My daughter was just a few weeks old when it first occurred to me that I might hate my husband. Our house was a wreck: he kept tossing clothes onto the floor inches from the hamper, forgetting to close every damn drawer and cabinet in the kitchen, and leaving dirty plates on the coffee table. We argued constantly about the baby, with him second-guessing the organization of a nursery I had painstakingly catalogued and me sobbing that he had no idea how hard it was to exclusively breastfeed. And then one afternoon, as we drove past his once-favorite watering hole, my husband dared ask when I thought our life was going to “go back to normal.”
I cried. I yelled. And for the first time ever in our relationship, I looked at my husband and thought, it might be better if you weren’t around.
In my defense, I was TIRED, but what transpired that afternoon and in the months that followed looked a whole lot like the unraveling of a marriage. We fought often, and about silly things. We went to bed angry. We started looking past one another.
It was shattering to suddenly dislike each other so intensely. All we’d ever known together was easy joy: we had been deeply in love; shared the same values, priorities and goals; and were mature enough to know the real deal when we saw it. Finding one another had felt like a miracle. Our marriage post-kid felt like it had been abducted by aliens and then returned to us, unrecognizable.
We should have seen it coming. It’s impossible not to be aware that childless couples are happier, marital satisfaction plummets post-baby, and that kids can stress you the heck out. Several dear friends who were already parents had gently warned me that children could change a marriage. But we were arrogant and thought our relationship was special. That it was better.
And we were, of course, wrong. Our marriage was mortal after all, but that also meant it was capable of being resuscitated. Things improved a bit when we started sleeping more because — no surprise here — tired people are jerks. With sleep came the return of general civility to our household, like asking “Please get me a burp cloth” instead of screaming “BURP CLOTH!” It was remarkable the change brought on by simple things like smiling at each other (and not just at the baby) and looking one another in the eyes instead of being glued to our iPhones. We also got honest about what was really eating us. I didn’t hate my husband, but I did hate being a dairy cow chained to our infant daughter who refused to take a bottle. My husband didn’t want to go out every night, but he missed having the freedom to do so if he wanted. We were grieving our old life.
We were also struggling with feelings we weren’t especially proud of: sometimes we weren’t madly in love with our baby. Listening to a clean, fed, perfectly comfortable baby scream for the entirety of a four-hour car ride home from Tahoe will crush the spirit of even the most zen parent. But being mad at a baby feels wrong, so you snap at the one person who is fair game.
With the arrival of a second child, our marriage has again been tested, but this time we saw the alien spacecraft headed right for us. Now we know that I am MEAN when I am tired, that my husband is not to be trusted with dressing the kids appropriately, and that “normal” is a constantly moving target with small children. We’ve learned to ask each other for help when we’re having an especially hard day, and to be generous with small, loving gestures like flowers, a half-hour sleep-in, and really good hugs. It’s not perfect — there are plenty of days when I roll my eyes at him undeservedly and he huffs a molehill into a mountain — but we’re on the same team again, and I can honestly say that I look at my husband with even more love today than on the day of our wedding. If there is something special about us, then I daresay that is it.