In the lead up to becoming a family of three, the last thing you want to consider is that your marriage may be upended once the baby arrives. But when a new person with big needs becomes a permanent fixture in your home, it’s bound to shake things up.
While every family has a unique experience, there’s generally a phase of “shock and awe” when you adjust to life with a newborn. You’re tending to baby’s needs around the clock; you and Dad are figuring out who does what when; your body is going through big hormonal shifts; your doctor swore you off sex for six to eight weeks; squeezing in time for a shower may be challenging, so the thought of fixing yourself up for a night out with your spouse only triggers laughter; you and Dad are exhausted and likely not at your best with social graces …
It’s only natural that your relationship will undergo some shifts.
But you can get in front of these shifts so they don’t bring doom and gloom.
If you expect that there will be some restructuring and you’re prepared with ways to manage it, this can be an incredible opportunity to strengthen your relationship and become more deeply connected.
- Appreciate one another. A simple compliment or a hug goes a long way, because it’s a gesture of love. With all the hard work you are both putting into parenting, expressing appreciation, even in the smallest way, nurtures your relationship.
- Minimize the chore wars. Comparing who has it harder or is more exhausted won’t get you anywhere: you’re both working hard and feeling challenged. Julia Stone, co-author of Babyproofing Your Marriage, suggests, "Don't worry about the stuff that is not on your list and acknowledge that both parties are giving 100% and no one has it tougher than the other … You are rowing in the same boat."
- Make time for each other. Before your baby is born, set a date with your partner to go out just the two of you, maybe four to six weeks after the baby is born. You can always move it if need be, but putting it on the calendar affirms that your relationship will be a priority. Any amount of time you can carve out, big or small, to just focus on each each will make a big difference.
- Communicate without criticism. Keeping communication open and positive ensures that issues won’t get buried and breed negativity. Research by John and Julie Gottman, marital psychologists and authors of And Baby Makes Three, showed that happy couples handled disagreements more positively: “There was a respectful approach to conflict, a gentler approach."
Harder to do at 3am, when the baby’s been up crying for an hour, but maybe all the more important then.
- Be patient with biology. Don’t put pressure on yourself; let your body go through its healing process (hence your doctor swearing you off sex for a time). There are a lot of hormones swirling through your system and it takes time to get your sex drive back. Plus, learning how to switch from “mom mode” to “me mode” takes time, so be patient with yourself.
- Remember you’re a team. When you’re so focused on the needs of your baby, it’s easy to lose sight of your partner. If you start to feel like you’re in a mental cocoon, just you and your baby, remind yourself that your spouse is right there with you and you’re in it together. Push yourself out of the cocoon and embrace his support.