I sat up in the middle of the night for what felt like the millionth time. My eyes were red and sore from the excessive tears streaming down my tired face. There I was, alone in the dark with one of my boobs jammed in my newborn’s mouth as she happily nursed away. Meanwhile, my husband was lying next to me with his limbs sprawled out like a hibernating bear in the dead of winter.
If you asked me what emotions were running through me that night, I’d say a new breed of angry sad. Because yet again, my hubby Matt had miraculously slept through our daughter’s scream crying. And yet again, I wanted to beg him to get the fuck up and talk to me about anything.
Prior to meeting Matt, I carried with me the burden of being a lifelong people pleaser and didn’t speak up often about my needs in past relationships. But having a child knocks that protective coping mechanism right on out of you. I was just too exhausted, too uncomfortable, and way too hormonal not to lament loudly about what I felt Matt should – and shouldn’t – be doing. The sheer resentment I felt when he wouldn’t wake up with me (or instead of me, goddammit!) resulted in a ton of hysterics to forcibly make him a part of the nighttime routine.
Oh, and did I mention that my adorable pint-sized ball of wonder wouldn’t take a bottle ever? So when I tearfully yelled at my hubby to wake the eff up, it was solely for the emotional comfort and a feeling of sharing equally in our new duties together. Even if Matt couldn’t feed his baby yet, I needed him to be there for his unbearably vulnerable wife. But the way I communicated with him usually left something to be desired, causing my grumpy ass husband to get pissy with me at the most inconvenient times in the night.
This challenge, along with a shit ton of others, led to more fights between us in that first year than I’d like to admit. Let’s just say we fought a lot. The ongoing conflict made me feel like an asshole so much of the time. It left me wondering if we just weren’t mean to be parents together. And even though Matt and I genuinely loved each other, the “D” word was definitely put on the table in the darkest of moments. Despite desperately wanting to know, I didn’t feel comfortable to ask other moms if they too were ugly sparring with their partners-in-crime.
I realize now that they were probably feeling way too uncomfortable to ask me either.
As new parents, no one wants to openly admit that a tiny human has the potential to destroy the status quo of a loving relationship – or break down an already faulty one. We’re taught to “soak up every moment” with our babies because “it goes by way too fast.” But how can we enjoy that first year if we spend most of it arguing with our spouses in shame-induced secrecy?
It’s time to go public about a very private issue so many of us deal with but no one seems chomping at the bit to start talking about. Babies have the very real ability to wreak havoc on a marriage, and we need to widen our judgment-free zones to safely start opening up about it.
Thankfully, quite a few couples have recently done just that. Because someone got the genius idea to tally up just how many arguments new parents have. And I’m going to warn you, the number is staggering.
The folks at ChannelMum.com and The Baby Show decided to ask OnePoll to conduct a survey on babies and marital strife. Their results found that in the first year of parenthood, couples can get into an average of 2,500 fights with each other.
I’m going to repeat that a little louder, for the parents in the back.
The average married couple can have up to 2,500 arguments in the first year of their kid’s life.
Let that reality sink in for a minute.
The 2,000 parents who were surveyed shared a bunch of obstacles that placed a heavy strain on their transformed relationships. The most common fights centered around who wasn’t pulling their weight with the new responsibilities, competing for the “most tired” award, and sex not happening anymore. Nighttime parenting duties were argued about as well, along with stress around finances.
And not only were most parents feeling a lack of romantic connection, but a third of the couples admitted to going up to five days without talking to their partner.
Here’s where it gets painfully real. For every ten parents surveyed, at least six brave souls confessed that they were completely unprepared for how much a new baby would change their lives. I’m going to guess that this number would be much higher if the rest of the parents had to take a lie detector test. Because no matter how ready you think you are for a baby, you are never ever ready enough. In fact, the unexpected challenges surrounding the first year of parenthood led a fifth of the surveyed couples to break up for good.
I don’t know about you, but that last sentence in particular is one giant bummer. But hang in there, folks. There’s an upside to all of this.
First of all, no amount of skills in the marriage department left the interviewed couples unscathed from verbal battles. Which at the very least, can provide some comfort to those of us (i.e. me) who feel like we suck at being married. For the seasoned veterans, remembering how very human you are has the potential to help ease the blows when emotions are running high.
“Even those couples who usually communicate brilliantly can find the first few months of having a baby tough, and arguments are a really normal part of the adjustment process,” says ChannelMum.com founder Siobhan Freegard in a public release of the study. “Lack of sleep during the early months and getting used to the new-found responsibilities can pile pressure on new parents and contribute to arguments,” she explains.
In terms of what helped the couples through this rough ass time, 23% of parents polled sought out a support system of friends and credit that with easing their parenting burdens. Others said that sharing in overnight duties, having sex regularly, and enjoying some semblance of a social life helped them cope with the extraordinary changes parenthood brings with it. “Making time for each other can be just as important as learning how to look after the baby, as happy parents will naturally result in a happy child,” Freegard says.
In the age of Google, we now assuredly know that information can be so powerful. Arming ourselves with the honest-to-goodness knowledge about the entire first year of parenting can help us come up with real solutions when the natural and inevitable marital conflicts arise. And more importantly, realizing we are all basically fighting the same battle here can allow us to feel seen, heard, and supported. Because let’s face it — learning how to become a parent alongside someone you love is a shit show, plain and simple.
I’ve discovered a whole lot through two brutal rounds of new parenting. There is no damn shame in having messy moments in a relationship, especially when it involves caring for a small baby. You are not broken if you feel like you can’t be yourself with your partner after you’ve birthed a child. It’s okay to speak up if you’re overextending yourself as a new parent. And good lord, give yourself a friggin’ break if you’ve lost your temper hundreds of times in the most sleep deprived state you will ever experience.
Many of the reasons Matt and I argued that first year were easily justifiable. But I’m still cringing and laughing when I think back to how ridiculous it was to fight at a time when so much was already up against the both of us. Now, I at least understand why we argued so much — and why it is so totally okay to talk about it.