How Couples Therapy Helped Us Transition Into Parenthood and Marriage
Our baby was a surprise, but it led to a greater understanding of one another.
Welcome to ‘Sex After Kids,’ a column where parents frankly talk about how their sex lives shifted after they had children and what steps they took to recalibrate their relationship. A baby raises the stakes. Couples have less time to devote to one another, emotional intimacy can dwindle, date nights — at least for the first months — are nearly non-existent, and sex is often a non-starter. Couples must adapt. Here’s how they do it.
When Ariel and Brandon Pierpoint met, Ariel was already five months pregnant. However, she didn’t know it — and wouldn’t for another month. She found out, told Brandon, and they decided to continue dating. In the end, it worked out. Today, they have a three year old son and just recently married. Of course, the transition from casually dating to caring for a child together wasn’t easy. Here, the couple talk about skipping the honeymoon period, how they work intimacy into their marriage, why couples therapy was such a great decision, and the big thing that keeps their relationship happy.
Ariel: So I didn’t know I was pregnant until I was like six months along. Brandon and I had met on a dating app a little bit before I found out. Like a month-and-a-half before. Brandon still wanted to stay with me and he has been with me ever since then. We’ve been raising our son, Ellington, together. Ellington’s biological dad is still in the picture and he sees him about every other weekend. We all get along really well. It’s going great.
At the beginning, however, it was basically just chaos from the moment I realized I was pregnant. I was living in a one bedroom apartment. Brandon basically moved in with me right after I found out and he brought his dog. I had to get a new car, because I was driving a Beetle at the time. We had to get all the baby stuff together. It was kind of a mad rush.
Brandon: It was pretty crazy. We had actually only been dating for a couple of weeks when she found out. I look back and I definitely think there was some kind of divine intervention there or something. If I had known she was pregnant, I would not have gone on the first date. But I did, and I realized how amazing she was before I figured out the news.
Before she told me, she also had me thinking it was something much more serious. She was watching the Bachelorette, and I was on a trip, and she messaged me and said that she’s crying because she knows that she’ll never ‘have that.’ She was being pretty dramatic, so I thought she had some kind of terminal disease. I had that kind of sitting in my brain for a few days and she wouldn’t tell me what was going on.
But then she ended up saying ‘I’m pregnant.’ I guess it’s all about setting expectations. It was probably me just being a guy not really thinking things through. But I thought she was terminally ill, and in reality, she was only pregnant.
B: In terms of how this affected our relationship, we moved forward with the acknowledgement that we were going to date as regularly as we could. I didn’t want her to think that I was deciding to date her because she was pregnant, and that I was definitely going to marry her, or that I was definitely going to be her son’s father. I didn’t really think that was fair to either of us. But our first impressions were right — we were a great match — and we really only grew closer after that.
A: This definitely helped us to get to know each other better. We automatically fell into those roles of helping each other. Brandon was really supportive throughout the whole birth. When Ellington was a newborn, he would get up with me and change diapers. We definitely had conflict at 3 a.m. when we were both tired. It was definitely hard, but it also made our relationship stronger. It forced us to work through those things and learn how to talk to each other and still respect each other.
The months leading up to Ellington’s birth was a good practice for that, because there’s so much to do. It’s a high-stress time, and we just had to go in with both feet and deal with it. And that’s how it’s always been: As we’ve dated, and now gotten married, whenever we face tough situations, we pull together and just support each other and do it. That’s just how we naturally have worked and it’s worked out really well.
B: It sounds not ideal, and in a way, it obviously wasn’t. But in a way, it was. Because when you’re trying to get to know somebody, a lot of people date and have a honeymoon period and things tend to be pretty easy. And then life gets more complicated. Which is sort of what you’re focusing on: how do things change after marriage? One of the big changes I imagine you frequently see [with couples] is having kids. Maybe they start missing time together. But if you start in the midst of that chaos, then you really, like Ariel said, you’re really getting to know that other person and how you guys click in real life, not in the fairy tale, dating life.
A: Pregnancy was great. because I didn’t know for the first six months. I just thought I was like bloated and I couldn’t lose this five pounds and I was like: What’s the deal? I didn’t have any morning sickness. I was so busy at work. I was starting a program at a nonprofit at the time, so I was working 16 hour days, seven days a week. I was eating super healthy because I worked in health and wellness at the time. I was exercising every day. So that part was great.
The birth itself was super long. It was 36 hours from when my contractions started until the actual birth. They had to break my water and I just wasn’t dilating. I didn’t have any pain drugs. This was my first birth so I was like, well, let’s see how bad it will get.
B: If you’re not crying you’re not trying!
B: The end of it was awesome. But 36 hours was definitely long, and I probably should have done a little bit of research into what happens when somebody gives birth and how cold they tend to make it in that room. We joke that her birth was basically a Jerry Springer show. I only met his biological father once, and it didn’t go fantastic. He was sitting on the other side of her and we’re both holding one hand and we’re almost competing for her attention.
A: It was great to have both of them there to support me. I was like, This is great. Double the support! This is awesome.
A: In terms of our relationship these days, we have a date night every week. It’s the one thing we make sure we do. We get out of the house, go somewhere, get dressed up, go to dinner or a movie. We take that to spend time with one another. We try not to talk about Ellington a lot, but we end up doing that, because he’s so cute and he’s a big part of our lives. But it’s a good time to catch up and feel like we’re dating again –
B: Or dating for the first time!
A: Yeah. That too. Brandon gets me flowers every month and I get him a card every month. I actually forgot last month. Married life, starting off strong! We always express gratitude, even just for doing the mundane chore items. We try to keep the romance and affection alive. We try to kiss each other before we kiss Ellington when we see each other. We try to say hi and give each other affection when we first see each other when we’re leaving for or coming back from somewhere.
A: We started doing weekly date nights, I think, when Ellington was born. I don’t remember, actually. Do you, Brandon?
B: When he was like six months, we realized we had to make it a priority.
B: One of the things that we did, and then dropped the ball on, but are going to start doing again, was proactively going to couple’s therapy. There were issues that we went to specifically address, but we also would go when there really weren’t issues, to the point where I felt like it was backfiring at one point, because we’d be really happy when we go in and come out kind of arguing about things. But I think we both recognize the importance of work in the relationship, and it’s really easy to not recognize that and I have to constantly remind myself that it’s not ‘done’ just because we’re married. It’s cliche or whatever, but I think it’s true: you get out what you put in.
A: Physical intimacy after the baby was definitely tough. I wasn’t fully recovered until about six weeks in. After that, having sex was a little bit different. I’m trying to really remember how we even got more into that. Do you want to talk more about that, Brandon?
B: Nope. Nah. I’ll let you go with that one.
A: Yeah. He knew it was going to be a while before that could happen, and we still did what we could to make sure his needs were met in that area. But it was hard. We were both so tired — it definitely takes a toll on your sex drive. So, I think once I was recovered we integrated it more. We’re still working on it. It’s hard, when we’re so exhausted and stressed, to just make time for that and to have the energy for it is sometimes tough. But it’s still something we’re working on because we’re both people who enjoy sex. So, we don’t have a problem in that area, but it’s just like, finding time and making time for it is the tough part. We make time for it every week at certain times.
B: We’ve discovered a lot about one another since becoming parents. One big thing, for me, was her prioritizing me. Because she’s always made me the priority, even though I came along just a little bit before Ellington was born. We show each other tons of love and affection. We prioritize each other before him, in a way, because ultimately, that is going to be better for him and for everyone. I think that’s a mistake parents make. They prioritize their kids and their relationship falls apart. Our couples counselor just seemed to assume that I feel neglected, and maybe jealous and lonely. I didn’t feel any of those things. I guess that’s pretty common for men to feel that way.
A: Thanks, baby. Mine would probably be just how supportive Brandon was. He just jumped in with both feet and was like, ‘alright, let’s do this.’ He’s an incredible dad to Ellington. I knew he was a great person, but he’s been there for me, and picked up the slack I needed picked up. He still carries on as this amazing person that I look up to. He’s super Type A, but the fact that he made so much room in his life for Ellington and I has been amazing to see. It makes me feel very loved and cherished.