Relationships go through many different phases, and each new stage will come with changes. While there are big differences between dating, living together, being engaged, and getting married, experts agree that many relationships change the most when a couple decides to have children. Thinking about starting your own family? It's important to note that change isn't always a bad thing—just different. "Having a child changes you at a cellular level," says Amiira Ruotola, relationship expert co-author of How to Keep Your Marriage From Sucking. "There's no way you can be who you were as a couple before the baby arrives because you no longer have the ability to think selfishly because you now have the fragmented, if not obsessive, mind of a parent." Priorities instantly shift and what was the most important thing to you both—your marriage and relationship—now take a back seat to the happiness of your child. "There's a new sheriff in town calling the shots, and you and your spouse will try anything and everything to soothe a distraught baby," Ruotola adds.
That doesn't mean your relationship should fall to the wayside, though. Alexandria B. agrees that having children changes the experience of being a couple, and finding a way to be a partner and a parent is something she and her husband are still working at. "Taking time to continue being a couple separate to your child is so difficult and a challenge and takes effort on a daily," she says. "It's something we're still working on." Her best advice for new parents is to acknowledge what it is that made you fall in love with your partner in the first place, then focus on that when you feel distant.
The fact that your partner doesn't always come first isn't the only change that comes along with having children. Before welcoming their kids, Carrie C. says she and her husband balanced each other out. "By nature, I am an anxious person and he is very laissez-faire," she says. "He was the yin to my yang so to speak, but then a child came along, and suddenly compromise was difficult. It's so hard to budge when it's in regards to your child's well-being, safety, health, haircut... everything." Although that give and take can be tough, she's proud to say that she and her husband work to meet in the middle—or as close to the middle as they can.
One thing that will almost always change is your routine and schedule. After dating long-distance for five years, Eliza and Kalon B. decided they wanted to enjoy being a married couple (in the same city!) for a few years before expanding their family. When they welcomed their daughter three years after their wedding, they were glad that they had already devoted time to focus on their relationship. "Our routine definitely did a 180. Our work schedules involved us working opposite shifts, so what used to be 'alone time' became childcare responsibility," Eliza explains. Although that shift was overwhelming at times, it was something the couple expected.
Rachel P. and her husband also wanted to enjoy married life for a few years before having children. "We had just moved and wanted to buy a house, meet people and build a support system of friends, reconnect with family in the area, and just be married!" she says. "Marriage is hard enough when it's just the two of you—our expectations had to meet reality before we introduced more to the equation." Now that they have their son, their marriage has become like a well-oiled machine. "We've intentionally tried to stay connected by not doing more than we can handle and keeping our priorities at the forefront. That means saying no to family events, not travelling when we're not prepared or ready, and staying at home to have simple family time," she adds.
Not every couple wants to wait to have kids, though. Though they knew it would change some aspects of their relationship, Talya K. says she and her husband started trying to conceive soon after getting married. "I had always had fears that it would take a long time to get pregnant since infertility is something a lot of people I know struggle with. We wanted to start trying knowing it might take some time," she says. "We were very lucky and got pregnant almost right away—we had our son 14 months after we got married and our daughter 21 months after that." As they expected, their relationship changed significantly, but becoming parents has also brought them closer together. "We argue more and connect less, but we have also seen each other grow into parents and that makes me love my husband even more!"
Bottom line: Marriage is a lot of work, especially after having a child. But most couples are overjoyed that they chose to take the next step in their relationship and create a family, changes and all!