“You are not my number one anymore.” I sighed, and after saying this turned away from my husband to stare blindly out the passenger window. “I don’t think about you first, but really, I don’t even think about you anymore.”
I fussed with the zipper on my sweatshirt, aware that tears threatened to roll down my burning cheeks. We were making our first “vacation” as new parents. Six weeks had blurred by since the birth of our first child, and we had finally mustered the energy to drive to my parents’ house as a vacation in their absence. It was a small step, but in the wake of our new parenthood, it seemed world-changing.
My husband glanced at me briefly. His eyes were warm and sympathetic. He might not have been the one who gave birth, but he had been deeply intertwined in my recovery. He had sat with me every cycle of breastfeeding for the first week, coaching me in my hold and giving me a much-needed extra set of hands for ensuring proper latching. He had made sure I ate and drank and had enough alone time from the hands-on involvement of family. He had done his best to entertain a screaming child as I spent sometimes up to forty minutes laboring to use the restroom or as I spent half an hour delicately washing my tender body in the shower in an effort to feel “normal” again. When I couldn’t sit because of the rawness of where I had torn, he would eat his dinner lying down with me. He had held me as I cried every day from four o’clock into the evening hours, captive to the “baby blues” and angry and guilty that I could be crying at a time as joyful as this. He had mapped out the days to come with me in minute-by-minute plans so that I could release my fear of eventually being alone with my new baby all day long. He had freely given me massages, and he had fought hard to protect any window in which I could sleep. All this had been at the expense of his own sleep, of his own time to decompress, of his own job, and of his own fruit from our relationship.
He knew exactly what I meant when I confessed he was not my number one anymore.
“Sweetie,” he took a hand off the steering wheel and put it on my knee. “I know you love me. I do feel that I am not your number one right now, but our baby still needs you to put her before me. I can advocate for myself, but she still can’t.” My tears unleashed, but they had cooled from despair into tears of gratitude. What a relief to hear him receive my confession without blowback.
“Just promise me,” he said, “that this is just a season.”
“Yes. For a season only,” I said with all the conviction I had.
And that was that. What could have been a conversation of division and resentment became an acknowledgement of the limitations of our situation and an opportunity to plan for intentional change. And change our dynamic we did.
The first thing that we needed was to get me back on my feet so that I wasn’t merely surviving. My husband was integral in helping me to prioritize. The night before his first day back to work, when family was no longer in town, he sat me down for a pep talk.
“All you have to do tomorrow,” he said, “is to make sure our girl eats and sleeps. Don’t do any housework. Don’t even worry about getting a shower. Just get our girl what she needs, and sleep every chance you can.” We prepped all my food that night, and the next day, I survived.
The fact that he could prioritize with me and could lessen his expectations for the home, errands, bills, etc. gave me the time I needed to master the truly essential tasks: eating and sleeping for my daughter and me. Given my personality, it was important for me to be able to check something off my list, so he helped me rewrite my to-do list to be attainable, minimal, and most purposeful.
The second thing we did was to alter our expectations for our quality time together, both romantic and platonic. Romantically, we offered each other patience and creativity. Well, really, he offered me patience, and we both sought creativity in how we could serve one another affectionately and sexually in a time of limitation. Being intentional and communicative about our efforts really helped our affection and romance to take root in different ways than we would have ordinarily allowed or wanted. As time went on and the limitations lessened, we then had more roots in our romance tree than before.
And platonically, our ideal quality time together as friends already differed. I loved being outdoors, doing activities together, and having deep talks. My husband was a self-proclaimed (very accurately so) indoorsman who loved banter and verbal sparring. Throughout our relationship, we had found ways to enjoy each other, but in this time of limitation, we naturally leaned towards his preferred time of staying indoors. We watched a lot of movies and played video games because I still couldn’t walk much, and even if I could, our little one’s wake-time windows were still so short that we felt very housebound. So we snuggled and had movie nights in. As the limitations decreased, our walks and outings increased.
We tried to be intentional about sharing the details of our days too. Since mine were in the house with “baby” on the mind all day long, it was easy for me to feel ill with cabin fever. I wanted to talk his ear off when my husband got home from work, and I wanted to hear all about the “grown up” world of work that he engaged in that day. Partly in generosity to my needs, he would protect time (which we didn’t really have much of) to share with me about his day and to (patiently) hear all about mine. I needed this time to feel connected to him, and he needed it to get used to missing our baby girl all day long. It took a give-and-take for figuring out how he would still have time to decompress once he got home. Eventually, I needed fewer details. As we began to cultivate a life together again, the daily show-and-tell of two roommates took a more wanted, organic form of dialogue between friends.
The intentional changes were making a difference in refreshing our relationship, but they all would have been in vain had we not also been praying. I prayed every day for God to protect our marriage in this season “apart,” and that He would swiftly restore my husband as my number one. My husband and I both prayed for this, and we asked God for the details of my recovery, of my husband’s transition back to work, of our capacity to love and raise our daughter, and of our wisdom to be her parents. We trusted other faithful friends with these prayer requests as well. As he and I prayed with each other for these things, we were already sowing seeds for unity, constantly opening to one another with the needs of our heart and acknowledging that the Lord’s timing would prevail over our own.
In buckling down in prayer for our marriage and our parenting, God raised up in us the conviction that our daughter is on loan to us; God is her ultimate guardian, and we are merely stewards of her precious life. Having this perspective freed us up to strengthen our marriage because it meant that we didn’t have to know every answer and be the only ones responsible for her. We could trust other faithful caretakers who had the same wisdom that God had given us. If you are a parent, you will know immediately that this wasn’t easy, and quite frankly, is still a lesson we are learning.
Disappointments and interruptions will continue to happen because new things emerge that demand more immediate attention than the marriage will, which brings me to the final aspect of our plan to keep our marriage prioritized: grace. We will get it wrong a lot as life goes on. But we will get it right even more as we continue to pray, to connect, to offer patience and creativity, to strategize, and to communicate with one another. And, if ever I am stuck in another season of “number two marriage” (or number three or four or sixteen or thirty), I am encouraged by other couples around me who have been there and made it through.
Grace for myself when I mess up. Grace for my spouse when he messes up. Because of the grace that God has given us, my husband is my number one again.