I thought having a baby would draw my husband and me together and we'd be happy," the woman told me. "But since the baby came, our marriage has fallen apart. My husband doesn't understand why I'm 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 grumbling about cherry pies."
Many new moms feel isolated and overwhelmed, unwanted or unappreciated by their husbands. Meanwhile many fathers feel taken for granted, unappreciated, and unimportant. They come to resent not the baby, but the wife's attention to the baby: "She never has time for me. It's always the baby."
Why the conflicts?
Potential conflicts arise when a child enters a marriage. A child means more work. Who does the work? Mom or Dad? More work means more time. Whose time? Mom's or Dad's? More work means more energy. Whose energy? A child means more money. Which money—the money we've been using for restaurants and entertainment?
Research has shown that a mother feels the impact upon the marriage more acutely in the first 6 months of the child's life when she's trying to adjust to the expanded demands on her time and energy. The husband, on the other hand, experiences the effects more acutely from 6 months to 18 months. During this time, he perceives his wife to be more critical, less supportive, and sexually withdrawn.
The fact is, rearing children is a joint venture that requires communication, understanding, love, and a willingness to compromise. Couples who haven't developed these attitudes and skills before the baby arrives won't find them automatically emerging upon the child's arrival. Don't expect a baby to create a good marriage. That isn't the child's responsibility. Children also don't create problems in a marriage. But they can reveal them.
In my experience, the issues most likely to provoke conflict between a husband and wife—in any stage of parenting—are: division of work load, lack of couple time, a frustrating sexual relationship, money management, the need for time alone, in-laws, and differing child rearing strategies. How can a couple identify and grow through these areas of struggle?
- Make marriage a priority. Most of us recognize that a strong, loving marriage is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. So why not begin by deciding to put your marriage on the front burner?
- Share your decision with your spouse. Maybe he'll join you, welcoming the idea of making marriage a priority. He's likely as frustrated as you with the present situation.
- Individually make a list of the things you enjoyed most before the children came. Share your lists with each other and relive some of the moments you enjoyed in that stage of marriage.
- List five things you think would improve your marriage right now. Evaluate them by placing the word realistic, unrealistic, or maybe beside each. Share your lists. See if you can agree on at least one thing from each that you'll attempt to do this week.
- A week or two later, read through the previous list of common conflict areas and indicate the area that's been most distressing. Then list the second and the third most distressing. Do this separately, then get together and share your lists. Pick the number one area from each and discuss possible changes you can make. Work toward finding agreeable solutions. This requires a willingness to let your spouse think differently and feel differently from you, and a respect for your mate's thoughts and feelings. Rather than arguing, be willing to change, compromise, and look for solutions you can agree on.
- In upcoming weeks (perhaps every other week), discuss the second area of conflict and then the third. You may wish to continue through this list, seeking to grow in all major conflict areas. Talk with other couples about possible solutions for areas in which the two of you are having difficulty in reaching agreement. Your struggles aren't unique. Why not benefit from the experiences of older couples or a skilled counselor? mp
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.