Recently, my husband and I celebrated four years of marriage. I posted a few photos of us on Instagram — we looked happy, well rested. All the pictures were older, taken before kids obviously, because I don’t have a baby-free picture of us from the last few years. I wrote a caption for the photos about how much I love him and what a great father he is, then added two hashtags: #4years and #2kids. I realized after I had posted that the truth about our love and our relationship was hidden in those hashtags.
The reality of life after kids
Two kids in four years is tough. It’s like a hurricane hitting a house when the foundation is still wet. Living with a toddler dictator and a baby boss has transformed those two smiling, well-rested lovebirds into exhausted, often quarrelsome parents. There have been many times when our conversations were limited to arguments as we tried not to get buried under the demands of early parenthood.
But in the midst of all this, we’ve committed to working on our relationship through the chaos of babyhood (and parenting in general.) We’re no experts and we’re not always successful but here is what we do to keep our relationship as strong as it was before our kids arrived.
How we work on our relationship
The first step for us was learning how to communicate. We have been to couples therapy to learn about our different communication styles and how to respect each other’s approaches.
For example, I need to hear his gratitude as a verbal “thank you so much” and he needs my gratitude to be permission for an hour of uninterrupted video games. I am learning to control my anger and he is learning to express his wants.
If therapy isn’t an option for you, that’s ok. Two grown ups can talk to one another without a therapist, it just means prioritizing the time and emotional space to have tough conversations in a respectable way. For a jumpstart, The Five Love Languages book can help you to better understand your partner’s needs and how they feel loved.
Through therapy, we’ve come to recognize that we are very different people with common goals and lots of love. We’re now more appreciative of the balance we provide to each other. He is the calm to my crazy and I am the energy to his lazy.
We make sure we get our time out together, away from the laundry and diapers. It doesn’t have to be a formal dinner date — we commute together in the mornings or grab lunch on a random Tuesday.
We also make sure we get time to ourselves (golf and video games for him, writing, shopping, and friend dates for me). We support each other in our careers, taking turns stepping up when one of us needs to travel for work or stay late at the office.
We are kind to each other even when that seems impossible in stressful situations. It can be hard not to lash out at each other when something goes wrong at 3am. I once read that you need to remind yourself each day that your spouse is not the enemy, the baby is the enemy. That made me laugh at the time, but I’ve found comfort in the sentiment on many sleepless nights. My husband is the reason we’re here and in this family together. My frustrations with him are also about myself. There is always too much to do and we will never do it all.
We are intimate even when it’s the furthest thing from our minds. It’s sometimes hard to wrap my head around being a sexual human being and a mom. At this point my boobs might as well be elbows — I barely notice when they are exposed or connected to a pump or mouth. Not to mention the postpartum hair loss, second baby mom stomach that expands when I even think about food and the never-ending hormone rollercoaster.
But we cuddle when we can; usually at the end of a long day when the babies are finally, temporarily, asleep. We fool around as regularly as possible. We remember that a physical connection can be a great way to feel heard and loved and supported. It reminds us who we still are — people in love.
We appreciate how far we’ve come
Our communication, like our love, is fluid and constantly changing. We aren’t the same twenty-somethings who fell in love over long conversations that started at brunch and ended at midnight.
Our discussions are bigger and heavier now because they are about our children, our careers, and our lives. But we appreciate the depth and color that having children has added to our relationship.
There is nothing as heartwarming as seeing my husband sing our daughter a lullaby. There is no one more calming than my husband in a delivery room or an emergency room. There is nowhere else I’d rather be at the end of a long day than in bed with him, talking about how amazing our toddler is or how adorable our baby is.
And he still makes me laugh like no one else does.
About the author:
Chantal Tortoroli Roberts is an attorney, wife and mother to two daughters. She loves writing, cooking and instagramming. She misses sleep. Follow her and her adventures in motherhood and work/life balance struggles @ctortroberts on Instagram.