Posted by Fitz

Whoever said that the first year of marriage is the hardest clearly never had a child.  Without minimizing the challenges that some couples absolutely experience within that first year of wedded bliss, I’d like to enter a new “hardest” into our vocabulary: your marriage during the first year of your child’s life.

Picture this: you and your husband, awake for the fourth time in one night, trying to change a diaper (or feed, or soothe, or whatever) on a seven pound stranger who, for some unknown reason, won’t stop screaming.  Rinse and repeat every night for approximately four months (if you’re lucky), and shazam – you’ve got yourself two people who are too exhausted to string enough words together to order a morning coffee.  What happens when this exhaustion sets in?  In our case, we resorted to….bickering.  And that’s a euphemism.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, I know with all of my heart that my husband is the one who keeps us all sane.  He’s our rock, our voice of reason, the teller of a corny joke when it’s most needed.  When I haven’t slept, though, or when The Bean and I have had a particularly rough day, that other one percent comes out.  And she isn’t nice.

Ms. One Percent has a nasty tendency to turn conversations about what to feed The Bean into a “Don’t you ever listen to me?  I told you at 3 a.m. that she had sweet potatoes last night!”  She’s irrational, she’s short-tempered, and she doesn’t remember any of the conflict management skills that she used to teach to hundreds of corporate managers each year.   Instead, she’s powered by the insane need to be right and to get her way, without concern for anyone in her path.

The husband, when confronted with Ms. One Percent, has one of two reactions.  Either he shuts down completely to save himself, or he becomes Mr. Defensive.  Can you imagine what happens next?  Of course you can.  Ms. OP either yells at him for not talking or for being defensive.  And so on, and so forth.  It ain’t pretty.

Luckily, we have found a way to (try) and diffuse the impact of our alter egos by having a code word.  When we’re in the middle of a big old bicker session and we know it’s just because we’re tired, we say ELEPHANT.  It’s a funny enough word to jolt us out of our ridiculous temper tantrums while making it okay for us to smile at each other and simply head off to bed.  We recognize the fact that our exhaustion magnifies every annoyance, and that if we just sleep on things they’ll seem much more manageable in the morning.  Now, I won’t lie to you and say that it has worked every single time, but it usually does – at the very least, it gets us thinking about whether our position in the argument is really that important.

So, I’ll take this opportunity to fly in the face of your grandmother’s advice and say that sometimes it’s okay or to go to bed a little bit angry or annoyed.  Of course you shouldn’t listen to my advice if you’re arguing over something potentially dangerous to your relationship, but it’s fine to decide together that you’d be better off getting some sleep rather than hash out every detail of who said what to your mother-in-law to make her think she was invited over this weekend.

Remember, ladies, that the first year (and let’s face it, the next seventeen) of your child’s life is as much about your marriage as it is about the baby.  The best gift you can give your child is a happy home with happy, loving parents, so do what you can to make it happen.  You’ll be happy you did.

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