Are babies enemies of an amazing marriage?

I never thought Kim and I would be the couple who needed counseling. But we were. So we went.

We were still in love seven years into marriage, but the flame was starting to flicker just a bit. So before it got any worse, we reached out for help. In the moment, I misdiagnosed our problem, mistaking the symptom for the sickness, but looking back, our issue should have been so obvious . .

We had babies.

God gave us two gorgeous girls 15 months apart (the second totally unplanned, because God thinks he’s hilarious). Those girls, to quote Pastor Tim Keller, were like a cement truck driving across an old bridge. Any small crack in our marriage was about to be exposed.

I see the same dynamic all the time in the church. The “presenting issue” is rarely kids. More likely, a couple comes to my office because of a lack of communication or a fight over housework or a lull in sexual intimacy. But a common denominator in so many of these couples is . . . you guessed it, kids.

So are babies enemies of an amazing marriage?

Short answer—Maybe. If you don’t approach this stage of life with wisdom and a healthy dose of humility, those little ones could be the first domino in an ugly series of unfortunate marital events.

So if you’re a new parent (or you’re willing to share this with a new parent you know), what can you do? Let me suggest three things to keep in mind:

  1. You First!—When a newborn saps your spouse of the time and energy he or she formally used to serve you, it is easy to become bitter. You start to feel neglected, disrespected, and unloved. In turn, you can quickly become critical and selfish, focusing your mental energy on what a victim you have become thanks to this 8 pound, 6 ounce marital terrorist. But you don’t have to think or act like that. Refuse to let the way you are being treated (whether accurate or just perceived) dictate the way you treat your spouse. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” Paul urges all Christians in Ephesians 5:21. The best way to breathe life into a struggling marriage is to serve with no strings attached, just like Jesus served us.
  2. Date Until You Die—Many new parents, especially mothers, feel guilty for leaving their babies in the care of another. Thus, weeks pass, then months, with little intentional attention given to a key factor in children’s emotional well-being—their parents’ marriage. It might break your heart in the moment, but the sound of your child crying when you leave on a date night is music in God’s ears. Let those kiddos see Mom and Dad kissing, hugging, holding hands, and walking out the door in their date-night best. 
  3. Grace Wins—I have a shelf full of marriage and parenting books, and yet I still act like Bozo the Husband at least once a month. Despite all the good advice on marriage, you and I will still need something more; we need good news. So here it is—Jesus loves his church, even if his church includes struggling couples, frustrated moms, and dads who are in over their heads. Even if his church includes you. Jesus has promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20), to care about our parental anxieties (1 Peter 5:7), and to love us no matter what our past behavior (Romans 8). That is good news to help you sleep like a baby . . . unless your baby is not sleeping. Then it’s just good news!

Back to my question. Are babies enemies of a great marriage? They don’t have to be. With God’s help, they can make marriage even better.

That has been my experience. Sometimes I sit back and watch my wife at work. She is a stunningly good mom. Responsible. Consistent. Smart. Faithful. Godly. 

Few things move my heart like watching my wife love my kids. I pray that few things move their hearts like watching their mom love her man.

And, I pray I can return the favor in Jesus’ name.

Pastor Mike Novotny has served God’s people in full-time ministry since 2007 as a pastor in Madison and now Appleton, Wisconsin. He also serves as a host and speaker for the Time of Grace television program and contributes to the written resources of Time of Grace Ministry. Pastor Mike is married to Kim and has two daughters.

 

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