You haven’t touched me—I mean, really touched me—in weeks.” He said the words quietly.
My husband’s statement came on the heels of our most disastrous date ever. Four weeks after our daughter’s birth, we had attempted to go out for a romantic dinner. We left the house 30 minutes later than planned, I felt frumpy in the outfit I’d had to settle for (the only thing that fit), and he seemed less than thrilled to be leaving a perfectly good house on a Friday night. So things were already not going as planned from my perspective.
When I asked him to choose a restaurant and he said, “I’m not really hungry,” I heard, “I don’t really care,” and let him have it. Well, first I cried silently all the way to the restaurant (my husband finds this very unnerving). Then, I let him have it. In a fit of hormonal fury, I let him know everything he was doing wrong. He wasn’t lightening my load enough. He wasn’t showing me enough tenderness. He wasn’t rearranging his schedule and priorities to revolve around me.
That’s when he walloped me with his own grievance. I paused. It was true; we hadn’t had a lot of meaningful touch in the weeks since my daughter had been born. I was preoccupied with her needs, and I felt overwhelmed and on edge with everything expected of me. Cuddles and kisses had been replaced with harsh words and a businesslike partnership.
Suddenly I realized something: I hadn’t been loving my husband well, but I sure was expecting him to love me well. In fact, I felt downright entitled to his unconditional love and care. As we discussed how we could love each other better (and apologized for the ways we had hurt one another), I realized a few ways we could have avoided a relational blowout.
The demands of having a new baby can put stress on even a healthy relationship. While the mom may feel the main weight of these demands—round-the-clock baby care, midnight feedings, shower-less days—the dad may feel a bit displaced and directionless. And if he can’t live up to his wife’s expectations (which are sometimes hidden and overblown by postpartum hormones), he may also feel rejected. I think if Kevin and I had sat down and talked through what we were each hoping for out of our first few weeks with our baby, it would have alleviated stress and promoted more loving interaction.
Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage, says, “Both partners need to have extraordinary empathy, or resentment can build. This is a huge change and it’s a time to step up and be an even better husband, an even better wife, and not just a good parent.”
Caring for a new baby together is a time for sacrifice and embracing the servant attitude of Christ. Thomas says, “You’re going to have to learn to serve like you’ve never served before. When you embrace this, it really does finish the work of marriage. Parenthood calls us to even deeper Christlikeness.”
Philippians 2:3–5 says: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”
That’s a tall order at any stage in life, but it can be particularly challenging when you’ve just added a baby to the mix. How you treat your spouse in the early days of your baby’s life builds the foundation for all the days to follow. Starting out strong as parents requires learning to serve one another.
Going back to our date disaster, I wish I would have been able to look past my own needs enough to see what my husband needed. Embracing the mindset of Jesus, and humbling myself to notice where I was falling short, would have helped me love my husband better.
Despite my end-of-the-world theatrics over a bad date, the truth was God had blessed us with a healthy baby! So many other couples long for this blessing, and it had come to us. Not only that, he had given me a hardworking husband who is a devoted family man. Kevin had taken time off work, completed important projects around the house, and cared for our toddlers when I needed a break. But instead of noticing how he was serving me, I fixated on the ways in which he was not anticipating my needs.
I’ve realized my praise needs to be frequent to create a loving environment. A friend of mine always makes sure she says two affirming statements when she’s delivering one item of critique to her husband. A technique like this allows you to focus on the positive while also realizing how much you have to be thankful for. When I focus on those things, the resulting gratitude fuels a deeper love for my spouse.
On my bedside table is a framed picture from our wedding that says, “Always kiss me good night.” I’m ashamed to say that in the stress and busyness of caring for a newborn, I did not always honor this mantra. And when my husband returned home from work, he was often greeted with, “Will you . . .” rather than, “I’m so happy to see you.”
His gentle rebuke that I had not met his need for physical touch (one of his love languages) reminded me of the importance of showing my husband physical affection. He even recalled the “one time” I had taken his hand and thanked him for something during the previous weeks. If one meaningful touch made such an impression on him, I thought, just imagine what daily, intentional physical affection could have done.
Our disastrous date ended with us sitting on the couch, snuggling, laughing, and vowing to never speak of it again. But I learned an important lesson about loving my husband. A baby is a wonderful thing. But God designed children to bring a husband and wife closer together, not divide them. (I imagine that’s the Enemy’s plan!) With a little intentionality to communicate, serve, be thankful, and show affection, our relationship has moved in a healthier direction.
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a writer, editor, wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, and Jesus-follower who delights in watching God infuse himself into people’s lives and stories. Formerly the editor of Clubhouse Jr. magazine for Focus on the Family, she is a regular contributor to Thriving Family magazine and Boundless webzine. Her most recent book, Expectant Parents, is available now. With three children in under five years of marriage, Suzanne and her husband, Kevin, who reside in Colorado, consider themselves on the family fast track—a blessing they wouldn’t trade for anything.