What I Learned About Marriage the First Year of Being a Parent

Eleven parents weigh in about the relationship lessons learned during those first sleepless months of new parenthood.

man and wife lovingly staring down at the baby they're holding

Marriage changes when you become a parent. Stop the presses, right? We know, this isn’t new information. But it bears repeating because the ways in which a marriage shifts when kids are born still shocks. A baby is a cute, wiggly, drooling, adorable hand grenade that blows up the structure you once had. Your routines change. Your sleep is cut down. Your stress levels are high. There are a lot of tasks and lot of worrying and questioning and trying to figure out the best ways for those tasks to be completed. Even couples who had the most sturdy foundation find themselves on shaky ground during the first few months or year of parenthood. But it’s a time that teaches you many lessons and makes your marriage a lot stronger. That is, if you learn from the ups and downs along the way. Because that’s what it requires, isn’t it? To learn along the way. To that end, we asked a variety of parents about the big lessons they learned about marriage the first year of parenting. Do their words encapsulate everything? Psssh. Not at all. But we think they’re important to remember. Here’s what they said.

The Change Is Dramatic

“We’d been married several years before becoming parents, so we’d already seen some growth and change (we met in college and married at 22). Still, once we became parents, that change really accelerated — especially for me, as a mom. People tell you that parenthood and marriage both change you, but there’s a naïveté that makes you think, ‘We’ll be different. That won’t be us.’ Spoiler alert: You’re not different. That will be you. If we’d accepted that up front, I think we’d have been better prepared for the onslaught of changes ahead.” – Charissa, Virginia

Mutual Support Is Crucial

“When two people become parents, their relationship can quickly and seamlessly slide into an increasingly technical fellowship. Has the child been fed, when and how? Did he poop within the hour and why not? Why is she calmer than usual and does it mean she’s sick? Even if you have a support network to lighten the load, it’s ultimately the two of you who will have to deal and think through every single detail in that little life. And there are so many details that it’s very easy to get overwhelmed and entirely forget about the two of you.

Another thing nobody told me is that this technicality is perfectly alright. After all, it’s humanly impossible to avoid becoming a walking, talking bag of worries, chores and errands after months of baby care. If you are mutually supportive, it’ll pass. Having a baby keeps you from your personal identities, hobbies, loves and rants, but it’s also what keeps you in it together.. One day, you’ll wake up and realize that it is possible to have a 3-minute sex once every six months and keep the flame burning. Because your flame won’t have gone out.” – Abigail Dixit, Ohio

There Will Be Much Less Time ‘Together’

“My wife and I still date once a week, but I feel like it’s not enough to make up with a whole week of me being at work while she is busy working from home and at the same time taking care of our baby. I wish we traveled more, spent more date nights together, did each and everything out of our bucket list. Although we know that we can still do this once our baby is grown up, spending time alone with your spouse is both a necessity and a luxury these days. We should have cherished and found a thousand ways to spend more time as a couple before becoming a parent.” – Jake, Kent, TN

Good Schedules and Routines Are Salvation

When our baby was born, our biggest surprise was how quickly we started to feel frustrated with each other about the division of responsibility. We both felt like we were doing too much. We realized that we needed to establish new systems and schedules now that we were a family of three.This eliminated the need for aggravating daily — even hourly — discussions about who was in charge of what and when. Ultimately, this was the secret to restoring peace in our marriage. The other big surprise for me was how strongly my husband felt about certain parenting decisions such as circumcision. I wouldn’t have guessed, given his usual even keel and sometimes lackadaisical attitude, that he would have put his foot down the way he did. It’s interesting because you think you know your husband really well after years of being together, but having kids brings on a host of new circumstances to react to.” – Lauren Levy, San Francisco, CA

It’s Okay to Ask For Help

“Working together is key and yet it’s okay to ask for help, beyond the two of you. When you become parents, the focus shifts like a laser from each other to the baby. And yet it is still so critical that you still focus on yourselves as a pair and also work together to keep your baby alive. Late nights, breastfeeding and formula worries, maintaining the household, concerns about going back to work…It’s a lot. Navigating this incredibly intense period before birth, right after birth, and during the transition back to work — it’s no easy feat. But working together is so rewarding, and again it’s okay to ask for help. So many new parents suddenly embark on situations that they never had to as a couple. At each of these moments, they are insanely stressful and whether it’s family members, lactation consultants, or other community members — it’s okay to ask for help even as the pair tackles issues together.” – Andrea Ippolito, New York

Romance Shifts

“My wife and I are legitimately best friends. And we love spending time together and having romantic nights. When that shifted for us, it was really hard. We went from regular date nights and sex three times a week to falling asleep during the opening credits to sex maybe once every few weeks. It was tough. We definitely felt further away from one another but also closer at the same time? It was a different type of romance. But if you understand that this is what happens — at least for a while — the connection you’ll feel to one will be really strong. We definitely were prickly with one another and missed getting that time together, but once you understand that that happens, it’ll make things easier. — Julian, Virginia

Teamwork is So, So Important

“My wife and I have struggled to work as a team, something that as a parent, you are required to do nearly 24 hours a day for the next 18 years. Our child is only two months now, but wow — it has been the most challenging two months in both of our lives. Our communication skills were par before, but now trying to juggle handling a newborn, we are both so focused on taking care of our daughter that we are not taking the time to communicate and work together to make this easier. We have a great marriage, but when you instantly reduce both of your average sleep times by nearly 75 percent, things change. You have to learn to work together again under stress, distress, and lack of sleep. We both wish we had more time to become prepared for this.” – Christopher

A Little Jealousy Is Natural. But Don’t Let It Invade.

I got pretty jealous of my wife’s connection to our child in the first year. She was the one who formed an immediate bond with her and she was just around our daughter more often since I was the one working. I felt like I was taking a back seat and, while I’m not proud of it, I was definitely a bit resentful of my wife and would sometimes get grumpy because of it. It made for some not great times, which I’m ashamed of because my wife was working so hard. Looking back, my feelings were natural but not helpful at all because of course the mother is going to be more attached to the baby. In the end, I made her life harder. We had a lot of talks about this and it got better. I think it was just reconciling what I thought was going to happen with the reality. But it was really, really immature. As the weeks went by, I found ways to be as present as possible that first year and that helped. My wife understood my feelings, too, which also helped. And now? My daughter and I are very close. And our marriage is strong. — Travis, Chicago

Good Communication Is Everything

“Married couples have to get their communication skills perfect — or as perfect as possible — before having a baby. It makes it so much easier. You have to say what you mean, mean what you say, and maintain a clear channel of communication in order to stay sane and happy during the early days of raising a child. Miscommunication and unspoken feelings are what lead to problems. For example, if you stay home with the baby while your partner goes to work, it’s easy to start resenting them because you see them leaving as them taking a ‘break,’ even if they’re busy all day. Even a half-hour alone in the car is enviable at times.” – Lorie

Sleep Deprivation Is Real. And Can Really Affect Your Relationship

Looking back, the sleep deprivation my wife and I experienced definitely made it seem like we were walking through a fog for the first three months. We were both crazy stressed and just crazy in general. We felt like co-workers instead of a couple, taking shifts and trying to get everything figured out. We definitely had big fights and got on one another’s nerves a lot. But it was all because it was new and we were scared to make mistakes. Lack of sleep makes everything heightened, especially your fear. At least that was the case for us. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you have to really push through and be kind to one another because it is a really tough stretch — or at least it can be. Kindness really matters. So is giving the other the benefit of the doubt — and understanding that, yeah, they’re in a crappy mood because they haven’t slept. Once our son started sleeping better and we were able to get on a schedule, we both understood that we were doing the best we could and that, you know, we were doing alright. Working through that brought us much closer. — Charles, Boston

The ‘Perfect Parent’ is a Myth

“Perfect parenting is a myth. Finding balance with your spouse takes effort, laughter, communication and compromise. Without that, parenting becomes exponentially harder. Also, set high expectations for your children in everything they do, but know that they won’t always achieve them and be totally cool with that. It’s the effort that gets rewarded.” – Jack, New York