There is no greater endorsement of a couple’s love for one another than making the decision to have a baby. The drive to merge our genetics with our beloved into a unique little being is innate. And our conviction that it will cement our relationship is almost universal amongst optimistic couples However for the majority of couples, relationship satisfaction takes a significant decline with the arrival of a child. Not only that, the likelihood of a couple going their separate ways after the arrival of a child also declines. We become intent on standing by our partner in our misery. Given that our relationship satisfaction is one of the biggest contributors to our overall life satisfaction, you’d imagine that we’d use this information to safeguard against some of the potential pitfalls of parenting. And yet very few of us do. We prefer to enter parenthood with the glorious naivety of an ‘it will never happen to us’ mindset.
The likelihood is, it will happen to you. Relationships shift from a romantic intimacy to a business-like partnership. Identities shift, particularly for the mother; and see us transition into people who now discuss faeces in place of sweet nothings. Couples struggle and yet there is very little said about it. I've seen parenting described as the loneliest, never alone time and it seems so entirely accurate.
And yet, this is often the natural trajectory of relationships, particularly when children come on the scene. It is also a phase, albeit an extended one. We put so much pressure on our relationships to be a continuous source of fulfillment, acceptance and adoration. And yet relationships are oftentimes our primary sources of turmoil. There is seldom a romantic relationship that won't trigger you. That's the point. Relationships can shine a light on our insecurities; providing the catalyst needed to heal old hurts. They also reveal the darker side of our character, challenging our egos and teaching us acceptance of the self and others; just as we are. A relationship can make you feel one day like the most valued and appreciated person in the world and the next day, completely isolated and misunderstood. And that’s ok. It doesn’t necessitate the end of the romance. When a relationship is built on a solid foundation of shared values and beliefs, it will stand against the challenges that parenting bring. However, that does not mean it will escape them. The more transparency and honesty there is about the duality and ambivalence that accompanies parenting, the more equipped people will be to accept and survive it.
Parenting is all at once the most joyful yet most difficult experiences ever. You will reach emotional highs you have never known but also be brought to your knees with confusion, exhaustion and the desperation of not having a clue what you are doing. You will experience anger and resentment as parenting can be incredibly isolating, particularly for the parent staying at home. It becomes a competition about who slept more or changed the most nappies. And yet parenting will open up elements of yourself that you never imagined. Children teach us new depths of love and sacrifice. They crack open so many of our vulnerabilities, shining a light on the areas where we need to heal.
Relationships will evolve and grow stronger when expectations are realistic and people understand that it normal to struggle, to experience ambivalence and at times despair. When we are free to experience the myriad of emotions that parenting brings, we are capable of the resilience and acceptance required to negotiate the tough times. Relationships thrive on forgiveness, compassion and shared experience. So if you are struggling, know that it’s par for the course. You’re no longer the couple that you were but you can be something new. Understanding, active listening and seeing things from your partner’s perspective is integral to the survival. Ultimately, it’s still you and your partner versus the world (including your new demands) and despite common beliefs, the relationship comes before the children. Look after yourself and look after one another
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