Let’s face it—the first year of parenting can feel like a never-ending cycle of sleep deprivation, figuring out parenting styles, and, sometimes, having arguments with your partner. My fiancé and I aren’t strangers to any of these things. Honestly, we spent the first eight months of our son’s life arguing.
The tension between us was so common that people are now sometimes shocked we’ve restored our relationship and become closer. Trust me, we have days where we remember how tense things used to be and wonder if we were somehow just lucky. The short answer is no.
The longer answer is much more detailed and, quite frankly, involves things we still have to work on. Things we don’t take for granted. Here’s how our first year of parenting made my fiancé and I closer.
We Learned to Be Aware of Each Other’s Changes and Stressors
Whether you’re a first time mom or a seasoned one, you’re probably aware that bringing a new baby home involves an adjustment period. Imagine going from a long distance relationship to an unexpected pregnancy and a decision to move in together right before the birth of your child. Sounds like a lot right? Trust me, it was.
One night, after spending months at odds with each other, I asked my fiancé, “what happened to us? Why do we argue so much?” This is around the time we had begun to lose faith in our relationship and resorted to co-parenting. We’d never directly addressed this question before, probably because we were too busy arguing to figure out what happened.
That one question caused us to pause and see each other for the first time since we’d become parents. Instead of being a helicopter parent and partner, I realized that my fiancé’s job was adding to the stress of being a new parent. In his case, he saw how many physical and emotional changes I’d been experiencing.
This began softening the gaze we’d been looking at each other with; a gaze that, in hindsight, seems unfair given we were both experiencing a huge adjustment.
We Created Better Balance
Once we were aware of each other’s changes and stressors, we began setting boundaries. My fiancé asked that I didn’t begin accusing him of something as soon as he came home from work, something I was notorious for doing. Instead, I learned how to express my frustration in a different way. If he forgot to get something from the grocery story or wash the dishes like he promised, I would try reminding him instead of playing the blame game.
I would often start by reminding him that I’m not always able to take care of everything household-related and needed his support. This came across better than “you never listen to me or remember what I say.” Simultaneously, my fiancé worked to makes sure he was fully present when I asked for help around the house.
Now, there was a period of trial and error, but we kept practicing so we could create a balance. Perhaps the biggest stress reliever was deciding who was responsible for daycare drop-offs and pick-ups. In the beginning I did both and it made me feel exhausted. Once I verbally explained this to my fiancé, we decided it would be better for him to take over in the mornings since the second shift fell on my shoulders a majority of the time. It was almost as if all I had to do was have a conversation with him instead of assuming he should just volunteer.
We Decreased Our Assumptions About Each Other
Speaking of assumptions, this is something we learned over time not to do. It’s easy to say, “I don’t really make assumptions about anyone,” but I think everyone does to an extent. I found out it’s even easier to do when you’re romantically involved with someone. It’s almost like you think you know everything about a person because you’ve been with them for a long period of time.
My fiancé and I began checking in with each other instead of assuming someone didn’t want to do something. There had been many arguments based on assumptions that he or I didn’t want to do a household task only to find out we were usually interrupted by caring for our son (versus not wanting to complete a task).
Also, I stopped looking at articles on Google about lazy partners. As much as I love being able to find easy to digest answers about my son’s milestone developments, sometimes the internet and social media can influence negative thoughts or feelings. It’s one thing to identify with other moms who feel exhausted but it’s another to begin picking your partner apart because you’ve come across opinions about how partners are useless. Everyone’s experience is valid but it doesn’t mean that our partner is a terrible person because they’re trying to navigate a difficult moment alongside you.
We Began Working to Divide Domestic Labor
Seeing that most of our arguments stemmed around household tasks, my fiancé and I began having conversations about what we like to do versus what we thought the other person should do. For example, neither of us likes to wash dishes so instead of arguing with each other, my fiancé places them in the dishwasher. Also, I don’t prefer to cook as often so he primarily takes care of food for the house.
This allows me to focus on cleaning the kitchen. Everything else is a joint effort, from cleaning the bedroom to the bathrooms. It’s become more of a win-win situation that allows us to focus on enjoying each other instead of arguing so much. Now that I think about it, my fiancé and I would probably benefit from utilizing ‘Fair Play’ cards.
Since we don’t have them just yet, we’re relying on a memo pad that we’ve put on the desk in our room. Since we use the desk frequently, it’s hard for us to pretend we didn’t see a household task both of us agreed to do.
We’re Intentional About Rebuilding Our Intimacy
It used to piss me off when I would hear people tell me to make time for my partner because I was convinced no one was more important than our son. But guess what? It’s true. It’s one thing to make sure my son’s needs are met but it’s another to dismiss my fiancé because “he’s an adult who can take care of himself.” It’s not about “taking care” of my partner but it is about pouring into the relationship we’ve voluntarily built together.
It’s not about ‘taking care’ of my partner but it is about pouring into the relationship we’ve voluntarily built together.
After several conversations about what’s important to us, my fiancé and I began being intentional about date night. This is a hard task considering we both work long hours outside of the home and are never off on the same days. Although I’m not suggesting anyone do this unless you have the freedom to, my fiancé and I have both used vacation days to spend time with each other before. But, the days we’ve done that are incredibly rare.
Most of the time, we have to choose to have date night at home once our son is asleep. As soon as we’re 100% sure he’s in a deep sleep, we sit down together with our food so we can binge watch our favorite TV shows or movies we haven’t had a chance to watch. Sometimes we talk about our day, but if it was too stressful, we tune out work and talk about whatever we’re watching together.
Doing this reminded us of things we used to do when we first began dating. There were many nights we would fall asleep on FaceTime while watching something together. We didn’t know that was one way to build intimacy back then but we’re aware of it now.
Relationships are hard enough but when you add children to the picture, well, it can become tougher than you imagined. Instead of keeping score and relying on tit for tat, my fiancé and I have stopped looking at each other like we’re not on the same team. Not only that but we also stopped allowing our admiration for other couples to determine how ours should be.
That being said, I think choosing to work through difficult moments in a relationship is a personal choice. My fiancé and I did decide to utilize therapy when things became really tough but we have to ultimately commit to doing the work to create the relationship we want. So far, we’re doing just that. The best part of it is I have one of my best friends back. That’s made this entire experience worth it.