Marriage, Postpartum Style
70% of females and 56% of males report a decline in marital satisfaction after becoming parents. When I first heard this statistic during pregnancy, I found it quite alarming, but since knowing is half the battle, and since Joel and I had a strong 10-year foundation and were happily married, I naively figured that what felt like a brick wall for most couples would instead be but a speed-bump for us.
It's not the first time I made naive assumptions regarding pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood.
- I am unsure why, when pregnant, I felt the need to assure myself and everyone else around me that I was prepared for all that was to come. I had a lot of experience with babies and more than anything else I've ever prepared for, felt extremely confident that I would not be surprised by the difficulties. When I encountered complaining about the work of having a newborn from others, I would assume they didn't have any idea what they were getting into and were surprised by the hardships, therefore making it worse.
- I naively assumed that I would retain all the aspects of my personality that I was unwilling to part with during childbirth, namely that of losing time, not being hyper-observant of my surroundings, and feeling proper and modest.
None of these things turned out to be true. And now, the naive assumption that my marriage would be set apart from the cliche problems has also been challenged.
I married a very loving man, yes because he is the best human being I've ever known and yes because I am attracted to him and yes because he is a good friend, but also because in my deep subconscious, I wanted a man who was safe. I wanted a man that would, above all else, honor his commitment to not only STAY with me, but to renew our passion for a lifetime, to not just BE married, but to make the marriage good. This way, you see, I was guaranteed to be impervious to the destruction and derision of an affair, failed marriage, or divorce. Inside me lives this basic fear that I am unlovely and unworthy of committing to (no doubt residual shit from a father leaving). I suppose I started with that fear and built a safe structure around it with Joel. Yes, so I would have a happier and healthier emotional life, but also because I never wanted to really examine that fear and take adult responsibility for dealing with it. Instead, I married someone who would never make me encounter those fears again.
So we build these brick structures of assumptions around our fears, thinking they will keep us from destruction. Through a rough patch in marriage last fall, I learned and am continuing to see the truth that we have to address the hard stuff from the inside out, even if we thought we would never have to deal with these kinds of issues. We have to get over ourselves and our assumptions that we wouldn't struggle like our parents did or like THOSE people do - the ones we weren't sure should have ever been married in the first place, and the ones we are sure won't make it. Perhaps calling these missteps 'naive assumptions' is a poetic way of disguising nothing more than stone cold pride.
All of this to say, it's been hard. We have had several inane discussions about domestic roles when we would surely rather be discussing string theory. We have split up our social lives in order to give the other person a break from the baby when we would absolutely rather be out on the town together, sipping martinis. We've agreed to spend our money on diapers when we would certainly rather be spending it on a new fall wardrobe.
But those aren't even the hard things. Joel put it well this last weekend, during a heated discussion concerning our incompatible social needs, when he said that it's as if we are newly married. Where once we had to agree who was cooking and who was doing the dishes, we now have to work together to share the duties of having a baby. We have to work on agreeing on our parenting style...all of which requires words that I just don't have under this amount of physical duress and sleep deprivation.
In my mother's group, a woman described a time when she and her husband were also struggling with the newborn duties. She determined to breastfeed exclusively, but would then become angry during night feedings because her husband didn't have to do anything. He offered to get up, but what was he going to do? Watch? Good luck staying awake for that. So they determined that whatever compromise they came to would not necessarily be equal, but it would be fair. So she asked him to think of something he could do (again, giving him the power to think of the task rather than assigning one), and he offered to have the dishwasher unloaded as well as breakfast and coffee prepared each morning. SOLD! This in no way is an equal sharing of work, but to both of them - it felt fair.
Because I had been aware that things were in no way equal, I felt the seeds of resentment planting themselves in my soul. I continued in this state of feeling distant from each other, not because a baby has come between us, but because we are not the same marriage we used to be. Once I realized that I didn't really care to be equal, but boy did I care about the division of work feeling fair, we were able to communicate honestly and logistically about how that would work.
The remedy has been and always will be to talk about it. To talk long and hard about our expectations, our silly hurt feelings, our sensitivities, our strengths, our sex life, our dating life, and our parental decisions...which can be as stupid and boring as "did you put her pacifier back in or are we not using it?" or as important and charged as "Do you dread coming home to us?" We have to allow for the pace of the other person's transition into parenthood. We have to say no to friends more often. We have to preserve family time with a new vigor. We have to communicate more clearly about schedules and calendars. We have to protect each other's hobbies and relaxation time.
On evenings when I am not hurdling my pride at being a couple struggling and less satisfied with our marriage after having a child, we just watch "Star Trek." This is okay, we bond over it. Joel loves it, I love it, it creates a shared love.
In Picard we trust,