It was hard not to be entranced by Jackson Bliss’ exquisite, lyrical essay How To Stay In Love. I smiled stupidly as I read his piece for the first time, feeling a delicious recognition, and knowing intimately the love he so beautifully described. The privilege of it.
Prompted by Jackson’s piece and his beautifully expressed sentiments, I wanted to write about guarding and nurturing love after two become three. About staying in love when the dyad is pierced by new life and new love. And by the mess, the magic and the madness of parenthood.
While my husband and I floated along in the same heady, decadent bubble for many years, our love has changed shape since the birth of our son two years ago. It hasn’t diminished. It’s the same size. Larger even, if that’s possible. But different. It has to be.
We were among the first of our friends to take the leap into the unknown that is parenting. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing or how it would impact our relationship. How would it stretch and creek and groan when this new little person entered our world?
Magazines, acquaintances, family and well-meaning strangers offered the same, stale, empty advice for new parents: communicate, accept help, and don’t forget date night. DATE NIGHTS ARE SO IMPORTANT. Helpful. Or not really.
And so, to those about to embark on this journey, planning to in the future or currently lost in nappies and sleepless nights, this is what I’d say:
Check in on one another often. Carve out precious pockets of time to stop and talk and reflect. Stay interested in each another. Curious. Talk about your childhood, how you think it’s shaping you as a parent. It will surprise you just how much this matters, how much you’ll think about your own upbringing and your own mum and dad. Keep growing together both as parents and as people. As a team.
Know that the crushing exhaustion will pass. Your tiredness is not a competition. Your exhaustion levels will go up and down and turn you inside out, into a version of yourself you temporarily won’t recognize. Learn to identify the signs of fatigue in one another.
Never underestimate the power of being seen. Of vulnerability being recognised before it needs to be voiced. Of just knowing, because you know, when the other needs space to breathe.
Find simple ways to show kindness. The immeasurable pleasure of a take away cup of coffee after a restless, endless night. An offer to disappear with the baby so your partner can sleep. An unexpected, hand scrawled note of gratitude, just because.
Small, sweet, kindnesses are the glue that will keep you connected.
Hold on to the unique dance of your relationship, the tiny, steely forces that brought you together and bound you to one another. Date nights are lovely. Opportunities away from parenting can be invigorating, but they can also be rare, short and anti-climactic.
It’s those stolen moments in the kitchen when you’re cooking together, or sitting in the shock of a silent house with two glasses of wine. It’s the lazy afternoon sex during nap time on weekends. The flirting. The nights you choose sex over sleep, knowing you’ll regret it when your eyes are scratchy and your head is a fog the next morning. But you do it anyway.
It’s when you just give in to the absurd humour of it all, the toys that seem to breed all over the house, the fingerprints across the television screen, the impromptu Scissors Paper Rock to determine who changes the umpteenth nappy. And the times when you laugh and laugh in a delusional, sleep deprived, maniacal way until you’re all out of breath.
It’s those moments. Those actions. Those intentions, that will help keep your love strong and fighting and throbbing when two becomes three.
This article was previously published on The Good Men Project