On Relationships, Past and Present

As I prepare myself to travel to be with my parents, I remember something I wanted to discuss with y’all. It’s something many others have blogged about, most notably Stumbling Gracefully. But I was able to observe at close range a good case study.

We all know that once you have children, couples report a decrease in happiness, while couples who don’t have kids are more happy. I would be curious to see a study done asking those who had gone through infertility on both sides how happy they are. But, I think in general it’s probably true that the relationship between partners suffers when children enter the picture.

When Darcy and I lived in London (in a grimy flat) we became friends with another couple. (The woman lived in the grimy flat below our own.) This couple, I’ll call them the “Fabs” because they are, now live in an incredible magazine-worthy penthouse filled with spiral staircases and other deathtraps for parents. You see, the Fabs have decided to be childfree by choice. They have never TTC, they have no desire to even try. They want to travel, live together, and be fabulous.

I stayed in their penthouse for two days and the main thing I noticed was how attentive and sensitive they were to each other’s needs. They were very careful to take each other’s gym and travel schedules and work commitments into account. They worried about each other: “Mr. Fab has an early morning, so he should go to bed early.” Or: “Let’s make sure to park nearby because I’m not sure Mrs. Fab has her umbrella with her.”

Uh, I can’t remember the last time I asked Darcy if he even OWNS an umbrella. OUR conversations are rushed, kinda harsh in tone, as if the load of responsibilities on both sides is too great to add being solicitous into the mix. Often I feel like we are two workers on a factory assembly line on different shifts, briefing each other on the crucial tasks that need to be completed before one of us steps out for a break. To be honest, I was quite envious of the Fabs’ relationship. Because Darcy and I used to have that kind of relationship. Before infertility, anyway.

Did you have a more connected, solicitous relationship with your partner before infertility and/or parenting? Or have you been able to maintain that? If so, HOW?!? I really want to know.

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16 Comments

Filed under Parenting After IF, twins, Uncategorized

16 responses to “On Relationships, Past and Present

  1. I don’t have a baby – yet. But I think it much depends on personality. I think if you truly – BOTH of you – don’t want kids, then you might be really happy as a couple. But if a couple wants kids – I cannot believe they will be less happy once they get them.

    Sure, it probably is a very different sort of happy. The definition of “we” changes probably in the same way the definition of “I” changes when you move in or get married with your partner.

    My hubby was a lone wolf for many years before me, so for him the change was extraordinarily huge… he shared his thoughts and feelings with me often – and he quoted someone saying that marriage – is when people get together to solve problems that they otherwise wouldn’t have had in the first place.

    And it’s true. In many ways, it’s easier on your own. You can do whatever you want, you don’t owe anything to anyone. But it is also so rewarding to have someone in your life, someone who loves you, someone you care for.

    And I think (hope) that it will be the same with kids. Sure – our relationship will change. But is it really to the worse? I doubt it.

    My wishful thinking 🙂

  2. I think that for a while, you’re more attentive to your kids’ needs, because kids are more needy. But I also think it’s possible that the relationship will take a different turn once kids are older … at least, I hope so. It will never be the same. But I think that part of the problem is that as we change, we have to change our definition of happiness. And not many people think about that, so they look more unhappy. It all depends on the measuring stick you use.

  3. Okay, I have to admit, your post scared me. I don’t want to think that having a baby could damage my relationship with my husband. But then I read the comments and I felt a little better. Because IF/RPL has robbed me of a lot of joy. And it has challenged my marriage (and all my relationships). But my relationship with my husband is also deeper because of what we’ve been through in the past year. So far, RPL/IF hasn’t driven us apart, it’s pulled us together. It’s forced us to find new ways of looking at things and doing things and new ways of communicating and expressing intimacy.

    Before we began TTC, we were blissfully innocent. Naive. Kind of like an extended honeymoon. And two months ago, we went on a vacation and it was like turning back the clock and having a second honeymoon. I was full of hope and joy and it was a wonderful reprieve. The stress is back now, but I think that it must be the same with parenting. Like what Justine said. Relationships change (life changes) and we must adjust our idea of happiness accordingly. And maybe it is possible to find some short reprieves along the way. I hope we’ll be able to do that, assuming we’re actually lucky enough to ever have living children to raise.

  4. Trinity

    I distinctly remember a specific moment during my pregnancy: N and I were getting out of our car, hauling bags of baby stuff into the house, and I recall being overwhelmed by a sense of partnership. Like, “We are going to fucking rock this parenthood shit, and we are going to do it together!” And that starkly contrasts with a memory at about 4 months postpartum where I just felt so tapped, so taken for granted, so not-rocking-parenthood-together. It’s gotten muuuch better since we’ve found some semblance of a rythym, but it was a lot of concentrated effort on both our parts. It’s a constant practice in communication and recognizing/thanking each other for things we do for each other and Arlo.

    N has two male coworkers, one with two children who recently went through a divorce, and a second with two children whose wife has asked for a separation. Both of his coworkers have directly told them that their marriages became much harder after having the second child. The second co-worker is also an IFer, having undergone IVF/TESE/FET for his two daughters. It makes me sad–after all they went through to build their family, just fives years later they’re breaking it up.

  5. I’m definitely fearful of this happening if we eventually have a child of our own. I’m hoping that having never been in this relationship without a child will give us an advantage. I know it will be different to have a child with us constantly as opposed to just weekends, but at least I know what it’s like to have a child come between us (or rather, to have ALWAYS been between us). I don’t know. This is what I’m hoping for, anyway. But these thoughts have fed into the part of me that is questioning continuing this fight for a baby that we’ve been on for two years now. I have to say, though, I’m always skeptical of couples that choose to be baby free like your friends. I always assume one of them just isn’t fessing up to it and is burying that desire. What do you think? Do you think they truly, truly do not want a child? I think the skepticism is the east coast in me. 😉

  6. While I don’t have children of my own yet, I wanted to share this little vignette.

    The day of my wedding, I went for a run. Let me be clear: I’m not a runner. But I went for a run, put on my “Power Rock Women” playlist, and let myself get all caught up in my head. As I ran (and then quickly slowed to a jog, and then just a 45 minute brisk walk) I remember intentionally thinking and saying to myself: “I need to be a better wife to Larry than I was his girlfriend or fiancee.” I wasn’t about to have dinner and slippers ready for him at 5pm every night, but as I walked, I made the commitment to stop thinking about myself all the damn time and to remember that we’re partners in this journey.

    And he reminds me of that very point of fact sometimes, too. One of the most awful moments in one of our (infertility inspired) arguments was when he said to me, “Right now I don’t feel like your partner. I feel like a nuisance to you.” I will never forget that and I try as much as I can to treasure, cherish, value and validate him as I can – and I expect the same in return. He knows this too.

    I know things will be different if when baby comes. I really do make a conscious effort to be a less selfish person now so that it’s not even habit anymore, it’s just the way I am.

  7. Although it had its rough spots, I think ultimately, infertility strengthened and made our relationship better. Maybe that will prepare us better for when babies come? Who knows. I’ll let you know when I find out. Mr. and Mrs. Fab really do sound fabulous though.

  8. We definitely were more connected in an intimate way and more solicitous before parenting, but now we’re more patient with one another, and I love the new relationship levels co parenting has brought us. We bond a LOT over the kid, and I think the level of joy in the house is higher. That doesn’t mean there weren’t some trying moments. Adjusting to our new life was rocky and crazy at times.

  9. Hope – I think the pain of IF is way harder on a marriage than the joy and stress of a child. The depths of our happy moments way make up for any negatives, and I find it much less stressing than IF. seriously so grateful – both of us

  10. For a while, I dreamed of living like your friends, a couple of happy, carefree DINKs. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t enjoy that life because the desire to have children was way too strong and, knowing G, he would have gone with it but he was made to be a parent. That said, it has been ROUGH on ye ol relationship. I felt very much like Trinity. I was sure that we had pretty much the best foundation there ever was and then it got shaken pretty badly. I feel like we are getting to the point that we are repairing cracks and reinforcing joints but it takes work. I imagine that some couples do a lot better but I just don’t actually know any of them.

  11. Hmm…very good question. Frank and I are extremely receptive to each other. Once our twins were born, we did go through a stumbling phase where our normally argument/disagreement-free marriage suddenly turned into one or the other of us being annoyed with the other a couple times a week. It didn’t really settle in until after I went back to work when the twins were about 7 weeks old. He was a SAHD, and balancing taking care of the babies, giving ourselves time to catch a breather (me from work, and him from the babies), and learning our new roles as parents threw us for a loop there for a minute. But, we figured it out. We kept each other a priority. He kept my needs ahead of his own and he did the same for me – that way, each of us had our needs met – without being selfish, and feeling like the other truly cared. It sounds easier that it was – it is work. It took compromise and being able to look honestly at ourselves and admit when maybe we were griping too much, and also meant we had had suck it up a little to give the other what was needed. Eventually, it all became second nature and then it just happens without thinking about it, and that’s what’s made us happy.

    Also – and this was a big thing for us, at least – it sounds trite, but communication is key. If you have a need that you feel isn’t being met, say so, instead of waiting around for the other person to figure it out for themselves. If it takes you saying what you need, it doesn’t make their efforts to fix things any less sincere than it would have been if they *had* figured out your needs on their own.

  12. Our relationship definitely changed after the miscarriage. We went from being a can’t-keep-our-hands-off-each-other couple (we were only less than a year in to our relationship when i got pregnant) to something more muted, more careful. The change was instant. And it fucking sucked. There were times when I was mourning my relationship as much as I was mourning the child I hadn’t known I wanted.

    Over the past few years, we’ve settled back in to a middle-ground. We are still just us, of course, but we’re forever changed because of what happened to us. The cooling of that new-relationship stage happened overnight instead of over time, so we’ve had to work our way back up to the place we’d like to be in: focused on each other, attentive to each other, enjoying each other – just the two of us. Some days are better than others.

  13. We, too, used to be the Fabs. And I have DINK-y friends who are like the Fabs.
    We are trying to find our way back to being like the Fabs.

  14. We have friends who are similar to the Fabs, except for the penthouse thing as she is trying to start her own business. Sometimes I wonder, what if we had gone that route? How would the last few years have unfolded career-wise, travel-wise, overall “happiness”-wise? I don’t know. All I know is that this is really what both of us wanted. So far, we are both trying to keep each other’s needs in mind, but I have to admit, when I’m tired and cranky, I have one tone of voice. Drill sergeant comes to mind…and some of these things will probably come into play when we discuss adopting a second time.

    p.s. Maybe some of it is personality, but our ‘Fab’ friends have become increasingly inflexible. i.e. They refuse to travel with other friends. They whine incessantly when friends of ours who live 15 miles away have a party. They have to plan everything and make ME look spontaneous. It’s the flip side I think.

  15. chhandita

    My relation with M has always been dodgy. sigh I wish I had an answer today. Maybe in a few months?

    PS: I nominated you for an award. check it out.

  16. I really like your blog. My husband and I have a pretty good and solicitous relationship. I am a big believer that company manners should not be for company. Why save your best manners for people you rarely see? I am not saying it is all wine and roses over here. Because that would be BULLCRAP. We fight and pick and annoy each other. But I also pack his lunch every day before he goes to work. And I write him the occasional note in the shower steam telling him I love him. And just tonight he put the sheets on our bed when I thought he was playing on the internet. Just things like that. Things that take a bit of effort but say we care better than some dumb flowers or presents ever would.

    Having our son enhanced our lives greatly. We are far happier in large ways now, though we have less time for solitary pursuits like the hours my husband used to spend playing video games or watching sports while I read or baked. Now I am lucky to make it through a book a week and he plays a few minutes a day on his iphone. We have less discretionary spending money, and less time. But more joy, much more joy. I would say with surety that infertility helped us be happier parents.

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