One of the most pivotal transitions a married couple will ever face happens once the first child arrives.
Today I received a message on Facebook from a frustrated and heartbroken husband. As I read his words, I could feel the desperation in his plea. To protect his identity, I will paraphrase his message and not reveal any personal details. In essence, he said,
“Dave and Ashley, HELP! I don’t know what to do. For the first few years of our marriage, things were great. Our sex life was amazing. My wife was my best friend. After we had our first child, everything changed. My wife puts everything she has into being a mom and there’s nothing left over for me. We barely have sex; and when we do, she seems to be doing it out of a half-hearted obligation instead of any real passion. Whenever I talk about how I want things to change, she tells me that I’m a grown man and I need to deal with being second place because our kid has to come first. I love being a dad, but am I being selfish for wanting more of my wife? I can’t keep living like this. What do I do???”
Over the years, I’ve received many messages from husbands sharing almost identical concerns. One of the most pivotal transitions a married couple will ever face happens once the first child arrives. For some couples, this new season of parenthood can ultimately bring an even deeper connection within the marriage. For other couples, like the one behind the Facebook message, parenthood can cause a deep wedge between the husband and the wife.
15 Warning Signs that Mom Desperately Needs a Break
Most issues in marriage aren’t as gender-specific as the stereotypes would have us believe, but when it comes to the transition into parenthood, it’s statistically far more likely that the mother will be the one who puts enormous attention on her new role as a parent and the father (even if he’s working hard to pitch in with the baby), will be the one who feels a sense of loss over losing his lover and best friend to the never-ending demands of motherhood.
Some of these changes are the result of hormones and biology. Especially if a mom is breastfeeding, the biologically driven bonding she’s experiencing with the baby combined with the physical and emotional toll her mind and body are enduring can leave little energy left for anything or anyone other than the child. When a husband places more demands on her, she is likely to feel exasperated and frustrated with him.
The stress and disconnect we were both experiencing during that season were unsustainable.
We experienced some of this tension when we became parents. I remember going out on our first date night when Cooper was still very young. My mom had volunteered to come over and babysit and I was thrilled to take my bride out again. As we sat in a booth at Applebee’s, I was grinning from ear to ear beaming with excitement until I looked across the booth and Ashley was crying. Her mixture of physical exhaustion, hormonal transition, and “mom guilt” over leaving her baby at home was overwhelming to her.
The early years of parenthood were probably the most difficult years in our twenty years of marriage. Ashley suffered from post-partem depression, and it lingered until it became an ongoing, clinical depression. The early years of parenthood also caused financial pressure which caused me to take on more work and pulled me away from home even more. The stress and disconnect we were both experiencing during that season were unsustainable.
10 Phrases That Every Wife Wants to Hear From Her Husband
Thankfully, by God’s grace, a LOT of communication, and the wisdom of mentors who were pouring into our lives at the time, we eventually found a rhythm that worked and a set of priorities that put our marriage at the top of the list. We realized that the more we loved God, the more capacity we’d have to love each other, and the more we loved each other, the more capacity we’d have to love our kids. In other words, if we put our marriage first, both the marriage and the kids would benefit as a result.
So, for the guy who wrote me this heartbroken marriage, the first part of my response was simply to empathize with him. Next, I told him that I would pray for him and his wife and reminded him that God wanted his marriage and his family to thrive. Finally, I offered some practical steps that I believe could work for anyone in his situation.
The tips included:
Be your wife’s biggest encourager. Instead of pointing out how she’s “failing” as a wife, praise her for what she’s doing well. Let her know that you see how hard she’s working and that you appreciate and adore her.
Remind your wife that you love her. Keep pursuing her (and not just for sex). Give her physical affection which includes back rubs, hand-holding and tender caresses.
Make sure your wife is getting what she needs to be at her best mentally, physically, and spiritually. Help her get the rest she needs. Help her see a counselor if that would be helpful. Help her go to the gym if she wants to work out. Try to serve her needs.
Offer to lighten her load in any way you can. Encourage her to get out of the house to get a pedicure or to go have lunch with the girls. Take time to bond with the kids. Remember that fatherhood is a precious gift, and your kids need you.
Don’t turn to porn or any other toxic form of “comfort” to deal with your sexual frustration. That will only cause a deeper divide in the marriage and won’t bring any real contentment.
Keep doing all you can to make the marriage a priority. Be the kind of spouse to her that you’d like for her to be to you in return. Plan date nights. Try to plan some time away together when possible. Look for ways to connect daily after the kids are asleep.
Keep investing in your marriage. Listen to our Naked Marriage Podcast which is something that costs nothing and can be done on your own time. It could also spark new conversations in your marriage.
Make laughter a priority during the exhausting and beautiful season of raising young kids. Laughter will keep you energized and keep you connected.
Every season of marriage passes more quickly than you realize at the time. In every season, keep prioritizing your marriage. I hope all our resources at XO Marriage will be an ongoing, uplifting part of your journey.