I imagine most people put in serious thought before deciding to go down the path of parenthood as having a kid is a significant life changing event. (I would argue the most significant). However, I wonder how much couples think about how having kids will impact their relationship. I mean truly think about. I think a lot of couples are so excited at taking the next step to becoming parents (rightfully and understandably so), that they don’t truly consider the impact that having a kid will have on their relationship with one another. This was the case for me. My relationship with my wife, Jillian, was not a concern of mine, but it should have been.
Effect Kids Have on Relationship of Parents
If you’ve never researched or looked into the effect of kids on parents’ relationships, I’ll save you the suspense. The data is largely negative. There is a very popular article written by Michael D. Johnson in 2016 titled, Have children? Here’s how kids ruin your romantic relationship, that addresses this topic. It’s a great read.
Before I proceed further, here is some information I feel is important to state upfront.
1. My wife and I still have a healthy relationship.
2. We were not naive of parenting stresses. One of the headings in Johnson’s article states, “Lovers morph into parents”. I think we were both quite aware of and mature about the parenting duties we would have. Additionally, we knew these parenting duties meant realities like sleep deprivation, less social outings with friends, and less time for fun things with one another.
3. Jillian and I share responsibilities very equally. Another heading in Johnson’s article states, “Moms bear the brunt”. In our case though, we parent quite equally and also share financial responsibilities quite equally.
Okay, so if we generally knew what to expect and have been able to share pretty equal responsibilities, shouldn’t we be that annoying couple that seems to have it all figured out? Unfortunately, no. No, no, no. We do not.
Why We Fight More Since Having Kids
The problem isn’t actually the kids – at least not directly. In other words, it’s not as if we’ve grown apart because the kids are taking up so much time that we don’t have time to spend with one another. The reason we fight more is because we are not able to relate to one another in those stressful parenting moments. Let me elaborate. What having kids did was to really bring out our personality differences. Even four years after having our first kid, we still struggle mightily to adapt to each other’s personalities.
Okay, so what is the deal with our personality traits? In short, it’s basically the stereotypical difference where the man wants to solve the problem, but the woman just wants the man to listen and be empathetic. Our personalities didn’t change after kids. We argued due to our different personality traits before we had kids too, but it was a lot less often and less intense. The increased stress of kids accentuate our personality differences and do so more frequently, which lead to bigger fights that occur more often. Every time we have one of these fights, it follows the same cycle. Both of us can see it coming so you’d think we could stop it. But you know what’s damn annoying? Your personality is REALLY hard to change. The graphic below illustrates our vicious cycle in more detail.
We certainly aren’t unique in dealing with this conflict. If you search “men want to fix problems” on google, you’ll get many, many articles on this topic.
How Do We Fix This?
Ha! That’s the million dollar question. As I stated above, our oldest is four and this cycle of argument still occurs. The good news is that I do believe Jillian and I have made progress. We’ve definitely grown to understand each other’s personalities better since having kids, and that’s a good thing. It’s not that we had no understanding of the other’s personality before, we just understand it more deeply now. In this way, maybe we’ve actually grown closer.
I’ve also learned more about my own personality. I’ve learned that I’m just not naturally very loving, affectionate or empathetic to my partner. It’s just not in my nature to give a consoling hug for example. Some of it is probably cultural. I don’t have hard statistics, but it does seem that the Chinese culture and many Asian cultures are less affectionate. For instance, my parents really don’t publicly hug or kiss. The good thing is that it’s been natural for me to be loving and affectionate towards by kids. What’s also interesting, is that it’s not as difficult for me to be loving and empathetic to other people. Perhaps the dynamic is different with a spouse because you’re so intimately connected that it’s harder to step out and not be judgmental. With others, maybe it’s easier to look at the situation from the outside and be nonjudgmental.
What Progress Have We Made?
I stated a couple paragraphs up that I believe we’ve made progress. How have we made progress then? Honestly, much of it is learning not to engage each other in those moments. We try to stop communicating so it doesn’t continue along the vicious cycle. This may not be an inspiring, enlightening answer, but it’s what (sometimes) works for us. If I could just snap my fingers and be more affectionate and empathetic, I would do it. Believe me, I’ve tried really hard to work on it, but it’s not that easy.
This is something that annoys me a lot about those articles on men wanting to fix problems. Many make it seem like it’s easy for men to stop and listen rather than trying to fix the problem. In this, The Good Men Project article, Men, Stop Trying to Fix Your Woman’s Problems. Just Be with Her, the author writes, “Just simply BE with her without trying to fix it or offer a solution. Have empathy, have understanding, so that you can listen not just to figure out a solution but so that you can fully understand what it is that she is feeling.” Sure, I’ll just flip a switch and start doing this from now on (full sarcasm intended). If only it was that easy. The reality is that this is counter to my (and lots of men’s) personality. It’s probably just as hard for me to do this as it is for a woman who’s stressed about things to “just simply BE less stressed”. This is why Jillian and I try to stop communicating in those moments. We started to better understand that our personalities are not easily changed, so we’re generally not going to be able to relate to each other. Continuing to communicate then, is only going to frustrate both of us.
Examples and Wrap Up
The honest truth is that I’ll never fully understand or relate to Jillian’s stress and reaction with certain instances of parenting. I listed some actual scenarios below and the corresponding thoughts I have in parenthesis. Please know that my point in this exercise is not to dismiss her stress at all (I’ve learned), but to highlight real examples of where our personalities differ. There is no right or wrong here. It’s just to showcase how we perceive things differently.
– Our son sleeps through the night five nights in a row then wakes up one night and Jillian gets really upset. (He’s been sleeping so well, but of course there will be a night here and there that he wakes up.)
– Our son has been an angel the whole day then gets fussy after dinner and Jillian is infuriated. (He’s not even 1 year old so fussiness is common. Plus, he was great all day, so it’s not a big deal that he’s fussy now.)
– The scenario below is admittedly the one that bothers me the most. The logical part of my personality can’t process this. Our son has not napped well two days in a row and Jillian says, “Why can’t he nap? He’s going to be the only kid at daycare that doesn’t nap. Guess we’ll just have a tired, cranky kid for the next year.” (CAN YOU PLEASE STOP! There are so many kids that have trouble napping. Next year!?! It’ll probably last a few days. Stop being ridiculous!)
I hope the scenarios above help drive this personality clash home. Many of you can probably relate to these scenarios. I’ve worked a lot on biting my tongue and not voicing those thoughts because I’ve come to understand they don’t help. On rare occasions, I’m even able to utter an agreeable response of, “Yeah, that is frustrating,” even though it’s not natural for me. I truly mean it when I say that I’ll never fully understand or relate to Jillian’s reaction in those moments, but I’ve learned that I don’t always have to.
Share Your Experience
I would honestly love to hear about your own experiences. Sometimes it helps to hear others’ similar experiences. When you step back a bit, these arguments can even be amusing. It was amusing to myself when I wrote those scenarios above and I’m sure you have your own. Please share via the comments below.