“Marriage is not 50-50, Divorce is 50-50. Marriage has to be 100-100. It isn’t dividing everything in half, it’s giving it everything you’ve got.” Anonymous
“Our first baby is due on Christmas Eve…” a work colleague was telling me, with excitement about what he called his entry into adulthood. I still remember my own rocky transition across this adulthood divide. As most any parent will attest, there is nothing quite like the singular occupation which happens the moment a newborn baby is laid in your hands. It’s an all-consuming love which like it or not often lays waste to all the other pastimes, hobbies and ways of knowing oneself that came before. Even as much as I longed for my first child, I know that it did not occur to me, until days after she was born how much of how I knew myself that I was going to have to let go.
It’s mind-boggling really how much attention the fragility and wonder of a new life requires, more even than we think we have. And still this trimming away of our ego and the constant overriding of our own needs, does not come easily. For me, it became a powerful internal conflict that grew with each child I had and worse was at the root of the ongoing and escalating conflict with my partner. Who got to do their own thing, whether occupationally or personally, it became our ground of competition. And as a baby grows so did the challenges of meeting my own needs. The effort of trying to hold onto my individual identity often left me feeling lonely in my pursuit of mothering and angry at my husband that he wasn’t experiencing it. His lack of understanding about my longing for myself isolated us from each other. And of course one of the first victims of our ongoing estrangement in our relationship was our sex life.
This loss of a sex life is common to new parents. In fact of all life transitions, having a baby is way up on the list for the disruption. Sometimes it takes years for a woman’s sex drive and couple’s sex life to return. Of course there is a lot in play here-everything from hormones to how couples communicate after the birth of their baby plays a big role. But usually as our sex life starts to slip away, we don’t realize how much it will impact the cohesion in our relationship. We don’t understand how much release and intimacy comes through the sexual relationship. Losing contact sexually undermines the health and longevity of the relationship in so many other ways. But it is really hard to see because our relationship is already suffering from the ongoing conflict about whose needs get to be met at any given moment.
All I can say is that looking back, I wish that I had learned earlier the secret power of focusing on the needs of the relationship over and above my own needs. Or for that matter, my partner’s needs or my child’s needs. It took me years to figure it out and almost cost me my marriage, but there is an unexplained magical truth to giving your attention to the needs of the relationship. Our primary relationship must come first if it has any hopes of evolving into the container we call family. It’s a version of how the whole is always bigger than the sum of the parts, but especially when it comes to forming a family, if everyone focuses on the health of the container which is holding all of you, not only will the baby be firmly held in something more secure than either parent’s arms, but the partners anchoring the family will find the space to hold each other. I often tell the young mothers that I meet in restaurants that if their baby could talk to them they would say, “love daddy first.” Often they look at me like I am crazy. But truly this learning of feeding the intimacy that binds your love is a magical glue that will anchor your family.