My wife is my soul mate. We’ve been together for more than eight years, and while we’ve had our disagreements like any couple, we’ve mostly had the type of relationship people dream about. For nearly all of the eight years we’ve had the privilege of coexisting, we have only fought on very rare occasions. We were proud we didn’t live the kind of disparate lives so many couples lead, especially after they’ve been together for so long. We laughed together, traveled together, confided in one another and supported each other.
Ever since we met, my wife has been my best friend, my rock, my solitude. She is the person I can share anything with and know I’ll get honest feedback in return.
We got even closer, it seemed, when I was pregnant. She had always wanted a baby and didn’t think she would ever have one — because of her age, for one thing, and because for many years she was told gay people simply didn’t have kids. In many ways, I felt that our child would be my greatest gift to her. We were lovey-dovey throughout my pregnancy, nesting and building a nursery while still enjoying all the things we always did together — taking spontaneous day trips to new quaint towns, having fancy dinners, enjoying quiet nights on the couch catching up on shows.
But then the baby came.
At first, we were just a ball of hormones and emotions; we hugged and cried with joy in those first few days, admiring the perfect tiny human we had created from our love. Then days and nights passed, and they were long and arduous and filled with crappy diapers and crying and endless feeding sessions. Sleep was scarce and stress levels rose. We started to get snippy with each other.
“Why are you holding him like that?” I would say, judgment clear in my tone.
“Maybe if you held him differently, he would calm down,” she’d try to relay softly, but we couldn’t hide the fact that we were both upset with each other’s parenting styles.
Somehow, all of a sudden, we went from being that couple everyone envies to that couple who can’t agree on anything. We started arguing over the best way to get to the store, over whether our baby needed to put a pair of socks on, you name it — it seemed we were never on the same side of an issue.
And it didn’t help that sex seemed like some foggy dream from long ago. It’s not that I even wanted sex at this point; there just wasn’t room for it in the equation anymore, not when you factored in the incredibly small window of time we had to do the one thousand chores awaiting us, let alone sleep. Sex, though, I started to realize, had always included a lot more than just the act itself or sexual satisfaction. It was also physical interaction: endorphin-generating, closeness-promoting, lovemaking goodness. Not having sex meant my wife and I weren’t bonding physically.
Or maybe we weren’t even bonding at all, because it felt like we no longer had time for cuddling or kissing, either. Those lazy Sunday mornings when we’d lay in bed and touch — and whisper our dreams and plans for the future together — seemed like eons ago with no return in sight. The sharp wail of a baby needing a diaper change dovetailed with groggy, “I got it,” or “Your turn,” and there simply wasn’t room for anything more.
What little affection we had left to give all went to the baby.
We were nearly three months into being co-parents when I reached a point that felt close to desperation. I started questioning our relationship and whether we would ever be able to rekindle the functionality and happiness we once had. I was close to taking action of some kind, although I wasn’t sure what. “Should I ask her for a sit-down talk to address this head-on?” I wondered. Or were we beyond that?
Then something incredible happened: Our baby slept eight hours straight.
My wife and I woke up feeling confused on top of an old and yet entirely new feeling — one we hadn’t felt in months. We felt… rested.
That morning, my wife and I looked at each other with love in our eyes, just as we had eight years ago.
“Oh, my god,” I said. “We hated each other because we were tired.”
We shared a good, hard, ridiculous laugh, the kind that comes from deep in your gut. But it was more relief than humor that was washing over us. I was so incredibly grateful that our sudden and intense new life of constant bickering — the recurrent fights that somehow hadn’t surfaced in eight years together — had turned out to be temporary and superficial.
Of course sleep deprivation had caused our tension! Of course I didn’t really care if we took a left turn versus a right turn to go to the store! Of course I didn’t care if the baby wore socks indoors or whatever! It had all been a farce, a glitch, a temporary and understandable diversion from our normal course of tolerance and understanding.
It helped me to hear that.
The next night, our son was back to his regular shenanigans and didn’t sleep nearly as well. And now, a few months later, we’re still dealing with a terrible sleeper, which means we continue to be severely sleep-deprived ourselves — and as a result, ornery and contentious. But now, we carry the perspective of that full night of sleep: the knowledge that we don’t actually dislike one another or distrust the other’s parenting style. We’re just two exhausted people in love — and trying to keep this kid alive.