After my first baby was born, the love and appreciation I felt for my husband expanded and intensified in ways I hadn’t expected. But. Our marriage would never be the same. Suddenly our time and energy were divided, leaving (what seemed like) only tiny fleeting specs for our marriage. I can distinctly remember, during those first weeks and months after my first daughter’s birth, recognizing that I needed to allow myself to grieve the loss of my former life, including the time and freedom I once had to bond with my husband whenever I wanted to.
A long-term study published in March of 2009 showed that a deterioration in marital relationship functioning was common following the birth of a first baby. It reported:
Compared with prebirth levels and trajectories, parents showed sudden deterioration following birth on observed and self-reported measures of positive and negative aspects of relationship functioning. The deterioration in these variables was small to medium in size and tended to persist throughout the remaining years of the study [eight years]. Mothers and fathers showed similar amounts of change after birth. The amount of postbirth deterioration in relationship functioning varied systematically by several characteristics of the individual, the marriage, and the pregnancy itself. (Source)
So, if you find yourself feeling dissatisfied with your level of postpartum marital bliss, you’re not alone. This is normal. Even after babies #2, 3, 4 or more. But, of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it.
A little over a year ago, I recognized that most of the conversations my husband and I were having were one-sided and unfulfilling. Either I was rambling about something birth-related while he remained fairly silent and nodded on occasion, or he was rambling about a race or something running-related and I nodded and remained fairly silent. (That or we were talking about the kids). Our conversations were consistently reverting to our defaults—birth, running, and children. We were “talking,” but we weren’t really connecting. Then one night I started asking him questions about other stuff—from his childhood and growing-up. We had been married for nine years, but I learned things about him I had never known, we had a great two-way conversation, and we really connected with each other.
And a light bulb went on in my head. We needed to take some detours from our defaults.
So I decided I wanted to try to find a list of questions we could use to override the defaults in our brains for nights when we were hanging out after the kids went to sleep. So I scoured the web for questions for couples and whipped-up a word document, adding some questions of my own as well. I printed them onto card stock and cut them into strips. Then I took a cute little treasure chest we got at Goodwill for $2 and put the strips inside. Thus began our treasure box experiment.
And I’d say the experiment was a resounding success. Over the course of the past year, whenever life got me feeling disconnected or distant from my husband, or we didn’t have other things to do after the kids were in bed, we’d pull out the treasure box and answer a few questions. And, without fail, it always rekindled the connection between us. I’d find myself feeling that buzz and glow I felt when we were dating and remember, once again, what an awesome man I married. It would feel, for an hour or so, like we were the only two people for miles… just the two of us… revolving around each other’s thoughts and feelings, mentally and emotionally intertwined. We’d often sit with bowls of ice cream, savoring the flavors while we pondered the questions and shared our answers. And, as an added bonus, the questions often sparked more spontaneous questions and in-depth conversations about topics that came up as a tangent to where we started.
Because those moments were so precious, I knew I wanted to record them. So I taped each question into my journal and then recorded our responses after it. Now I have pages and pages of memories of those treasured conversations to re-live and pass on to our children and grandchildren (though, admittedly, some of those Q&A’s will probably be a little TMI for them… ha). I think I definitely need a fire-proof safe. I’d be devastated to lose this journal.
Here are some of my favorite (G-rated) treasures:
Q: What has been the most pleasant surprise about being married to me?
He said: You’re a really good cook.
She said: Watching you grow into a driven, talented runner. Learning how much you love it.
Q: Which fruit/vegetable do you think I resemble and why?
He said: You would be a sweet potato because you prefer to be hidden, you like to feed yourself with knowledge and dig deeper, and you’re sweet.
She said: You would be an almond because you’re small and unassuming but packed full of energy and good stuff. And almonds are high in magnesium which is “nature’s valium,” which is what you are in my life (anti-anxiety drug)!
Q: What was your first impression of me? How accurate do you now think it was?
He said: Thought you were much more of an extrovert than you really are.
She said: Thought you were really skinny and a nice guy, but not very determined (<—not true!).
Some other sample questions:
- What does your dream house look like? Where is it? Who are your neighbors?
- What do you think I will look like in 40 years? Hair color/style, body build/shape, glasses, etc.?
- If you had to lose a body part, which part would you be willing to part with? Which part(s) would you be devastated to lose?
- What is one thing you admire about each of our children?
- Which parts of our home do you like best?
- If you could have witnessed any biblical event, which one would you choose? [I chose being a doula at the birth of Christ!] :-)
About a month ago, we ran out of questions. And I can feel the void of their absence. But I’m not going to stop looking for ways to connect with the man I married ten years ago.
It’s tough for us to get babysitters these days, so our “dates” are nearly always in-home and after the kids are in bed. That gives us maybe an hour or two, and usually only once or twice a week since we have other chores, meetings, and obligations. I’d guess many of you are similarly limited. In addition to the treasure box questions, here are some other at-home ideas for reconnecting with your significant other…
- Start a project together (build something, refinish a second-hand furniture piece, etc.).
- Cook something together (granola, bread, a new recipe you’ve never tried). And answer some treasure box questions while it’s baking! ;-)
- Make cards for your kids (or someone else) together.
- Plan a vacation (real or fantasy).
- Look at real estate online in a place you’d love to live.
- Pretend you’re in a photo booth and take silly pictures together.
- Play Scrabble, but with the stipulation that every word has to somehow relate to your relationship or memories together.
- Read a book together.
- Sing together.
Yes, our marriage will never be the same as it was before we had children, but after ten years and four babies, I wouldn’t want to go back. With each new adventure we face as a couple, our relationship has deepened and blossomed and turned into something so much more magnificent than the fledgling love we shared as newlyweds. Someday our children will be grown and we will have decades to spend time alone together instead of just a few hours a week. In the meantime, I’m loving this crazy kid-filled life we live.
What makes you feel connected to your spouse?
If you’d like a copy of my list of treasure box questions, send me an email: askbusca at gmail.com. I’d love to share the love. And I also have an excellent granola recipe that’s perfect for mixing-up at night with your man and then eating for breakfast in the morning. I’d be glad to share that recipe too.