My husband and I recently celebrated seven years of marriage. Of course we’ve been together longer than that, but passing the seven year mark of being lawfully wed seems somewhat significant. I think it’s that old “seven year itch” phrase that implies happiness declines after that.
While I hope that won’t be the case for us this year, I can see how seven years might be a tipping point for couples. The first years were easy for us. We lived together before getting married and had already divulged our financial histories. We bought a house together, moved across country, changed jobs, and even tackled some minor home renovations without killing each other. When we decided to try for kids, we were one of the lucky couples that got pregnant without any issues. Then Jack was born, and like every other aspect of our lives, our marriage was impacted.
I think it’s pretty obvious that things change after having a baby, but I don’t think I ever grasped the reality of what it would do to my marriage until I was deep in the keeping score game. For some reason, there is this bloated expectation that having a child will make you “fall in love all over again” with your significant other, but that wasn’t the case for me. I remember quite vividly having pangs of hatred and jealousy toward my husband right there in the recovery room. Maybe it was the hormones, but the bitterness had already started to slowly take hold.
“Why should he get to just sit there while I’m suffering through painful breastfeeding sessions?! Why do I have to get up every night with the baby?! Why can’t he put his diaper on tighter? Why does he get to go to work all day and talk to adults while I’m stuck here with this colicky baby?” The me vs. him game had taken over without either of us realizing it.
Suddenly I was keeping score of every little thing, determined to keep this parenting gig 50/50. I got up with him last time, so now it’s your turn. I’ve done the last three diaper changes, it’s your turn. Little by little my score kept getting higher and my husband, unknowingly, was left in the dust. I was doing things over and over again with the idea of building up my score so he could never win, let alone compete. With every point added, the bitterness grew. Suddenly, I was so bitter I couldn’t look at him without comparing what each of us had done that day in regards to the baby.
As you might expect, this didn’t end with a victory parade by the winner. What happened was my husband called me out, and deservedly so. He flat out told me to stop keeping score, that he would never win, and he knew that. I was the one that carried our baby 9+ months, that went through the C-section procedure and recovery, the around-the-clock feeding machine. He was behind the moment Jack was born, and he knew it. In that moment I felt justified, like he finally got it. In reality it should have been a slap in the face to stop, for the sake of our relationship. I’d love to say we worked it out right then and there but that wouldn’t be true.
What I eventually started to realize, through fighting and frustration, is that striving for 50/50 was just setting us up for failure. Instead, it’s more of a 80/20, 60/40, 10/90… depending on the day. Some days I can give more, other days my husband can, but in the end it’s a team effort. Having a second child really drove this home for me. We were no longer able to trade off duties, we had no choice but to divide and conquer. It was then I saw how truly great we could be when we worked together as one instead of competing for doing the most.
So now at seven years in, we’ve officially been married with kids longer than married without kids. While the first years were easier and more carefree, I know we’ve grown closer and stronger together since having kids. Our conversations have become deeper and more meaningful as they are no longer just about us, but about our family. Our mutual overwhelming love for our children has created an added bond between us that continues to flourish and grow.
Each year brings with it new challenges which test us. Whether it’s differing ideas on discipline, chore lists, how clean the house is, or how often we take solo time out, we have no choice but to be on the same team. For our marriage’s sake.
Then hopefully the only itch I’ll have is that one I can’t quite reach on my back, but my husband can.