For more than two decades, I’ve been speaking and counseling about the ideas presented in my book The 5 Love Languages, and I frequently encounter couples with whom interactions play out something like this: With tears running down her face, a wife might come up to me and say, “I thought having a baby would pull my husband and me together and we would both be happy. The exact opposite is true for us. My husband doesn’t understand why I am so tired. He complains that I don’t bake cherry pies anymore. I’m up to my ears in diapers and vomit, and he’s complaining about cherry pies!”
Later, her husband will talk with me and say, “I feel like I have lost my wife. She never has time for me. It is always the baby. Even when I ask her to go out, she is afraid to leave the baby. When I want to rent a movie she says she doesn’t have the energy to watch it. I don’t know what else to do.”
Frequently, couples struggle to keep their marriage alive after they become parents. There is no question that having a baby greatly changes the dynamics between a husband and wife. After all, a child means more work. Who does the work? More work means expending more energy. Whose energy? A child means spending more money. Which money — the money we have been using for restaurants and entertainment?
Raising children should be a joint venture that requires communication, understanding, love and a willingness to compromise. Couples who have not developed these attitudes and skills before the baby arrives will not find them automatically emerging upon the arrival of their child. I sometimes ask couples, “What was your marriage like before the baby came?” I receive answers like: “Well, we were struggling.” Don’t expect a baby to create a good marriage — that is not the responsibility of a child. Children do not create problems in a marriage; they only reveal them.
Even couples who have a healthy marriage before babies come along tend to experience struggles as they adjust to being married with children. They spend so much time being “good parents” that they let their relationship grow stale. This staleness does not happen overnight and often is not the result of open conflict. Rather, the slow erosion of intimacy is caused by a lack of quality time, expressions of love and heartfelt communication. In these marriages, the road to restoration may prove to be much shorter because the couple started with a good relationship that has diminished.
Either way, God ordained marriage and encouraged couples to “be fruitful and multiply” — so there must be a way to have a healthy marriage and be good parents. Let me suggest some positive things you can do to strengthen your marriage after you have children:
- Begin by making marriage a priority. Recognize that a loving marriage is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children — as well as yourself. So, why not begin by deciding to put your marriage on the front burner?
- Start a conversation with your spouse, acknowledging that you miss time together and would like to make your relationship a priority in spite of the new demands and stressors. Ask, “How can I help?” You just might find that your spouse welcomes the idea of making marriage a priority. Your husband or wife is likely as weary or frustrated as you are with the present situation.
- Make a list of the things you enjoyed most in your marriage before having children. Now share your lists with each other and discuss some of those common interests you enjoyed in that earlier stage of marriage. You may want to consider allowing extended family or friends to help with child care so you can engage in uninterrupted conversation.
- Make a list of five things that you think would improve your marriage at this stage of parenting. Evaluate these five options by placing the word realistic, unrealistic or maybe beside each word on your list. Talk about your lists with each other, and then see if you can agree on at least one thing from each list that you will attempt to do this week.
- Share a book on parenting. Read the same chapter and then discuss one thing you learned from the chapter. Ask each other, “How can we apply this idea to our situation?”
- Read the following statements and check the ones that express your current feelings:
- I don’t feel that the division of labor in our relationship is equitable.
- I wish we could spend more time together.
- I think our sexual relationship could be improved.
- I wish we could find a way not to argue over money.
- I feel like I don’t get enough time alone.
- I wish we could find more unity. Our ideas are so different.
- I feel like we don’t talk because we are afraid of getting into arguments without coming to a healthy resolution.
Now discuss the statements that expressed your feelings and pick one issue from each of your lists to work on. This might mean you need to have an open conversation about what you can change to make things better. It might mean agreeing that each of you will talk with one other couple and ask how they have handled a similar situation. It might lead to attending a class on marriage at your church.
If you don’t make progress, consider seeing a Christian counselor who has experience in helping couples deal with similar marital struggles.
There’s no doubt that babies change marriages. And although taking time to focus on your marriage isn’t easy, it’s essential. Healthy marriages are possible — just remember that they’re not a natural consequence of having kids.
Dr. Gary Chapman is a pastor, speaker and best-selling author of The 5 Love Languages.
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