My husband doesn’t believe in Valentine’s Day. “American consumerist load of crap,” to be exact. He is more than happy for me to believe in it, if that translates to me buying him a random gift or making him breakfast in bed. I've yet to submit to the temptation of purchasing a ghastly stuffed toy with a big faux silk love heart saying “I wub you, pookie” and encouraging him to put it on the dashboard of his car. There's always next year.
I’m not a high maintenance wife. I’d be more than content if for Valentine’s Day he filled my car with petrol instead of leaving it on empty when he takes it for a spin down to the hardware shop on the weekend. If he really wanted to show his love, he could refrain from leaving poo slides every morning in the only toilet in the house. But that would really just be icing.
He does not lack romance, my husband, he just sees it in different places. They are not in the bottom of a chocolate box, a bunch of flowers or a ginormous diamond ring. He sees the romance in taking the kids off my hands for a few hours when I am shedding grey hair on the spot. Or perhaps it is a safety standard. He recognises my need for space and encourages me to go to "Yoghurt class" (Yoga) and on girl’s nights out. These things are greatly appreciated, even if not traditional romantic gestures.
This year we have been married ten years. Yay us! I have no idea how we got here. Well, I do. He was my rebound man. Gotta be careful of those. You can end up married with three kids and raising a mortgage. What I mean is, how the hell did we survive through the last ten years and still like each other?
Babies do weird things to people. They do even stranger things to couples. Firstly, they turn them into googling (in both senses of the word), teary idiots who stand over cots for hours on end revelling in their brilliance at creating such a perfect being. They also turn two devoted lovers into complete rambling morons functioning on no sleep. This can lead to some testy times in the early days.
When you are full of baby, everyone is full of wisdom. So much attention is directed to the birth – music, midwives, MEDICATION, mania, miracles. Little prepares you for when you take that miniature bundle of noise home and are expected to have some idea what to do with it. When the solid waste hits the rotary blades, tempers often result in some less than loving exchanges between partners.
When I was pregnant with test case number one, I was given more advice than you could bottle in a brewery but one wise droplet stuck with me. Never take to heart anything you or your partner say to each other at three in the morning. I smiled politely when it was said to me and thought, “we aren’t that kind of couple”. We don’t have loud, public arguments or engage in nasty bickering. Sure, we disagree but we’re pretty boring about it. We have an adult conversation and try to resolve it. We genuinely like each other. That’s when we are getting eight hour’s solid sleep.
The stress of a new baby doesn’t change how much you like or love your partner but it can sure as hell put it under the microscope. Differing parenting styles, varying abilities to function under stress and the ultimate refocussing of attention to a tiny person can all grate away at the core of a marriage. All of a sudden you realise your partner is useless under pressure or falls into a dictatorship role, telling you how to handle the situation. Perhaps you become a control freak about everything baby-related and don’t trust that they’ll be able to do it as well as you can.
Arguments about seemingly petty issues can turn a previously loving union into a battlefield. Division of labour – who will get on top of all that washing now that you have a mini-chucker and massive-pooper in the house? Who’s doing night feeds (not much choice if you’re supplying the boobs) and settling? Who’s cooking and cleaning? Whose turn is it to sleep-in?
My husband learnt quicker than the speed of light not to ask “Did the baby wake last night?” I was willing to provide him an instant vasectomy after spending hours trying to resettle a grumpy baby while he sucked the walls in through his nostrils. I was happy to do night feeds and settling because he had to get up and go to work. I apparently got to “sleep when the baby sleeps” in the day. Yeah, right.
And then there’s the issue of bacon. A drop in income is commonplace in most households when a baby arrives. That puts unspoken stress on the breadwinner and the loss of financial independence can often confound negative feelings of the person at home. Not to mention the financial strain of losing an income.
Popular literature speaks of making “date nights” with your partner and getting babysitters in once a month to force yourselves out of the house. Problem is, when there’s not much cash, a babysitter and a nightout pulls on the purse strings. Babies or older children often interrupt a night-in making date nights a fizzer. Falling asleep in the middle of dinner and drooling down your front doesn’t do much to solidify a loving moment.
Clearly my husband and I have managed through the years of babies, with ups and downs and a few firm words at ungodly hours of the morning. For some reason, we kept going back for more. There is no secret formula apart from a mutual respect and perhaps a good dose of stupidity thrown in. We seem to work out how to operate like a tag team and when one member starts losing their cool, the other steps in.
Most importantly, my husband has finally learnt that I am always right. Even when I’m wrong.
Now I need to get him to find the mother of all eternity rings – perhaps one that fills the car with petrol and wipes the toilet clean?
Did you find the first few months after your baby was born stressful on the marriage? What helped you keep it together? Comment on Kylie Orr's blog.