We attended a pre-natal class before Matthew was born. You know, the one where you sit in a room with a group of other nervous pregnant couples, eager to learn everything you can about babies and how to keep them alive. Every week we sat through hours of classes on how to swaddle, how to apply diaper cream, how to breastfeed, and a ridiculous video from the eighties with a woman labouring in the shower while her husband sung "she'll be coming round the mountain when she comes!" (seriously wanted to wallop that guy).
They covered everything, except for one thing: how kids change your relationship. And forgive me, but that's a pretty big thing to skip over.
J and I have been together for 9 years - 6 of them married, 3 with children. It's hard to recall those early days - the ones where our relationship was just about us. The days when we'd take off on an impromptu date, or lie in bed til 11 on the weekend, or wander around an art gallery as though time was not an issue, sometimes seem so far away I almost wonder if I'd imagined them.
We could never have anticipated the number of changes our relationship would face after we had kids. Between sleep deprivation, and raising two small kids, and working, and studying, and little time alone - it's hard. Truly hard. But one thing of the best things we have going for us, is the desire to keep working at it.
That's why I think they should talk about it in these classes - to prepare couples.
I'm not suggesting they should scare them. (Hey you - you two over there with the gooey eyes. Listen up lovers, things are about to change. This sweet lovey-dovey thing you've got going on here is about to take a back seat for a while. You're going to be tired and cranky and emotional. Your wife's hair is going to fall out and her hands and feet are going to get bigger. Her stomach will resemble a bowl of custard and she'll develop maneuvers like an Olympian to dive into bed and under the covers before you see anything. And that's if either of you have the energy for sex. Because let's face it, the greedy goblins will have eaten up all that's left of your reserves long before the sweet nothings are whispered.)
I'm totally not saying they should do that.
But perhaps they could offer some helpful suggestions.
These would be my ideas.
Time alone. Line up grandparents and friends, find a babysitter - do whatever you need to but make sure you get a break together after the baby is born. Often. You'll probably spend the entire time talking about the baby but at least you'll get a break and some perspective.
Sex. Don't worry - no one wants to have sex right after they've had a baby. Give yourself some time. But then, when you're ready, get the sex back. In whatever capacity you can manage it - a quickie while the kids nap or a marathon in the evening. But make sure you get it back. You still need it. End.
Communication. People irritate each other. They do things their other half doesn't want them to. Or they forget things. Or they prioritize the wrong things. Or, sometimes, they'll just suck, basically. But, there's a small, simple secret that can save everything. TALKING. I swear, talking will solve most of your problems, as long as you do it, often.
Romance. An unexpected love note snuck into a pocket. A cup of tea delivered to your other half while they're enjoying a much needed lie-in. A new playlist on an i-pod. A surprise date. A tongue in the ear. Okay maybe not a tongue in the ear. Gross.
Gifts. Yes, okay, they're are not essential, but I like them. Who doesn't like presents? They're a gesture, and they show you think about your other half. And if, like me, your other half is easy to please - even a bar of chocolate will do! Bonus!
I'd love to hear your thoughts on what keeps a relationship alive after kids. What are your secrets?