When the hospital bag is packed, the baby clothes are washed and ready, and the crib is assembled, many couples feel they are all set to come home and begin their new lives as parents. What few of us realize is that the relationships we have with our partners will undergo more stress and change than ever before. Babies are hard on a marriage, which is why it is important to know what you can do to keep your marriage strong after having a baby. It makes sense to do some soul searching and prep for what is inevitably a tremendous transition.
Arriving home with a new baby can seem like a shock compared to the blissful gender reveal parties, baby showers, and excitement of planning a nursery. Now it seems that sleep is elusive, laundry is never-ending, and the sound of a baby crying is the new soundtrack to life.
So, what can you do to protect the bond you have with your partner? You will see sides to each other that maybe you never even knew existed. But weathering this change is what can ultimately bring you and your partner closer for the long haul. Here are 7 things to consider:
1. Remember, it’s short-term
Whether it seems like it or not, things will get easier as time goes on. The baby phase is roughly a year long. You will eventually sleep and get time to enjoy one another more. You’ll find yourself gaining independence as your baby does. You may initially feel that the exhaustion will never end, but it does.
I remember holding our first baby when he was just a few weeks old. I was in tears, wondering what we had done to our lives by having this little bundle of joy. I looked at him, looked at my husband, and said in all sincerity, “Why do people have more than one?” I truly could not comprehend it. This is because it DOES get better. (We eventually did have two more kids!)
2. Pay it forward
Give your partner the gift of time, touch, help, or whatever he or she really misses. Every so often, tell your partner to take a day off and go do whatever sounds good. Make sure you ask for what you want as well. These favours go a long way toward strengthening your bond, and will pay for themselves in good will between the two of you. You will begin to trust that the more you give, the more you get, and that’s good for both of you!
3. Share the baby care
Sometimes we think our way is the only way. As a therapist, I’ve worked with many couples who run into trouble when one partner will not let the other help with the baby. The primary parent gets tired, and not letting the other partner help can lead to that person feeling incompetent to care for baby. This leads to one person doing all the work, and the other can feel neglected. When both parents take turns caring for the baby, each develops their own confidence in being a capable caregiver.
Watching the relationship grow between your baby and your partner is another reason to fall in love all over again. It’s a win for everyone, especially your baby!
4. Be aware of your tone
How we speak can have a dramatic effect on the relationship. If I say, “You should have been awake with me at night while the baby was up,” this sounds judgmental and critical. Take a minute to think about how you feel instead. Nobody can argue with your feelings, and it will get the conversation started. “I’m so exhausted all the time, and when I’m up alone with the baby at night, I start to feel resentful and frustrated. I need some support at night.” It requires more thought and even some planning, but the tone is much different. In fact, taking the word “should” out of your vocabulary can go a long way toward changing your tone. Replace it with, “I wish,” or “we could,” or refer back to your feelings altogether.
5. Remind yourself that it’s not a contest
Most parents eventually encounter the “my life is harder than your life” fight. We want our partners to understand how overwhelmed, overworked and unappreciated we feel. This often leads to a diatribe of all the unfair aspects of parenting and working, and each person’s role in the household. Each person tries to convince the other that they are worse off. It typically leads to resentment and feeling even less appreciated.
Instead of listing all the difficulties of your current role as parent, breadwinner, caretaker, housekeeper, whatever – just ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT. This is where trust comes in. If your partner trusts you, he or she will hear you and agree to help you, and you will likely do the same. Give-and-take ensues and you will find your groove as a couple.
6. Build your babysitting bench
Find family or friends, fellow parents, or local babysitters to give you a break. Go on a date and don’t talk about the baby. This is much more difficult than it sounds, and you may initially struggle to think of anything but your baby. And if going to dinner is too much pressure, go to a movie or hike together. The point is to get some grown-up time and nurture your relationship. Don’t be discouraged if it feels strange or is difficult initially. You’ll come to cherish these nights out, and as your baby grows up, he or she will look forward to fun time with a trusted babysitter as well!
7. Keep in mind that the two of you are a team
The two of you, as a team, are the most important piece of the family. Remember, this all got started because you love each other. Whether it’s diapers, or in-laws, or colic, the two of you can manage it better if you are united and on good terms. So make each other a priority, talk to each other, and be sure to put your relationship first.
About the Author: Christy Doering
Christy Doering, LCSW, is a therapist in private practice in Plano, Texas. Find her at www.sagecounseling-hope.com