My best energy was going to our baby; my wife was getting the leftovers.
As with all couples, the birth of our son, Emerson, on April 15, 2008, changed our family forever. For my wife and I, it ushered in an era of marital strife that we'd never experienced. Before Emerson's arrival we'd been able to focus exclusively on each other. Even without kids, our marriage required hard work, and we were only balancing the needs of each other. Now we had to consider him as well.
I had grown up in a service-oriented house, where actions were our way of showing love; my parents appreciated and rewarded obedience. As the middle child of three boys, I was always motivated to please. My approach to love was a challenge in our marriage from the start—I expressed my love by doing things.
Instead of sitting down and connecting with my wife by telling her about my day, I would spend my time doing the dishes, even if that's not what she wanted from me. I put my need to express love the way I was used to above my wife's need to be loved in a way she understood.
As a teacher, I was home during the summer to care for our son full time.
It was quite an adjustment, and balancing my time was a challenge. As a newborn, my son required so much attention — bottles every three hours, fresh diapers, comforting him back to sleep. While my wife was home on maternity leave for six weeks, we split those chores. After she went back to work they were mine alone for the rest of the summer.
Even though we split many of the chores involved in caring for our son, my best energy, both physically and mentally, was going to our baby; my wife was getting the leftovers. She was understandably frustrated, but we both assumed it was just the natural process for a newborn. After a while, though, the position became untenable.
The Fall of 2008 was one of the most difficult periods in our marriage. All the little cracks that existed before our son arrived were magnified. The time we took for ourselves became more and more scarce. Neither of us was thrilled with giving up our "me" time, so we ended up giving up our "we" time instead. Miscommunications and frustrations became frequent.
My wife would request a time for us to just sit and talk, but I would say that the baby needed me, or that I had to complete the other household tasks (cleaning the kitchen, mowing the yard, doing laundry) that I couldn't do when he was awake.
It was an intensification of the problem we had before the baby: I wanted to love my wife by doing things for her, but she wanted to be loved through our genuine conversation and connection.
So what did we do? We sat down together and agreed to have a date night once a week, no matter what else was going on. For us, Sunday nights worked best. My brother watched our son, and we went out to talk about our life together without any distractions.
We shared our joys, vented our frustrations, and simply enjoyed being together. We set aside time to meet our challenges head on, and started working together on all the tasks in front of us. While that didn't fix everything, it sure helped.
Our marital rut was the result of a gradual decline, and the recovery was an equally gradual incline.
We realized that it takes both of us to run our household; things work better and more enjoyably when we do them as a team. And I've found that while my son needs my love and attention, I'm better able to provide for him when I first give love and attention to my wife.