I was convinced Mel and I were going to get divorced after our first child. 100% sure. Not that we didn’t love each other, because we did. But we were young, both 24 years old. I was still in college. Our son, well… he sucked. Can I say that about a baby, because it’s true? He was a no-napper, and a no-night sleeper, and a fussy little butthole of a baby who refused to be let down. And even when we did hold him, he still cried a lot.
In hindsight, I sometimes wonder if he was colicky, but at the time, I honestly didn’t even know what that was. What I did know is that I was a young father working full time waiting tables while attending full-time college. My wife was working full time at a hardware store. No one was sleeping. NO ONE, and it felt like Mel and I were at each other’s throats all the time.
Although we split the night evenly, we still fought about who got up. We fought when one of us fell asleep on the sofa while the other held the baby, most of the time accidentally, but there is something about looking at your partner taking a nap when you are exhausted that makes you want to light everything on fire.
We fought on dates over what to order. We fought about directions and where the little money we had should go. We fought about EVERYTHING.
It came to a head at the grocery store one afternoon when I put a box of cereal in the cart that wasn’t on the list. Mel asked me who was going to pay for that, and I said it was on sale. And then we said a bunch of other things that were bitter and nasty. Almost 10 years later I don’t even recall the specifics, but I know none of it was worth fighting over. It was a box of cereal.
I also know what I felt. I felt like I couldn’t do this anymore. I couldn’t handle the lack of sleep and the fighting and the bitterness I felt toward my wife.
We didn’t talk for a while aside from what was necessary. And when I say “a while,” I mean days that led to weeks. We lived like business partners, doing what we had to do to raise our child, but not talking about our days. Not talking about anything personal.
Mel and I separated for about 6 weeks. She moved in with her mother, and took Tristan. And during that absence, we spoke occasionally, but what we mostly did was write. Mel created a blog that only we could access, and each morning we’d write about our day. We’d write about our challenges. We’d write about how we missed each other. Those first posts started out casual, but eventually, they became love letters.
There was something about writing to each other that stripped away the tension. It pulled away the pain and frustration that we were dealing with as a couple, and caused us to reconnect in a way we couldn’t before. I can’t explain it exactly. It was almost like the love we had for each other was still there, it always was, but with the baby and school and work and all the lack of sleep, we just couldn’t see it. We couldn’t find it in the fog, so we needed a lighthouse, or a foghorn, or something that could bring us back to what we originally were. And that blog, those messages, that did it. We were forced to reflect on each other and what we mean.
Neither of us had done anything wrong in all this. We were just adjusting to the reality of being a young married couple making a go of things with a new baby. But sometimes that’s just marriage and family and life. You do everything you are supposed to do, you fulfill all your obligations, and yet you still argue and you still feel stressed, and you have no one else to take it out on but each other, so you fight. You pick and poke at the problem, assuming that if someone in the relationship just pulled a little more weight, your life would be livable again. But the reality is, you are both pulling with everything you’ve got, so it all comes out sideways.
The messages turned into phone calls, and then dates, and then we reconnected, stronger than we were before. We were ready to be together again because we remembered who we were before and why we got into the whole gig, and by the end of that first year with a child, it got better.
People talk about challenges in marriage, and how you have to work through them. But no one ever tells you what that actually looks like. This time with a new baby was one of those challenges. It was probably the biggest adjustment of our marriage. And although it almost broke us, we worked through it. And now, after being married for 14 years, and two more children later, I’m grateful that we did.