“Motherhood is really like being in an action movie that goes on for your whole life - but with all the boring, everyday bits left in.”
Alright, let’s tackle this humungous topic of marriage and keeping our romantic relationship healthy, alive, and stress free(er) after having a baby; a topic that has had me reading everything I can get my hands on for the last year. The more I talk to other moms, the more I realize that this is a problem for EVERYONE. I mean, throw a child into a relationship, and it will be hard to see eye to eye on everything. Mix that up with sleep deprivation, financial worries, health problems, and job insecurity, and you’ve got yourself an explosive minefield.
“I’ve always viewed couples therapy as a costly last stop before divorce court, but our communication had become so muddled and highly charged that we were deadlocked.”
After Arman and I got engaged, we asked couples around us what kept their marriage happy and alive. One of our friends - married for over 20 years - was happy to tell us that regular counseling was what kept their marriage from going down the path to divorce a decade ago. We immediately got ourselves a counselor, and started working on our communication. We went into marriage and parenthood highly prepared for all eventualities - well, as it turned out not all. Our daughter had medical complications, which made us close our businesses, sell our belongings, and move across the world from Shanghai to the US without a job and without a home. It took us over a year to settle in, and for us to somewhat fall into a routine. Needless to say, this took a huge toll on our relationship, on our communication, and our happiness as a couple and family. We have been digging our way back out ever since, and it does often feel like one step forward, two steps back. We are seeing our counselor too sporadically, mostly because of timing issues, so I have gone back to reading everything and anything on relationships. This book “How not to hate your husband after kids” has become my new encyclopedia. Jancee Dunn has done an incredible job of doing the research for us. She went to see experts, therapists (one who charges $800 per hour), and has basically combed through every tip on improving your relationship, from fighting right, to lowering anger and resentment, preventing financial worries, divvying up chores, and maintaining a somewhat intimate relationship as well.
“Enough. It is time to set the bar higher - for myself, for our daughter, and for our marriage. It is impossible to stuff the genie back into the bottle after you have children, and go back to the way you used to be. Life has changed, and we have to change with it. Denying this reality courts misery, and even disaster. It is alarming that I no longer think it is insane to tell myself “When we’re not fighting, we get along great!” I want to fully enjoy the family I have been yearning for all my life, and to take active notice of the many good things that my husband does. Our home should be a place of safety and comfort for all of us.”
Written with so much humor, every page will make you nod your head in agreement, laugh out loud, cry, and take notes. This book should be a must gift basket item at baby showers. We read books on how to raise our kids, how to start solids, how to deal with tantrums, why not on how to keep our relationship happy?
“Cummings likened children to emotional Geiger counters who pay close attention to their parents’ emotions to ascertain how safe they are in the family. He cautioned that he was not recommending that parents never fight - if kids are never exposed to conflict, they might not develop the coping skills to handle it themselves. They just have to work it out in a fair and healthy way. You know, like grown-ups.”
Children see, hear, and feel everything, no matter if you tell yourself that you are fighting behind closed doors. There was one particular sentence that struck such a cord with me, it makes me cry just thinking about it. One therapist Dunn went to see told her, every time she wants to get angry at her husband in front of her child and call him names, she first needs to go to her room, look at a picture of her daughter, and say this sentence: “I know what I’m about to do is going to cause you harm, but right now, my anger is more important to me than you are.” Isn’t it heart breaking? I have employed this strategy on multiple occasions, and it has gotten me down from some really high anger mountains.
“After six months of trying to fight fairly and actively looking for the good, our interactions are decidedly calmer and happier - but our sex life needs a boost. We have fallen into a pattern in which he tries to capitalize on a moment when we are finally alone, and I, after a long session of tending to a child, shut him down, viewing sex as just one more thing I have to do for someone.”
Do you also sit around with your friends and bitch about your husbands not helping out enough, taking out the garbage, or with whatever bothers you?! Shouldn’t we all be crying about the fact that we liked sex with our husbands enough to want to actually make a baby with the guy, spending hours wondering if baby looked more like him or us, and then ended up in a scenario, where sex turns into another chore? What a mean cycle of life! Dunn has a solution for that, too. In order to have more, and better sex, you need to have more sex. She puts a 7 day sex challenge into place, which reignites the spark, but also mentions that the happy average for couples is once a week. And nice side effects included better, glowing skin. Maybe that will get you excited? At the end of the day, what have you got to lose?
As I’ve said, you can take away a tip, an insight, and an aha moment on every page of this book. Here are my top lessons and reminders, that I am currently working on, and perhaps they will also inspire you:
It takes half an hour for your fight or flight hormones to leave the body. Go away for 30 minutes, do something else, then come back to the conversation. You will be much calmer, and it will be a more positive conversation.
If you fight in front of your kids, do damage control right away. It is ok for them to see you fight, as long as they also learn how you resolve issues. Explain that you shouldn’t call names, but that you can be mad and still love each other.
Couples should have a 20:1 ratio of positive versus negative interactions to set a good tone in their marriage. Focus on the positive things, mention a lot of little things you appreciate, so that less resentment builds up.
Don’t stuff the weekends full with things you HAVE to do, but try to leave some time to do things you WANT to do for every family member. Focus on doing things that give you energy, the rest of the week is hard enough.
Use “I” messages when you want to express disappointment and are upset. This is called the softened start up and it doesn’t immediately blame the other person for everything that went wrong (even though that’s what you may be thinking in your head :-))
A simple “thank you” goes a long way.
Say “can you handle changing the diaper?” versus “can you change the diaper?”. “Handle” conveys more of a challenge that a husband is more happy to take on and help out with (Insert eye roll here from me!).
Say “yes” to your partner’s ideas often to set a positive mood in the family and relationship, especially in situations when it really doesn’t matter (should Baby Zand wear the pink dress or the Warriors jersey? Agree that the jersey is a great idea!).
As you can see by the photo above, this book has plenty of bookmarks in it, and I will return to it often over the next few months. I can highly recommend this to any mom out there. It will entertain you, make you think, and teach you a few lessons.
For more information:
Jancee Dunn: www.janceedunn.net
on Instagram: janceedunn
on Facebook: AuthorJanceeDunn