The Love Balance Between Motherhood and Marriage

There were days when I found myself wishing that my husband was heading off at 5pm, and my nanny was staying overnight.
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By Amy Higgins

I was never that sentimental. I’m not a sucker for a good love song, I never dreamed of my wedding dress as a little girl, and I don’t think I ever graffitied my first name with someone else’s surname and wrote “4 EVA” underneath.

But I do have a photo of a love heart drawn in the sand of an African beach, my husband’s name and mine looping through it in my best calligraphy. It’s on the back page of our honeymoon photo album. Him and me…forever.

Of course, neither of us realized it at the time, but our little foreverness of coupledom was about to come to an end. It was shortly after arriving home from our dream trip that I got a little blue line on a little white stick, and our happy twosome became a threesome.

At the time, I figured it out like a maths equation. If Him+Me=LOVE, then surely Him+Me+Baby=LOVE2. I figured love was infinite, and we were just making more of it.

There was more of it for the baby, of that heart-melting, furious, protective mother kind that washes over you in waves while you breastfeed, or rock your little one to sleep, or simply watch them sleep.

I still feel it when my kids are sleeping―that moment in the day when I love them a little bit more than I do when they’re awake. But while I experienced all this new love for my kids (because one shortly became two), I soon found I had a bit less for my husband.

In fact, every time I listened to my husband blissfully snooze through the baby crying, again, I hated him just a tiny bit. It became my frustrating, shameful secret—that love for me is a zero-sum game. Add a bit to one area, and you have to subtract a bit from somewhere else. I don’t even know how to write the equation for that.

My new-found lack of love leaked out in little snippets of conversation at mothers’ clubs and coffee dates. It turned out, I wasn’t the only one. Other new mothers were finding they had just a little bit less love for their husbands too.

Sure, we wanted them around sterilizing bottles, changing nappies and running the washing machine, but we didn’t really want the fond gazing at milky bosoms and hopeful erections as we stumbled back to bed at 2am.

One friend told me about resisting the temptation to smother her husband with a pillow to stop him snoring. Another described having a few secret drinks on nights she knew he was expecting her to put out.

Myself, there were days when I found myself wishing that my husband was heading off at 5pm, and my nanny was staying overnight.

How many of us were feeling that husbands were just a bit of a cumbrance? My sister and I joked late at night about a feminist utopia, where we could all just raise our kids together, and not bother about men at all, until we started to feel bored (and eventually, presumably, start to feel frisky again, although it seemed currently unthinkable).

I started to feel deeply irritated about things that had never bothered me before. Why couldn’t my husband fold my socks the way I wanted? Why didn’t he make my coffee right after nearly a decade of marriage? I got irritated when he bought me lacy underwear in an attempt to be romantic—didn’t he know I preferred a full brief? That I hated chrysanthemums?

Meanwhile, he seemed to need me even more than ever—as if a competition had started up for who should get more of my attention. I lived in a house with three males, and each of them seemed to feel like they should be first priority for my love.

Some nights, they would take turns at edging each other out of my bed, so that on any given morning I might wake up with a beard or a nappy pressed against my cheek.

Motherhood opened my eyes to other things I’d never known. I saw how a part of my love for my husband had always been a motherly love—that bit that made sure he was comfortable, that served him the best cut of steak at dinner, that bought his favorite wine and watched his favorite TV show—these are the signals of affection that a mother gives a son. Well, maybe not the wine.

But now if there was a best cut of meat, it went to the cubs. And now I was the Momma Bear. There was no time to think of new ways to show my husband that he was still important to me. Bears don’t do that.

I found myself wondering, what happened to those two people whose names I wrote in a heart in the sand? What happened to the ideal of “you and me forever”? Was everything changed permanently now, and would we never get back to cherishing each other the way we had? Would I always just love my children more than my husband now? Was it wrong if I did?

Luckily, as the kids have gotten older, and we’re through the haze of the early years, my husband and I have made the joint decision to find our way back to each other.

We realized that we couldn’t just settle into co-parenting housemates who couldn’t fold each other’s socks right (because if he folded mine wrong, let’s face it, I was obviously folding his wrong too).

Because one day, the kids will grow up and go off into the world, and we’ll be left with each other. And on that day, we better remember how to be together, just him and me. And while it was true I loved my children, it was also true that I loved this man and that I loved him more than any other man I'd ever met.

So now we’re doing the maths together. And I’m pretty sure that (Him+me)+(Me+Kids)+(Him+Kids)=LOVE2. Hopefully forever.

Previously published in The Wild Word magazine.

Amy Higgins lives with her family in Connecticut, U.S.A.

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