“No, I was asking you to be home at 4 pm on Friday,” I said, unable to keep the irritation and frustration out of my voice. My confused husband replied, “Are you sure? I thought you said 6!”
An honest answer to his question would have been, “No, don’t you remember? You suggested 6, and then I replied 4, but at that exact moment the baby fell and bumped his head so I grabbed him. You probably didn’t hear me say ‘4’ over his wailing.” But of course, that explanation was too long for me to blurt out, because it was dinner time and the baby needed his pasta. So I just tightly replied, “No, I need you at 4 please, put it in your Blackberry,” as I whooshed past my husband with a toddler plate of spaghetti.
The truth is, a child’s arrival throws the relationship of their parents into a tailspin. I know that I took for granted the ability to think a complete thought, speak a whole sentence, and have a complete conversation until the hectic day to day demands of parenting took it away. It can also be temping to let many of the common sense tactics that couples use to air out these emotions fall by the wayside when a baby comes along. For instance, I had always felt a sense of pride in our ability to see saw our way through life–having one partner pick up the slack when the other was tapped out. But once our son came along, there has been more than one grueling period when we were both tapped out. At that point, it is all too easy to stop trying to see saw, and start playing tug of war.
In a cruel twist of fate, the day-to-day inability to communicate happens at a time when young parents need it most. Research shows that the first years of parenthood for a couple are some of the most trying in our marriage. An article from Philly magazine documents a trend of infidelity and divorce among young parents in the Philadelphia area, and many of the anecdotes in the article describe how a couple can grow apart when their life includes the round the clock responsibilities of raising a child. And so when a couple needs to communicate better than ever before, the minute-to-minute reality of life in the home with a young child makes it practically impossible.
But it’s not actually impossible. While my husband and I are still figuring it out, we have learned from experience that those tried and true tips–like going on date nights, making time to talk about touchy topics, and “fighting fair”–are actually incredibly helpful! I think that those tips, like a lot of helpful relationship advice, comes down to the same thing: making sure that resentment, anger, and negative emotions regularly get aired out of the relationship instead of festering, growing, and affecting everything around it.
The good news is, life is getting a little easier as we recognize how far we’ve come – and now that my son is getting older. Sure, we have a far way yet to go when it comes to communicating under highly stressful circumstances. But the optimist in me believes that in this case, knowing is half the battle.