Before I had kids, I didn’t understand people who would refer to marriage as “work”. Being absolutely crazy about my husband, I would think to myself, “What are they talking about? Marriage is so easy!” I literally woke up every morning feeling like the luckiest woman in the world to be married to such an incredible man. When I would talk about my husband, A, friends would knowingly smile and nod. Heck, sometimes I even annoyed myself by the way I gushed about him.
Then we had our first child, H. The shift was immediate — in the hospital, in fact. H was four weeks premature and though he was healthy, his little nervous system was quite fragile. He cried incessantly and was exhaustingly difficult to soothe. Just 48 hours into parenthood, A and I had our first major parenting-related fight.
H had been screaming for what seemed like an eternity, and we had tried everything. Since his birth surprised us two days before our scheduled infant-care class, A was simultaneously watching a YouTube video on swaddling, and trying, unsuccessfully, to swaddle H. It was painful to watch. My post-C-section body couldn’t move to reach the phone, so I asked A to call a nurse to help us. When he didn’t respond, I asked again. After the third request, he snapped.
“WE DON’T NEED THE F*%&ING NURSE, I CAN F*%&ING SWADDLE MY SON MYSELF!” he screamed.
I couldn’t breathe. H wouldn’t stop crying, I was terrified, I could barely move, and A’s outburst put me over the edge. I began crying and shaking uncontrollably, and didn’t stop until he finally called for the nurse.
Remember, this man is the sweetest, most good-natured, easy-going guy on the planet. The one I’d been gushing about for years. His response was completely out of character, and given the stress we were under — H's unexpected birth, 48 hours of very little sleep, and a newborn who had been crying almost continually since his birth — A’s response was understandable.
Nevertheless, this incident foreshadowed a disconnect that would impact our relationship down the road. Not because A lost his temper (he apologized afterward), but because it highlighted a basic difference in our personalities that would lead to countless clashes in our parenting decisions.
When the going gets tough, my instinct is to reach out and ask for help. A’s instinct is to isolate and figure things out on his own. As we started our parenting journey, it became clear to me that H’s development was a little “off”. But A felt there was nothing to worry about. My instincts told me that we needed help, but his instincts told him that we could get through it on our own. Add severe sleep deprivation, little-to-no time spent together as a couple, work stress, financial stress, postpartum emotions, and BOOM — our marriage became “work”.
Marriage has its challenges for all couples after having kids. But when your child has an extra layer of needs, it adds additional stress. It’s common for parents of a child with sensory processing disorder to disagree, as A and I have, about the severity of the child’s challenges and about how and whether to intervene.
These disagreements are hard and they're real. They can lead to tension and create distance in the marriage, which often causes the child’s behavior to escalate. Before you know it, everyone’s feelings of happiness and connectedness plummet.
While we don’t have all the answers to staying connected under stress, and we still don’t always see eye to eye, we have discovered a few hacks that have improved our marriage. I’ll share them in this series. Stay tuned for Marriage Hack #1.