#1—Read each other’s stress cues and be gentle.
? Cliché Alert! ?
“Being a parent is the most important job you'll ever have."
Before I had kids, when I heard people say stuff like this I would roll my eyes. It wasn't because I didn't believe that parenthood was going to be the most important thing I'd ever do. It's that I already knew it.
My wife and I have been together for 15 years and married for six. We are always asked, “How do you guys make this work? What's your secret?"
Well, we don't have a magical answer. The thing about life is that when you're younger, things seem easier. I remember things getting a tinge stressful while planning our wedding, but in hindsight, that process was so easy compared to, say, buying a house or raising two children under 4 years old.
Are you scared yet? Let's talk this through.
Here are 4 things I've learned to do for my marriage after having kids.
1. Read each other's stress cues + be gentle.
After years of being together, my wife and I have learned how to determine each other's stress levels and the cues that things are off. We've also learned how to work with each other based on what level of stress each of us is feeling.
Learning your partner's stress cues doesn't mean marching home and asking them why they can't read your stress and anxiety levels better. It means, simply, to pay attention. Try to notice things and be aware of your partner's mood and signals, and then respond accordingly.
For example, recently our son started a new preschool. After a few days, we started to notice what we thought was a change in his personality—he was acting more physical with his younger brother and was melting down much faster than normal. He was more protective of “his" things. He was having a very hard time communicating what he needed from us.
Now we're able to see his stress levels rise and his personality start to change, and we can immediately ask him, “Hey, I noticed that you're trying to tell me something. What is it that you're feeling?"
Okay, so this also doesn't mean, “Go home and talk to your partner like they're a 3-year-old." You can modify this technique pretty easily. You can stop what you're doing and say “Hey, what's up?" Then leave it alone for awhile. I usually see if my wife comes around to explaining why she just blew up at the kids about wanting a second breakfast first before asking again. I don't like to push the issue.
2. Communicate with one another + figure out what method works best.
Yes, this same thing comes back my way when I'm losing it as well. Sometimes I have a harder time letting go than she does. However, figuring out how to best communicate with your partner is key. Communication doesn't need to be this dramatic intervention or a disruption from everyday life.
For me, it needs to be done consciously, but also casually. Connecting with my wife without feeling like we manufactured some sort of understanding. The casual discussion about the day, or our sons, or sometimes just quietly standing together in the same room. These things build communication between us daily.
3. Enjoy alone time—you both deserve it.
We also need to experience time apart from one another. We need time to recharge, whether that means an hour or two for working out, a night out with our individual friends or a class that we want to take. When we lived in San Francisco (pre-babies), my wife decided she wanted to take ballet. This was different for me because she'd have these experiences without me—with friends I'd never meet and a connection with her class and teachers that would have nothing to do with me.
I'd often joke, “When is the recital? I want to come see you dance. I want to be a part of this." However, in hindsight, it was totally fine that I wasn't a part of it. In fact, it was probably for the best that I wasn't. It allowed my wife to hold on to a sense of independence, but also realize I was always there for her as her partner. This was really hard for me to navigate at first.
4. Get to know your partner + never stop learning.
So how do you prepare your marriage for all the amazing things that child-rearing has to offer? You get to know your partner. You don't have to take 12 years like my wife and I did, but I do think that it's very important to communicate efficiently and understand you are each unique human beings.
We need our space to be able to find, grow, learn and expand our horizons. There's a Muhammad Ali quote that I've been referencing a lot since he passed away.
“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life."
Allow for growth and change to happen.
You have to be willing to grow with your partner, talk through the changes and adapt together. If you can, then you'll be well-prepared to welcome a new addition to your family.