Having your first baby? Congratulations! That precious bundle of joy will be a miracle to behold and you will feel love like never before. Since those little angels can’t do much for themselves, you and your partner are in charge of all of their needs, and all of those new responsibilities can take a toll on your relationship. Research shows that for many couples, satisfaction with their relationship goes down after the birth of a first baby. Fortunately, there are many proven strategies to prevent that from happening. Here are 5 tips to keep your relationship as a source of strength rather than a source of conflict while adjusting to your new life.
1. Talk About Your Ideal Vision of Parenthood
One of the most powerful reasons why some couples become dissatisfied with their relationship after bringing a baby home is that life turns out to be different than how they expected. Partners may have different expectations about who is going to do the late-night feedings, or wash bottles, or reduce working hours. There can also be conflicting ideas about the ideal style of parenting, or how much leisure time either of you get. The best way to avoid frustration and resentment is to put your cards on the table BEFORE the baby comes. Have honest conversations with your partner about what each of you is counting on, and try to negotiate the gaps. This probably needs to be several conversations because there is a lot of ground to cover, but this kind of preparation is invaluable in reducing the amount of conflict in those first few months.
2. Express Your Needs Clearly
You and your partner have all kinds of needs. Physical, emotional, and practical. You will have the most success getting your needs accommodated if you don’t expect your partner to be a mind-reader. Say what you need. You will also be more likely to get what you need if you can ask for it in a way that is respectful (like “I could really use an hour to shower and have a few minutes to myself before you leave for work, do you think you could get up a little early for me?” versus simply complaining “I’m so sick of not having any time to myself.” Also trade favors with each other. Offer to trade a night out with the girls for you for a night out with the boys for him. When each of you is willing to sacrifice for the other, compromise comes easier.
3. Agree On an Emergency Button If Things Escalate
Sometimes, despite all your efforts, emotions will get out of control. Sleep deprivation alone can make you hyper-sensitive. Then combine that with a colicky, inconsolable baby who spits up every meal he has, and a mother-in-law who questions everything you do. You will be ready to explode at the slightest provocation. If you suddenly find yourself in a screaming match, it helps to have a plan in place beforehand to stop it in its tracks before one of you says something you don’t mean that does irreparable harm. Maybe a goofy code word like “cowabunga” which you both will know means “I love you but I can’t continue this conversation in a rational way, so let’s stop for a while.” It’s probably a good idea if one of you leaves the room at this point. Table the conversation for a while or even a day if need be. Time-outs can be just as useful for adults as they are for toddlers.
4. Plan Alternate Means of Intimacy
After nine months of pregnancy and the very physical work of caring for a newborn, you may not feel like sharing your body with anyone else for a while. This is understandable. But you don’t want to lose the emotional bond that intimacy brings. Think about ways you can feel comfort and connection with your partner outside of sex. Maybe just laying down in bed together and talking about your day while cuddling for 20 minutes. Or setting aside a time to reminisce about what excited you the day you met, or when you knew you were falling in love. Or sitting quietly together giving mutual foot massages. When a baby is born, you both may be simply in survival mode: feedings, diapers, and trying to get the baby to sleep on some kind of schedule. But you want your relationship to survive too. And these moments of intentional intimacy, even if brief, can help you maintain that special connection that brought you together in the first place.
5. Commit to Regular Expressions of Love and Appreciation
Caring for a new baby brings emotional highs and lows and can be equally thrilling (she smiled!) and frustrating (why won’t she go to sleep?). Not a lot is in your control those first few months. One constant you can provide is love and appreciation for each other. You may be secure in your partner’s love and he in yours, but there is nothing like being reminded that in his eyes you are special and vice versa. In person or even by text, a heartfelt “I love you” feeds the soul. And if one or both of you has had a particularly trying day, don’t engage in the “exhaustion Olympics” but rather take a moment to acknowledge that your sweetie has had a rough day and that you appreciate everything they do.
The relationship you have with your partner is the bedrock of your new family. Relationship trouble after the birth of a baby is not a given, but good relationships don’t just happen. With intentional care, yours can remain a source of strength and comfort. A strong, loving, and stable relationship is one of the best gifts you can give yourselves and your baby.