A Chinese saying goes, “Marriage is the graveyard of love”. In which case I shall venture one step further and say, “Parenthood is the graveyard of marriage”.
Whether you become a parent by choice or by fate (hello unplanned pregnancy), a third wheel in your marriage will inevitably carry its own challenges to the foundation of your relationship.
It will unforgivingly grill you and your partner with the fire from hell, and open your eyes to the unknown darkness and unseen strength that lies in yourself.
The downfall of most new parents, unfortunately, is the lack of awareness that having a baby essentially means placing down yourself and your marriage as bets in a high-risk gamble called parenthood.
If you and your partner both win, you are stronger and closer than ever before; but if either of you loses, there is a lot at stake...
If you’re ready, let the game begin.
1. You do not see the baby in the same way
Yes, the baby is the fruit of your love, and you will both do anything and everything for her wellbeing. But it goes far deeper than that… what place does she take in your heart, and life?
Is baby the source of your fulfilment? Your lifelong dream? Or is she a “bonus” to your already content and happy life? Maybe she is a miracle? Or perhaps she is nothing you ever expected?
Generally (and I mean extremely generally), women gain an unexplainable sense of fulfilment and purpose upon entering motherhood, whereas men tend to feel an immeasurable amount of pressure and responsibility.
Same baby, different parental experiences.
This difference in perception of parental identity is the core that ties together every other problem on this list. It creates a gap in how two people see themselves and each other, and also what they believe their family life should be.
2. You have different levels of self-need
We’ve all heard that men are from mars, women are from venus, but I believe self-need is something that transcends gender and is unique to the individual.
Self-need is what an individual requires to function optimally in day-to-day situations. This type of need can range from dietary habits and social satisfaction, to physical activities (or lack of) and mental stimulation. The level of fulfilment of self-need determines how well one performs in his or her role.
Five minutes of alone time might be plenty for one to recharge, but vastly insufficient for another. Having one really close friend might be all you need, but your spouse might need a whole group of people. Sipping coffee and watching cat videos might be your idea of relaxation, but your spouse might prefer a gym workout session.
It then goes without saying that different levels of self-need will impact how two people value their own time, energy, finances, and support — all of which becomes greatly limited with the addition of a baby.
3. You view your roles differently
You know how everyone seems to have something to say about Millenials? Well, fun fact, they are now between the ages of 18–38 (depending on how you categorise them), meaning they are now having babies and raising the next generation.
The fact that new parents these days are likely to be Millennials (like myself) is significant. We were raised in a time of many technological, medical, and social breakthroughs, leading us to become a generation full of dreams, ambitions, and self-awareness.
We believe in equality, democracy, and above all, the right to speak up for ourselves and pursue what we want.
Imagine a Millennial couple in day-to-day situations — deciding on what to eat, who’s doing the dishes tonight, who forgot to do the laundry, why the electricity bill went through the roof this month…
Now, add a baby into the picture.
In the old days, gender roles were very clear. But today, Millennials are not defined or limited by their gender.
Essentially, parenthood is now two people both trying to run the household and its people, or at least have a say in it. Imagine an army with two commanders, or a wolf pack with two alphas, that’s what we’re looking at.
4. You use yourself as a standard for expectations
You cooked and did the dishes when you were sick, so you expect your spouse to do the same. Or, you’re unfazed about baby’s nap times and how much milk she’s had, so you expect your spouse to chill out too.
It’s almost human nature to measure the work of others against what we’ve done, and all we want is to be treated “fairly”. Parenthood then becomes one big tug-of-war in an effort to split every aspect of life 50/50 and keep the score even.
I cook, so you do the dishes. I wake up to feed the baby, so you should do the burping. I don’t complain about being tired so you should shut up too. I don’t get to go out every week to see my friends, so you shouldn’t either.
On the surface these demands all make perfect sense, but remember what we said about self-need? Its counterpart is stress tolerance, this is the capacity one has to deal with emotionally and mentally demanding tasks.
The greater one’s stress tolerance, the lower his self-need, because he is able to take on more before reaching his limit and needing to refuel. When we use ourselves as a standard for expectations, we are expecting our other half to share the same level of stress tolerance and self-need as us.
This is essentially setting up marriage for failure, because stress tolerance is an inherent part of an individual, forged through childhood and teenage years, and cannot easily be altered upon reaching adulthood.
5. You have different visions
From the little things like what you’ll have for dinner, to big picture questions like when you will have another baby, chances are you and your spouse won’t always have the same idea.
When your visions do not align with reality, or even with each other’s, you are prone to disappointment and frustration. What follows is an uncontrollable desire to blame someone or something so that the misalignment is justified.
Because let’s be honest, it takes a lot of zen to simply shrug it off and say, “Oh well, I guess that’s just how it is then.”
The more clarity and focus there is in your personal visions and desires, the harder the impact of being blindsided by your spouse’s alternative plans.
Put into Newton’s Second Law of Motion, F=ma, the force (F) that slams you is equal to the mass (m) of your visions, multiplied by the speed/acceleration (a) of passion with which you are pursuing them.
And, the greater the resulting impact, the lesser the likelihood of you accepting it, concocting a marital poison of distrust, sense of betrayal and desire to prove each other wrong.
Not quite a conclusion…
Because in my next article, I will be discussing how to counter or rectify the five problems listed above.
However, I will briefly conclude with this:
Despite the title of this article, these five marital challenges are not directly caused by having a baby. In fact, these are deep, underlying issues that every couple will have.
Having a baby merely stirs up the foundation of the relationship and forces these ugly issues to the surface, if they were not already addressed prior to parenthood.
(This article was originally published on Medium.)
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