing, but at the time it was the simplest kindness.
Tiny little happy gestures you can do for your partner that really do add up.
Again, this sounds simple but if there’s something that got us through it was considering ourselves a team. When one of us faltered the other picked up the slack. Individual success was both of our success. Sometimes your first priority isn’t going to be nurturing your relationship. Sometimes your primary role is not going to be “husband” or “wife”. Sometimes you need to be a friend and a teammate. There were so many nights we were up for hours with babies up crying – it feels like a never-ending spiral. But once we got those babies down to sleep – better believe we did 80 high fives before passing back out.
Don’t Stop Trying
Don’t stop working to have bits of time together. Even if that comes in the form of taking your kids to the park and running the bananas out of them so they go to bed early… just a thought. Keep making an effort to do things for your partner, big or small, it all adds up and is important.
No advice will work for everyone. I’m positive some would say that the things we did would never work for their relationship and that’s ok. Truly this is more about opening up the conversation and letting it breathe. We’ve had our fair share of imperfect moments both individually and as a pair but never have we been more proud of the strength we have because it’s exemplified in our happy healthy boys.
One of the greatest joys that I never understood before was the joy of watching your partner become a parent. We’ve been parents the exact same number of seconds, we struggle and succeed together and watching someone else go through that journey parallel to you is so amazing.
We’re stronger than we were before because we have a much better understanding of teamwork. We value our alone time together more because there’s not as much of it. Having kids will change your relationship – but that doesn’t have to mean it breaks it. When in doubt just consider 4 pillars: Love, Honesty, Trust, Respect.