I remember being pregnant with my first child (a fact my husband and I discovered a mere four weeks and one day after our wedding; yes, it was a fantastic honeymoon) and thinking that our baby was going to be that final bit of glue our relationship needed to stay cemented forever. And in a way, she was, teaching us more about ourselves and our relationship than we ever even knew to ask in our prekids life.
We were united in our love for our daughter and in our goal to give her the best life possible. We moved from the city to a leafy suburb with plenty of yard space and great schools. We sacrificed sleep and our social lives for a new kind of 3 a.m. party, the kind where you literally beg a newborn to go the f*ck to sleep, and then beg your spouse to try to get them down because your attempts aren't working. But we, as a married couple, were good. So, like the naive baby lovers we are, we decided to have another.
And that's when things got tough; like, make-an-appointment-with-the-marriage-counselor-because-we-need-a-neutral-referee-immediately tough. It's not that we had changed as individuals; it's not that we loved or enjoyed each other any less. It's just that having two kids, especially in the first few years, is insanely hard on a marriage. Here's why (and what you can do to make it better).
- You go from zone to man-on-man defense. With one child, it's easy for each spouse to get the occasional mental-health break by letting the other take over. With two children, everyone has to step up, especially Dad, who in most situations goes from being a parenting-support player to a leading role, a title change that definitely takes some getting used to for everyone.
- No one gets a break, so no one's needs are getting met. Two parents and two kids means everyone is busy all the time, which means it's hard for Mom and Dad to finish a work email or get the laundry folded. And the latest season of that Netflix show you've been dying to watch or, say, an actual full night of sleep? Forget about it. Exhaustion, both physical and mental, builds up, and it's easy to take it out on your spouse, since you're always positive you're doing more than they are (why they feel the same way is beyond you!).
- Your husband becomes third in line for your attention. When your one child is sleeping or independently playing, your attention goes to your husband. With two kids, he goes even further down the line, and by the time you get to him, you're probably too exhausted to make much of an effort.
- The novelty of parenthood is gone. You're no longer that cute mom and dad with the cute little baby. You're certified adults with multiple children, and you suddenly realize that they aren't just adorable dress-up dolls (in fact, they refuse to wear anything you choose), they aren't going anywhere for at least 18 years, and they've aged you decades in the few years since they were born.
- Babies are hard; babies plus toddlers are just sanity killers. Both have a list of needs so long that it can feel like an impossible task to meet them. Put them together and that nightly glass of wine isn't a luxury anymore. It's a necessity.
- Sex becomes a distant memory. Sleepless nights, nursing, baby weight, feeling overtouched, potty training, not having time to shower . . . all are guaranteed mood killers, and sex can quickly become a point of contention between couples.
- Babysitters are harder to come by. With your first, grandparents line up to babysit, and everyone has a great sitter they're more than willing to share. With your second, suddenly all those sitters are too busy or smart to watch two small children, and suddenly you're housebound with little hope for escape.
Three-and-a-half years after becoming parents of two, things have gotten way better in our marriage, but we've also put in the work to make it that way. Besides those occasional marriage counseling sessions, we've both made an effort to make time for each other, on date nights or even a few minutes before bed, and we've also made an effort to connect more there, too (even when one of us — yeah, that would be me — doesn't initially feel like it).
We've learned that we can't just "wait for things to get better" and instead need to be proactive about communicating, both when things are good and when they're headed south. And we both try to stay on top of all the things we know our marriage needs (scheduling sitters, asking for alone time and nights out with friends, avoiding stressful situations with extended family, not holding onto resentments, etc.). Our kids are tough, but these days, we're even stronger.