For most people, having children can really put their relationship to the test. The sleep deprivation and stress of looking after a newborn can really affect the mood of a person and how they treat the people around them, in particular, their partner. For my husband and I, our marriage has had its fair share of tests. But as we continue to raise our three young daughters, we understand now that a relationship can not only survive such challenges, but come out even stronger.
By continuing to put effort into our relationship - day in, day out – our role as parents has benefited greatly.
Here are the 7 ways my relationship has improved after having children:
1. We learnt how to work as a team
My husband and I value each other tremendously, and we know the importance of respecting each other's views and the power of compromise. When our three, five and seven-year-old daughters were babies and going through the constant cycle of breastfeeds, sleep and nappy changes – we would care for our kids together. If one of our daughters woke up for a feed, my husband would take her from the bassinet and hand her to me. I would breastfeed and he would burp our daughter halfway. We would also alternate between who would change the nappy in the middle of feeds. Watching my husband play such an active role in our children's lives and be such a loving partner to me – made me feel that I wasn't on this parenting journey alone. That there was someone by my side wanting to experience it all with me.
2. We learnt the importance of always making time for each other
Although life with three young children can become incredibly busy, we've learnt how beneficial it is to place our sole attention on our relationship. Once the kids are in bed, we'll often hold hands or cuddle, as my husband discusses his day of work and I'll share what I did with the kids that day and how my writing is going. Sometimes we'll just be laughing about something funny that happened that day. We also regularly go on date nights. Since I've started working from home, we've promised each other that every Sunday night will be dedicated to us. Sometimes we'll be watching a movie in bed or playing Xbox. We've seen the massive difference that regularly setting aside time for each other has made in our relationship.
3. We learnt there's always enough time to make someone feel valued and appreciated
Although we've always followed a fairly consistent pattern of who does this and that around the house, we've always appreciated each other's efforts. I like to let my husband know that I'm so grateful that he works so hard for our family. Before my husband leaves for work in the morning, he'll tell me that he appreciates me taking care of our kids. We never take each other for granted. We know that simple words of appreciation can really brighten up each other's day.
4. We discovered quick ways to show each other love
We've learnt that you can make use of the little time that you have. For instance, when my husband is at work, I'll leave little notes around the house telling him that I love him. I might even leave the notes in his bag so he finds them when he arrives at work. He sometimes has bouquets of flowers delivered to our house with sweet messages written inside. No matter if I'm cooking dinner, he'll still wrap his arms around me and give me a kiss. We know that it's not always practical to go out on date nights, so we always try to express love in other ways.
5. We learnt how to be on our own
Before our children came along, my husband and I were inseparable. We always went out together. We'd only ever been apart for one week – when his family went on a holiday to Hong Kong. But with the major shift in roles – him being at work as I stay at home with the kids – we've had to adjust to a massive change in our lives. For instance, it's not always practical that he attends a work function with me by his side. It's not always possible to leave our kids with a babysitter. We've learnt that this time apart isn't just something we have to get used to, but something we should embrace. Learning to be on our own has helped to remind us that we're not just parents – we're independent individuals. That our needs and wants are important too.
6. We realised that the small things just don't matter
We've engaged in our fair share of petty arguments. We've had heated discussions about who did or didn't do something they'd promised. We've had disagreements about why a task should or shouldn't be done a certain way. Although we've always resolved each of our arguments, we've realised that we can't let the small things control our relationship. That the love we feel for each other is more important than accidentally forgetting to do what we promised. Life is too short to be angry that someone forgot to take out the nappy bin. Becoming parents has helped us to to cherish the moment and worry less about who is right or wrong.
7. We realised that if we could survive kids, we could survive anything
My husband and I have gone through so many challenges together. Our first-born was born premature and has always struggled immensely with her weight and eating from the very beginning. Our three children have a specific language impairment (SLI). They've also had many other developmental issues. But all the hours we've spent rushing around to appointments, the questionnaires we've filled out together, the tears that we've shared – have only made our love stronger. Although it's been a challenging journey for the both of us, we believe that if we can survive all we have so far, then we can survive anything else that comes our way.
Thuy Yau is a freelance writer and mother of three. She is passionate about personal development and psychology. You can follow Thuy on Twitter or Facebook, or read her motivational blog at Inside a Mother's Mind